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The mental health field is a complicated one. And fiction writers aren't necessarily fond of complicated real-life concepts. That's why you get tropes such as All Psychology Is Freudian. When even that is too much, you'll see There Are No Psychologists.

But that's obviously quite unrealistic. There are, in fact, psychologists and psychiatrists in this crazy world of ours. And this trope is dedicated to the portrayal of them in fiction. There are three general portrayals:

  1. The Harmful Shrink: Whether this doctor is evil or simply so stupid that he or she hurts the patient, The Harmful Shrink is the worst kind of psychologist. He's cruel and lacks any empathy with his patients. He might be working with the enemy. He'll frequently violate the sacrosanct concept of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality. Expect him to shovel pills down the patient's throat. Shrinks who are less actively malign will still tend to cultivate dependence on themselves in their patients for the purpose of getting more billable hours, even if their therapy is no longer necessary or doing more harm than good. A particularly common subset is grief counselors who do all they can to make sure their patients never recover from their losses and keep going to grief counseling forever.
  2. The Well-Meaning, But Dopey And Ineffective Shrink: Usually liberal and possessed of extraordinary amounts of empathy, this doctor really wants to help you. He'll spend hours listening to your problems. He'll try to avoid pumping you full of psychotropic drugs. But he just doesn't get it. His failing is usually due to a surfeit of compassion. Dr. Love here just can't quite fathom the concept that his patients are anything but great people suffering from problems beyond their control. Frequently seen in the Law Procedural, where he is suckered by the defense into testifying that the brutal and murderous man on trial is crazy and can't be punished, or in Speculative Fiction, diagnosing the hero as insane for reporting (genuine) monsters/ghosts/etc.
  3. The Awesome Shrink: Exactly What It Says on the Tin. But even within this group there are different varieties of Awesome Shrink. He can be compassionate and understanding where everyone before has been cruel to the protagonist. Alternatively, he provides the character in question with the kind of Tough Love he's always needed. Regardless, he's always smart, almost always cool and never resorts to drugs when they're not needed.

Sillier examples of the first two types are often portrayed as bearded men with Viennese accents.

Some works feature psychiatrist characters who bounce back and forth between these categories or multiple psychiatrists who cover different types. And, as always, keep in mind that these categories are somewhat simplified. Not every character is going to fit precisely in one of the three types.

Examples of The Shrink include:


Harmful

Comic Books

Literature

  • Dr. Hilarius in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying Of Lot 49. Prescribes and takes massive doses of LSD. Has other issues as well.
  • Hannibal Lecter almost goes without saying.
  • Rare example of the Harmful Shrink as one of the good guys: Dr. Vail, psychologist for Dream Park in The Barsoom Project, lacks empathy and is willing to risk others' sanity in order to protect the Park (because where else would he have absolute control of subjects' experiences?). Be very glad he's on the hero's side, because what he does to the villains in the end ain't pretty....
  • Psychiatrist William Haber in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. He also appears in the Film of the Book.
    • He's a Well-Meaning, but Harmful Shrink, who believes Utopia Justifies The Means (using his patient to rewrite reality).
  • Doctor Gordon in The Bell Jar, who behaves indifferent and cold to Esther in her therapy sessions and ultimately botches electroshock therapy, giving her a traumatic fear of the procedure. Based on the author's real-life experiences.
  • Dr Myra Lark in "You Don't Have To Be Mad..." and other Diogenes Club stories by Kim Newman. Described in the character sheet of Secret Files of the Diogenes Club as more interested in the uses of the mentally disturbed than in curing them. Also her superior in "You Don't Have To Be Mad..." Dr I. M. Ballance.
  • Dr. Lewis Yealland from The Regeneration Trilogy considers his shell shocked patients "degenerates whose inherent weaknesses would have lead them to break down in civilian life anyway" and uses electroshock therapy to break them and doesn't care whether or not they break down again or kill themselves.

Live Action TV

  • In Dexter Dr. Emmett Meridian is a psychiatrist who subtly manipulates his patients, all women, and convinces them to kill themselves. Of course, Dexter signs up for a session with him to get closer and finds himself revealing more about himself than he initially intended.
  • The unsub in the Criminal Minds episode "Scared To Death", who murders his patients using their worst fears.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus had several sketches with psychiatrists, most of them mad.
    • Hamlet meets a series of fake psychiatrists who only want to talk about sex ("You've got her legs up on the mantelpiece...").
    • A milkman psychiatrist who makes pat diagnoses of patients' problems without first obtaining their full medical history.
    • Mr. Larch, a psychiatrist who calls himself on the phone.
  • In an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, there was a psychiatrist that manipulated his patients into investing stock for another patient of his. He even managed to manipulate one into killing himself.
    • Another one had a therapist who gave a paranoid but harmless man a form of "therapy" that basically amounted to torture, turning him into a homicidal psychotic.
  • Forever Knight had yet another therapist who hypnotized her patients into committing homicide. (The painting of Bedlam in her waiting room was a tip-off something was wrong.)
  • Dr. Foster from Skins is a particularly extreme example.
  • A few episodes of Murder, She Wrote had them, sometimes as the murderer, sometimes as a Red Herring. Others had Type 2s set up to look like Type 1s as a Red Herring.
  • Dev Cvetic in the opening series of ER, suffering from his own issues, becomes more and more reckless and cavalier with each episode before Susie finds him dictating his own issues into a tape recorder.

Music

  • The title character from "Dr. Jerome, Love Tub Doctor" by The Bogmen, who uses psychotherapy, hypnosis and a hot-tub to seduce patients.

Theatre

  • Dr. Rook, the jailhouse shrink in One Touch of Venus, is not as harmful as the police lieutenant wants him to be, but still somewhat hostile and a little insane.

 Rodney: I'm not the loony one--you are!

Rook: That's what they all say.

Video Games

  • One of the main villains in LA Noire, Dr. Harlan Fontaine, is shown to be a brilliant psychologist and "doctor to the stars". However, when one of Dr. Fontaine's students, Courtney Sheldon, is in a fix and wondering what to do with some military surplus morphine, Fontaine says he'll take the morphine off his hands and of course, he gives the money he receives from it to a corrupt conspiracy that has people burning down housing estates to collect the insurance money. He also manipulates an ex-patient to burn down two families' houses, forcing them to sell their land.
  • The villain in Bioshock 2 is Dr. Sofia Lamb, a brilliant psychiatrist who believes Utopia Justifies the Means. She uses her skills to manipulate patients and the entire city of Rapture into becoming part of the "Rapture Family," which is just an elaborate ruse designed to obscure the fact that she's using the inhabitants to further her crazy agenda.
  • Alice: Madness Returns gives an esspecially twisted example in Dr Angus Bumby, whose 'therapy' consists of getting his patients to forget their pasts so he can use them as child prostitutes. He also burns down the protagonist's house to cover his tracks after raping her sister. His Karmic Death is entirley justified.

Western Animation

  • Danny Phantom: The Emotion Eater Spectra disguised herself as a therapist and deliberately made her student patients more miserable in order to feed off their negative emotions.
  • Darkwing Duck saw a therapist at least twice — both turned out to be Quackerjack in disguise, using it as a ploy to mess with his head.
  • Plankon once passed himself off as a psychiatrist as part of a Batman Gambit to get SpongeBob SquarePants to tell him the secret Krabby Patty recipe.
    • That episode was particularly hilarious since Plankton's psychiatrist alias was Peter Lankton or "P.Lankton". Also...

 SpongeBob: Huh, you're shorter than I expected. I guess that's why they call you "shrink"! (rimshot)


Well-Meaning, But Dopey And Ineffective

Anime and Manga

  • In Loveless Ritsuka has one of the well-meaning but useless kind.

Comic Books

  • Dr Long in Watchmen.
  • Dr. Harleen Quinzel in Batman. Tried to cure the Joker of his madness, but failed so spectacularly that she's now as nutty as he is.
    • Let's face it-almost every doctor who works at Arkham Asylum is like this, judging by their success rate with Batman's enemies.
  • Otto von Himbeergeist from one Lucky Luke album, who tries to cure the Daltons. While his diagnosis is usually right on-spot, he doesn't manage to turn them. And then, he gets the idea that he should've started a career in crime rather than in academics...

Literature

  • The Bad Seed has a non-professional example in Monica Breedlove. A fan of Freudian psychology, she likes to psychoanalyze people for fun; she diagnosed her gardener as a paranoid schizophrenic and herself as loving her brother. Despite how much knowledge she has about psychology and human nature, her arrogance and constant talking blind her from being able to apply it in a real situation, and she is unable to see the chaos that is going on right under her nose.
  • Dr Fairbairn, the psychotherapist who Child Prodigy Bertie Pollock sees in the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. He insists on interpreting what Bertie says to fit his theories, rather than adjusting his theories to fit what Bertie says. As a result, he is completely unaware that Bertie just wants a normal childhood.

Film

  • The Terminator movies have Dr. Silberman, who considers himself too sane to buy into Sarah's apocalyptic foreknowledge delusions.
  • Sophie in Shortbus is a "couples counselor" who doesn't like it when people call her a "sex therapist" (who ironically herself, can't have an orgasm).
  • Dr. Simms from the third A Nightmare on Elm Street genuinely wants to help the Elm Street kids, but her refusal to acknowledge the supernatural threat only puts them in worse danger.

Live Action TV

  • One served as a kind of "inexpert witness" for ISN in the Babylon 5 episode "The Illusion of Truth". He seems nice enough, but has no idea what he's talking about (he misidentifies Stockholm Syndrome as "Helsinki Syndrome") and is being hauled out to provide propaganda against the heroes by what is basically a fascist government's PR wing.
  • John Watson's therapist in Sherlock is not blatantly idiotic, but doesn't seem all that useful, and believes Watson's shaky hand and psychosomatic limp is because he's haunted by war, when in fact he misses it. However, it should be noted that it's unknown whether she would have been useful if Watson had completed regular therapy rather than meeting Sherlock, possibly making her an unfair addition to this variation of the trope.

Music

  • Fred Freud in the song of the same name by Lee Hazlewood attempts to cure his patients by prescribing classical music.

Video Games

  • The therapist in Phantasmagoria2. While it's good to see a horror game avert There Are No Psychologists, she's extremely useless around a patient who obviously needs a lot of help working through his issues.

Web Comics

  • Tip from Skin Horse is a psychologist. He tends to be a type 2: well-intentioned, but a little too reliant on therapy puppets and self-help books. And he's been known to storm out after insults to his fashion sense.

Western Animation

  • Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist was about a psychologist. He was more of the second variety, with occasional flashes of competence.
  • In the Batman universe, Harley Quinn was a psychiatrist named Dr. Harleen Quinzel at Arkham Asylum before the Joker lured her to a life of crime. She was the well-meaning, dopey type.
    • On that note, Dr. Bartholomew of Arkham Asylum genuienlly wants to help as demonstrated in the episode Dreams in Darkness. But he's naive at best...
  • Dr. Scratchensniff of Animaniacs.


Awesome

Comic Books

Film

Literature

  • Sigmund Freud himself in The Dracula Tapes.
    • And likewise in The Seven Per Cent Solution.
  • In the novel I Am The Cheese, the main character spends every other chapter or so relating his life experiences to a psychologist at a sanitarium.
  • Doctor Nolan in The Bell Jar, who builds up a relationship of trust with Esther and ultimately improved her condition enough that she could feel hopeful again. Based on the author's real-life experiences.
  • Mr Nutt, polymath genius in Unseen Academicals, heroically psychoanalysis himself.
  • Rivers from The Regeneration Trilogy is tirelessly kind and patient with the Shell-Shocked Veteran s he helps to come to terms with their war experiences.
    • Rivers' friend Henry Head is also suggested to be one of these along with some of the other doctors at Craiglockhart

Live Action TV

  • Aaron Sorkin's a big fan of shrinks. Adam Arkin played Awesome Shrink Stanley Keyworth in The West Wing, where he helped Josh overcome the trauma of being shot.
  • Law and Order Special Victims Unit adds forensic psychiatrist and FBI profiler Dr. George Huang to the cast late in season 2. Dr. Huang's pretty awesome, though his observations do not go unchallenged.
  • Dr. Kroger from Monk is definitely an awesome shrink. He always has advice that's relevant and helpful. Granted, Adrian Monk isn't always very good at following that advice. Monk's new shrink, Dr. Bell, is equally awesome.
  • Tony Hill from Wire in The Blood is an awesome psychologist. Though most of his screen time is devoted to second guessing criminals, rather than curing people. He's so good one crazy hoodoo doctor was convinced that Tony was a witchdoctor too, and the ending suggests they died from hallucinating a swarm of flies suffocating them. And sometimes it appears he might not be quite right himself.
  • Dr. Sweets on Bones, and before him Stephen Fry as Dr. "Gordon Gordon" Wyatt. Both are treated as the Ineffectual Shrink at first but ultimately prove to be very helpful.
  • Sidney Freedman, a recurring guest character on M*A*S*H.
  • Bob Hartley in The Bob Newhart Show.
  • Dr. Molly Clock in Scrubs. Oddly, she's rather quirky herself.
    • Or Dr. Cox's shrink from "His Story".
    • Dr Hendrick, Sacred Heart's grief counselor, is portrayed as a great counselor, but is nonetheless seen as smug and annoying by the main characters, even when it's them he's helping.
  • Dr. Kate Heightmeyer in Stargate Atlantis.
  • Dr. Samantha Kohl in Raines. Anyone capable of making any progress with someone like Raines has to qualify as an awesome shrink.
  • Major Grace Pedersen, the Australian Army psychiatrist serving with the ISAF medical unit in Combat Hospital.
  • Dr. Lee Rosen of Alphas, who is also arguably the main character.

Theatre

  • In the musical Lady in the Dark, Dr. Alexander Brooks analyzes Liza Elliott's musical Dream Sequences and discovers the roots of her nervous disorder in her childhood memories.

Video Games

  • Dr. Kauffman in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. He may be quite cynical and confrontational at times, but it's all for the patient's own good in the end.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Dr. Bliss, the child psychologist who helped Helga in Hey Arnold.
  • Morty Storkowitz on Birdz does a good job in taming Mr. Nuthatch. In the course of 13 episodes, Mr. Nuthatch goes from a nervous-wreck coward to being much more confident (though still eccentric). There's even a slight role reversal as Mr. Nuthatch ends up convincing Morty that he shouldn't be afraid to sing.


Multiple types, variable types, etc.

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Anime and Manga

  • All the shrinks in Monster, who range from realistically successful to vaguely psychotic.

Comic Books

  • Dr Jeremiah Arkham in Batman started out as a Type 2, before gradually becoming a Type 1. His ancestor Amadeus, who founded the Asylum, is currently appearing as a Type 2/3 in All-Star Western but it's a Foregone Conclusion that he becomes a Type 1, since it's built into the Asylum's history.

Film

  • In Annie Hall there is an amusing Split Screen scene showing Alvy and Annie at their respective shrinks, who simultaneously ask them how often they make love. Alvy replies, "Oh, hardly ever...two, maybe three times a week." While Annie says, "Oh all the time, at least two or three times a week."
  • Neil Gordon from the third A Nightmare on Elm Street. Mostly an Awesome Shrink, but subverts it when he's willing to use drugs (Hypnocil) to aid his patients.

Literature

  • A major theme in Erica Jong's Fear of Flying.
  • Ditto Philip Roth's Portnoys Complaint.
  • Sir Roderick Glossop is a rather complicated example. Sometimes he would qualify as harmful because of his tendency to see mental illness everywhere and his belief that Bertie should be institutionalized. Of course since this is Wodehouse its Played for Laughs. Later on he becomes more of a dopey ineffectual shrink specifically in his use of “The Glossop Method” where he gives a patient whatever it is they want (alcohol for instance) in the hopes that they will get sick of it and therefore cease to be addicted. Needless to say it doesn’t work.

Live Action TV

  • In the German crime comedy Dr. Psycho, police psychologist Max Munzel seems like an example of type 2 and is treated as such by his police colleagues and wife, but he is far less incompetent than his personality would suggest.
  • Frasier. Obviously. Both Frasier and Niles tend to oscillate between types two and three.
  • Libby from Lost, who is usually Type 3, but occasionally dips into Type 2.
  • House's psychiatrist in Season 6 is apparently awesome but actually violates so many therapeutic heuristics (ex. don't judge your patient, and picking up a newspaper and ignoring him may make for dramatic effect or comedy in someone twisted mind but is certainly not realistically helpful), it's no wonder House finally got fed up and walked out.
    • Given the fact that he actually somewhat managed to at least temporary help House - who as a person would be the worst ordeal for any therapist - we may consider him plain awesome.
  • The premise of the television show The Sopranos is that main character and mob boss Tony Soprano starts seeing a therapist.
  • Gabriel Byrne in In Treatment.
  • Dr. Craig "Huff" Huffstodt (played by Hank Azaria) from Showtime's HUFF, which was Too Good to Last.
  • It's still too early to call, but Archie Hopper in Once Upon a Time seems to skate between Types 2 & 3. Like the rest of the cast, he suffers from a nasty case of identity amnesia and tends to be an Extreme Doormat when it comes to Regina's abuse...well, until he grew a spine in the fifth episode. Considering he was Jiminy Cricket, it's probably not a good idea to tell him to violate matters of conscience.

Newspaper Comics

  • Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts. At 5¢ a session you presumably get what you pay for.
  • A common gag in The Far Side. One of the more famous ones is a therapist who puts in one patient's notes, "Just plain NUTS!"
  • A very, very common setting for New Yorker magazine cartoons. One of my favorites shows a guy at home saying to his parakeet, "You came up in therapy today."

Web Comics

  • For a couple of years in Dykes to Watch Out For, Mo saw a shrink named Anya whom she adored. Therapy has also been a Running Gag throughout the strip, referencing how near-obligatory therapy seems to be for lesbians, and Sparrow in particular was a full fledged therapy junkie for about the first 10 years (even showing her entering couple therapy with her girlfriend of three months. There was also a character appearing on the calendars (but not in the strip, aside from her initial appearance in a really early strip) named Cleo Baldshein, a "guerrilla therapist".
  • Dr. Gardevoir serves as the only psychiatrist to a world inhabited by video game characters. She's seen to be calmly dealing with a Creeper repeatedly exploding but dreads being in the same room as Ellis. She also seems to have given herself a Split Personality when trying self therapy.

Western Animation

Video Games

  • Dr. Penelope Young from Batman: Arkham Asylum sits at a nebulous point between types 1 and 2. Her intentions are good, but the experiments she performs -- and which Fridge Horror indicates she intends to perform, given she thinks that her subjects would need' a Psycho Serum like TITAN to survive them -- are clearly less than benevolent. She is cool-headed and rational, yet her effects at treating or even diagnosing the patients at Arkham are absolutely useless. This is compounded by the fact she has a rather egrerious case of Arbitrary Skepticism, which means she refuses to believe that, say, Killer Croc is a cannibal (despite this being a well-documented aspect of his behavior by the police) or that the Ratcatcher does have a borderline psychic ability to communicate with rats. Admittedly, in this last case, metahumans are a rarity in Gotham, but at least two well-known cases -- Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy -- are not only famous, but actually kept in Arkham. Summing up just how terrible she is at performing even a basic diagnosis; Dr. Young actually comes to the conclusion that Jonathon Crane, aka The Scarecrow, is harmless and would be a great assert to the TITAN project... as a researcher.
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