TV Reinforces Psychotherapy Stigma

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Therapists — and their clients — are often portrayed in unflattering ways on television comedies and dramas, and as a result, viewers may be less willing to seek the psychological help they need, according to a new study by Iowa State University researchers.

“Generally, it seems like therapists are often portrayed unethically — like sleeping with the client, or implanting false memories, or talking about their clients outside the session,” said psychology professor David Vogel. He’s the lead author of the study, which was published in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Vogel reported that psychologists are “often portrayed as buffoons” (think Frasier). He added that the portrayal of their clients “is probably as bad or worse” (think the losers who populated the therapy group in The Bob Newhart Show).

“So why would you seek therapy if you believe you’re going to be perceived negatively and you’re going to see someone who is incompetent and not able to help you?” he rhetorically asked the Iowa State University News Service.

Vogel noted that by one estimate, only 10 percent of the people who could benefit from treatment actually seek help from a mental health professional. This is largely because of the “cultural stigma” surrounding psychotherapy — a stigma that, according to this study, television reinforces on virtually a nightly basis.

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