Dame Maggie Smith, our national treasure, announced, a few years ago, that, following the advice of her agent, she had recently taken up publishing blogs and membership of Facebook, Twitter and “God knows what else”. She was uncertain whether joining this “hideous freakshow, that calls itself the modern age” really profits anyone and I, for one, did not disagree with the Dame.
Now, in 2019, we find ourselves asking the same question, only more so. There is hardly a day now in which some psychologist or other (qualified or self-styled, given the current lack of regulation, it seems to make no difference) doesn’t hold forth and in the world of the unreflecting masses, psychology by soundbite seems to rule. Whom does this serve or is any advertisement really good advertisement?
Widening the scope further to include vlogging, You Tubing and TV we find ourselves in the domain of therapy as life-style accessory or entertainment. Is this really what psychotherapy can ever become? Once upon a time, psychotherapists tended to talk about therapy as ‘sacred space’ but now anything seems to go. Our clients seeing their therapist unexpectedly appearing on the TV screen in their front room… ? “Consent was obtained” (to err…precisely what?) Although, of course, one wonders whether psychotherapy really lends itself to these intrusive processes (with or without consent) and whether clients can consent to something they may not understand. A colleague of mine states:
“A couple of times, I felt protective of the clients, of how much they would give themselves over, not just to the camera but in general, to the media.” she says. “My criterion was, are they robust enough to do the type of therapy I do on TV.”
Professor Brett Kahr has ethical concerns too: “I felt that the researchers and producers from television companies had really not thought through the ethical implications carefully enough and the potential long-term impact, both on the clients and the therapist”
Dr Otto Wahl, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Hartford conducted a systematic review of the portrayal of therapists and therapy in films released between 2000 and 2013 and, while he found some changes for the better in terms of accuracy of portrayal, there was, he says, still ‘a lot of unethical behaviour’
It wasn’t the same as in films of the past, when the therapists were usually shown as evil and manipulative, or sleeping with their patients, but they were portrayed in a more insidious way. Therapists would share personal information about their clients without their permission. “If I’m a client considering going to psychotherapy, I might think, if I am going to tell someone something really personal, I want to know that it is between me and the other one, rather than a camera team or “the nation” glued to a TV set”. (Dr Otto Walh)
Susi Orbach, herself no stranger to media fame, reminds us that therapy usually is about hard achieved miracles, often over many years, stuff that can’t get compressed into two- minute time slots, timed conveniently so that they are caught when the cameras are rolling.
Course Director LDPRT