There is a most compelling scene in this second season of HBO’s critically acclaimed In Treatment, about a therapist and his patients, that will plug into the collective psyches of child psychiatrists. The youngest of Paul Weston’s patients, Oliver, played by a totally believable Aaron Shaw, is struggling with his eating and sleeping problems, the result of multiple conflicts in the on going saga of his parent’s separation and battle over custody. While his parents argue inside the consultation room, Paul happily observes Oliver asleep in his waiting area. This is powerful, as feeling “safe” allows an exhausted disturbed child necessary rest. As clinicians we do provide safe havens for our charges and it’s nice that for once popular culture recognizes this.
The drama also shows the therapist’s (a psychologist) flaws and his humanity played by the talented Gabriel Byrne. After a tough year (his own divorce, and boundary violations, a patient’s suicide) he leaves his family and practice in Maryland and moves to the urban environs of Brooklyn to start his practice and life anew. However as Buckaroo Bonsai once said “Wherever you go that’s where you will be” his old life follows him in the form of a malpractice suit.
Both Paul and we are fortunate, in that as with season one of the program, all his new patients are attractive, verbal, and culturally interesting(divorce, finance, cancer problems )played by the likes of Hope Davis, John Mahoney, and Alison Pill. The show is divided into five half hour weekly segments, two one day and three the next . The fifth segment focuses on Paul’s treatment. Paul needs help, as he is bitter and angry about his work and family. Hopefully he will get some “treatment” for himself, from a former supervisor Gina (Diane Weist) who may have her own issues with Paul.
For dramatic entertainment, as well as a peek into what therapy is really about, In Treatment, is riveting and even addicting. I know of at least two venues where it is being used as an educational tool. The case of Oliver, for us as child therapists demonstrates the complicated issues of dealing not just with a child but with a family. Most important, it illustrates how Paul’s work with Oliver contains elements of compassion and flexibility, traits as care givers to children that we all hopefully possess.
This is adult entertainment, not for young children.
Michael Brody is chair of the Media Committee of AACAP
He is the author of Messages: Self Help Through Popular Culture