Therapy on Film: Good Press or False Advertising

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week has gotten me thinking…thinking about what how we think of mental health. We each have our own unique paths to feeling well and also our own challenges. One contributor to these challenges may be anxiety in seeking help. Why is this? Could it be because of how the media portrays mental health and mental illness as two drastically different sides of a coin?

In reality mental health is a spectrum that is individually defined and gently fluctuates like waves on the ocean. We aren’t always completely happy or completely sad; we kind of live in between depending on situations in our daily life. On television and film however, mental health and illness is either portrayed as dangerously bad or euphorically good. Therapy on film is also mostly misrepresented. For example, it is easy to picture a scenario from a Woody Allen film where the therapist is remarkably witty and neurotic but ultimately unhelpful. Or perhaps the ideal therapist is depicted like Robin William’s character from Good Will Hunting where both therapist and patient transform their life at the end. For entertainment purposes TV shows naturally depict all manner of blurred lines between therapist and patient, which makes for good television but poor therapy.

Are these characters showing us reality? Perhaps not. Remember that in a movie the problem is usually solved in two and a half hours, which may be misleading about how long it takes to feel better. It may take longer than an afternoon at the movies, but everyone can benefit from talking to someone who cares. Cinema often misses showing that first step to wellness, which is making that call to someone who can help.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week see the Canadian Mental Health Association at