A study by three Iowa State University psychologists shows psychiatrists on popular TV shows may make people less likely to seek help. Professor David Vogel says seeing TV mobster Tony Soprano seek help from a therapist for his anxieties didn’t translate into a better understanding of the profession.
Vogel says they found that those who watch comedy and drama shows were less likely to find therapy beneficial and were more likely to believe other people would see them negatively for seeking help. He says those beliefs led to more negative attitudes towards therapy and ultimately made them less likely to seek help from a therapists for problems in their life. Vogel says the problem is that the negatives outweigh the positives when it comes to psychiatrists on TV.
Vogel says not all portrayals of psychiatrists on television are negative or inaccurate, but he says previous studies have shown that the portrayals are often negative — especially in comedies or dramas — where the goal is to be dramatic. On television the psychiatrists are often seen talking to other people about their clients — something Vogel says is a major negative.
"I think that’s one of the really scary things about portrayals, is they make it seem like often therapists are unethical and that this idea of breaking confidentiality or talking about what happened is a common occurrence, where it basically never happens as one of the main sort of ethics that counselors go to, or respond to, trying keeping things confidential," Vogel says.
Vogel says psychiatrists seemed to get the worst of it from TV portrayals. He says there are comedies and dramas about other professions, such as doctors, where the shows make fun of them, but at the end of the day, the doctor is able to help people too. Vogel says often those programs make psychiatrists the butt of jokes, but don’t show the positive side too. Vogel says they hope to counter the negative portrayals with some information on how therapists can help people.
Vogel says he has colleagues and students working on these things, including a videotape that they plan to test and see how it impacts people’s willingness to seek help. He says the negative impressions hurt those who could really benefit from professional mental health services. According to Vogel, the most recent studies in the mental health field have found that about 20 percent of population each year experiences a situation in their lives where psychological therapy could be helpful — but, only about 10 percent of the people will seek help from a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.