Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Psychotherapy-Moral and ethical aspects, Motion pictures-Plots, themes, etc., Psychiatry in motion pictures, Stereotypes (Social psychology) in motion pictures, Therapy, Film, Ethics, Movies, Stereotypes


This qualitative study was undertaken to examine how the therapeutic process is depicted in modern films produced for American audiences over the past two decades, with special reference to how the conventions of ethics in therapy are treated, and to discuss the implications of these findings for clinical practice. A sample of 50 films that featured at least one scene of individual therapy was identified and surveyed using a coding scheme developed for this project. The domains of interest included: clinician, client, and session demographics, and adherence to ethical standards as portrayed in therapy scenes. This study was undertaken to contribute a more recent voice to the growing clinical discussion about the representation of mental health practitioners in film and to call attention to the specific strengths and shortcomings therein. The findings are discussed from a social learning theory framework and the implications for social work practice are discussed. The findings suggest that many cinematic representations of therapy and therapists are inaccurate and negative. The demographics of the sessions appear to be a representation of Hollywood and not the actual demographics of real clients or clinicians. These cinematic sessions depict ethical transgressions or gloss over ethics entirely, sending an erroneous message about what the actual therapeutic process is like. This researcher hopes to increase awareness about the existing cinematic portrayals of the therapeutic process and further the discussion of what action social workers can take in response.




v, 90 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2011. Includes bibliographical references (p. 73-79)