February 29th, 2008

Falling in love with your therapist—on TV

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.

7 Responses to “Falling in love with your therapist—on TV”

  1. Vanderleun Says:

    So is it wrong for me to have a crush on my therapist even if my therapist is not an actor?

  2. Vanderleun Says:

    Or is our time up for today?

  3. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Transference also includes other roles, especially parental ones. Those seem to be absent in this article on Mr. Byrne. Does that mean that one type of transference can operate from the screen, but other kinds are filtered out? Or does it mean that something other than garden-variety transference is occurring? Either way, there is something fascinating about social image and medium of communication going on.

  4. Foxfier Says:

    Hm…My husband and I effectively act as therapy for eachother….

    Perhaps part of the functuion of a good relationship? And women hunger for that?

  5. Lady Ja Says:

    Recently upon attending marriage counselling, I fell in love with the therapist. Happy to report that my marriage has much improved; but it does not change the fact that I am now in love with my therapist-these feelings manifested after he told us he was relocating and that we would soon be approaching the last session with him. I cried for hours on the way home (my husband and I have separate vehicles). The therapist seemed to be one of the most loving guys I’d ever met. The first day I saw him, I found him checking me out and when I approached him to talk, he got nervous like a school boy so I did notice the attraction although I hardly think he would act on it, in that he a christian and a professional-just finishing his Master’s in Counselling. I feel so confused. Hubby and I believe we will be fine and did not opt for another marriage counsellor; however, I attempted to tell him but not in plain words. The whole thing is quite embarrassing, and will pray to get over this situatuation. It’s a shame, you try to correct one problem and get another. I can’t talk to the counsellor about it although this is recommended from some of the other sites-in that he is leaving town. He won’t return my calls; I think he knows though. I wrote him a nice letter telling him how I would never forget him-and thanking him for crying with me, all compliments and letting my be vulnerable. I just pray that I get over this quickly.

  6. woundedduck Says:

    it was bad enough for me when I copped to my therapist crush, and I’m still seeing her, but having your crush therapist leave town must feel like having your guts ripped out. from my layman’s understanding, therapist crushes are normal, but they are an indication of feelings coming up that–you guessed it–another therapist could help you with.

  7. marriage therapist Says:

    I know a lot of patients who have crushes on their therapist

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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