The rhythms of therapy
By Claire McMenemy, MSW, Our Clinic Ottawa
Claire is a registered social worker who provides counselling to Veterans and First Responders. A former member of the CAF Reserves and lawyer, Claire was drawn to “reboot” her career life to help people she saw “falling through the cracks” when they faced difficult transitions in their lives, particularly after traumatic experiences. Claire has a Masters of Social Work and a variety of additional training, including iCognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, Narrative approaches, Crisis Intervention and Spirituality. In her free time, Claire enjoys camping, trail running and canoeing with her sons and husband, who is a serving member of CAF.
TV and movie portrayals
Not long ago, it was comedic when characters on TV shows went for counselling or therapy. You might remember scenes of Tony Soprano, the renowned mob boss, going for therapy with Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos, or Sam Malone seeking relationship advice from Dr. Frasier Crane from a bar stool in Cheers. Then, there was Charlie Scheen not receiving but providing therapy in Anger Management, at the same time as he tried to navigate his own complicated life!
More recently, TV and movies are portraying a more realistic and positive view of therapy. For example, Dr. Weisman becomes Celeste’s lifeline in the movie Big Little Lies and we regularly see Military and First Responder characters in TV shows like SEAL Team and Chicago Fire going for therapy after traumatic events (even if, at first, many go somewhat hesitantly). The message these portrayals give is that mental health and therapy are worth talking about openly and honestly.
A key part of these TV and movie portrayals is the relationship that grows between a character and their therapist. This relationship is often called the “therapeutic alliance.” Therapeutic alliances grow over time, often characterized by a client’s trust and confidence in the therapist, and the therapist’s rich, holistic understanding of the client. Through their therapeutic alliance, the therapist and client form a bond that allows them to work collaboratively to identify the client’s goals, and then work together towards tasks that will achieve them.
Recent research suggests that therapeutic alliance is crucially important for those who seek therapy after experiencing trauma. Two recent findings are notable. The first is that, where strong therapeutic alliances exist, clients report experiencing more positive outcomes from therapy. They feel better able to share key aspects of their experience with their therapist, more willing to try new approaches to addressing challenges and more committed to engaging regularly in therapy.
Second, a strong therapeutic alliance helps a therapist to find the optimal approach and rhythm in an individual therapy session and across the course of therapy. When is it time to push a little further with a client to reframe a negative thought, or to ease off and more generally reflect upon the week that has passed, or to end a session in a calming relaxation exercise? Strong therapeutic bonds help a therapist to answer these questions, ensuring that the client’s experience of therapy is positive, balanced and healthy.
This year, watch for how TV and movies continue to portray therapy, and the relationship that forms between a therapist and client. Do they reflect your experience? It will also be interesting to see if TV and movies will include new developments like tele- or internet-based therapy, and find interesting ways to continue to portray therapy humorously but also realistically. Stay tuned!