POSTED May 3 2013

Is it a movie law that female shrinks fall for male patients?


Vera Farmiga and Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Departed," bringing new meaning to internal affairs

Vera Farmiga and Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Departed,” bringing new meaning to internal affairs

The biggest laugh in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound comes when a consulting analyst played by Michael Chekhov tells analyst Ingrid Bergman: “Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love. After that they make the best patients.”

If you’ve seen Spellbound then you know that Bergman falls for her amnesiac patient, Gregory Peck, a plot turn that cast the mold for female screen psychoanalysts and psychotherapists. They include Lindsay Crouse in House of Games, Barbra Streisand in Prince of Tides, Vera Farmiga in The Departed (who as the police therapist who falls for two of her patients brings literal meaning to “Internal Affairs”), Kirstie Alley in Deconstructing Harry and Anna Kendrick in 50/50.

It would seem that the screen’s female shrinks have the monopoly on countertransference. I can think of only two male analysts in movies who become enmeshed with female patients: Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers in Carefree and Michael Fassbender (as Carl Jung) with Keira Knightley (as Sabina Spilrein) in A Dangerous Method. 

Is it a movie law that female shrinks fall for male patients? Any thoughts about why it’s become a movie trope? Can you think of other examples?



  1. Gary says:

    I vote for CHOOSE ME, the wonderful, candy-colored Alan Rudolph film, which has Genevieve Bujold playing a radio sex therapist who becomes a better doctor after falling in love with the possibly crazy Keith Carradine who cures her.

  2. Easy: Many studio guys are in therapy, and they fantasize about (1) banging their female therapist or (2) the therapist being female so they can bang them.

    I think it’s the same thing that leads to all the movies about fifty- and sixtysomething action heroes who have young girlfriends and can whip guys a third their age.

  3. Talkcineman says:


    Worse than a law, a planetary axiom.

    The male patients are so compelling and intricate and only two yards from the goalposts (sports analogy intended, particularly since it is an analogy) of being able to feel again that the girl shrinks willingly abandon all training and professionalism to pull, not push, the sons they never had/lost over the goal line, the goalposts themselves serving as a metaphor for open legs surrounding a deeply familiar the path to and from glory, and begin an analogically incestuous relationship in which they surrender all boundaries to help their patient score. Simple.

    This is America. Why is that so difficult?

  4. People think it’s sexy, that’s all, a sort of “hot for teacher” trope. You left out Jeanne Trippelhorne and Michael Douglas in “Basic Instinct.” That was really good.

  5. Quora says:

    Is there a law that movies featuring female psychoanalysts and psychotherapists invariably have them becoming enmeshed with their male clients?…

    What do you think is the reason for this trope? Movies where this happens:

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