I don’t get HBO, but I watched the first few episodes of the new HBO series “In Treatment” while staying with friends for a few days. It features a psychologist and his sessions with patients, one for each weekday night, and a session with his supervisor on Friday. I was hooked enough that I figure I need to rent the DVD when it comes out.
Now comes a NY Times article telling us that a plethora of viewers seem to have fallen in love with Gabriel Byrne, the actor who plays the psychotherapist Dr. Paul Weston.
Or is it the fictional psychotherapist Dr. Weston they love? The line between fantasy and fiction can get especially blurred.
Getting a crush on an actor is commonplace. Developing a crush on one’s therapist—a form of transference, or the redirection of strong feelings (positive and/or negative) from a significant person in a client’s previous life to a therapist—is to be expected in most individual therapies.
When the two phenomena combine—crush on an actor, crush on a therapist—you can get some mighty strong feelings:
Reactions to Mr. Byrne/Paul are “almost visceral,” said Vincent Gagliostro, an American filmmaker who lives in Paris. “When I first watched the show, I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t really like Gabriel Byrne,’ ” he said. “Now I’m totally infatuated with him. I want to watch his every move.”
Similar responses are posted on the Web, where chatter about the show and its brooding protagonist is mostly of the uncensored kind. “I could lick Gabriel Byrne all over,” a fan calling herself Therealzenobia confided on an HBO message board. Another viewer, Kleds, seemed to hang on the actor’s every gesture. “I love, love, love when he licks his lips,” Kleds wrote, “or when he simply sticks his tongue in the front of his mouth near his lips for a second. Sooo sexy.”
All this for a near-sixtyish Irish actor who “hates to be called brooding.” Well, brood no more, Mr. Byrne, you now officially a sex symbol par excellence.
Is it true, as a medical writer in the Times article is quoted as saying, that “you fall in love with anyone who will listen to your story?” Man, if it were, they’d be lining up in droves at my door. Unfortunately, most of them would be women.
In the case of Dr. Weston/Byrne, he’s not listening to the stories of his viewers, they are listening to him listening to the stories of others, whose stories the viewers are also listening to at the same time. It’s somewhat akin to a powerful experience many of us who have trained as therapists have had, observing a session between a therapist and client from behind the two-way mirror.
I can’t say I’ve ever fallen in love with a therapist I’ve watched in a session that way, although I’ve certainly admired the skill of some. But this is what has happened with “In Therapy” for so many people, who seem hungry for a guy who will listen—to anyone. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes.