Ending “The” Treatment

by Richard Raubolt

This will be a brief review of “In Treatment.” This is perhaps a review I shouldn’t write as I saw only the first week of the show and an odd episode (pun intended) here and there. Then again the decision not to continue watching says something. This something maybe what Mac picked up on in his paper when I referred to the show as “The Treatment” rather than “In Treatment.”

Despite my attempts, I couldn’t get past Paul. He was spilling over everywhere, on to his patients, wife, and supervisor/therapist. Of course as analyst (?), therapist (?) he occupied center stage, for without this character there would be no show. It is the way that he occupied this stage that turned me and then my television off. What I objected to was that he filled the spaces with himself, for himself. I did not feel moved by his interpretations, that is, I didn’t experience them as “genuine” or at least as genuine as one can be while acting a part.

Paul couldn’t do as Jonathan suggested in facing Laura’s erotic transference in the first episode. He was not there WITH her and hadn’t been for the last year. Being outside and objectifying “the” treatment he could only say “no.” Paul could not go with Laura’s experience of love to explore the implications of these feelings, as his preoccupation of his own feelings, I believe, were paramount.

With Paul there was a remoteness and detachment in his words while his posture and eyes seemed to be saying the opposite. Perhaps this disconnect is why his patients were so aggressive toward him as Mac points out. While desperate and in pain they may also have felt the vacancy of his responses. I didn’t have the sense he really cared about them but was only doing his job=the treatment. The therapy portrayed was delivered long distance. Paul, to my viewing, was not IN the treatment with his patients.

The “session” that ended the series for me was the first meeting Paul had with Gina, his former therapist/supervisor. After, what, twelve years, he comes in the back door (how symbolic) neglecting how much turmoil he helped create in this relationship. His sheepishness at being challenged was unconvincing. Once there he couldn’t say what he wanted but didn’t want what Gina offered him. A bit of jousting, hurt feelings, animosity on both sides and little willingness to understand or empathize with each other was what I saw before I hit the off button.

Maybe the show improved over the weeks that followed. Others will have to judge if that is true as I moved over to another of HBO’s shows,” The Wire”, which I found much more compelling and psychologically minded.

Richard Raubolt

5 Responses to Ending “The” Treatment

  1. mac says:

    I want to add a brief response to the superb posts by Jon and Richard.

    Namely, I wonder if we’re making a category mistake. We tend to assume that the primary way to respond to the show is to judge it in terms of whether or not Paul is a good shrink. What if that’s not what the show is about, but rather about a shrink who is falling apart. The things we then object to would be signs of…

    There’s also another issue here that is most interesting to me as one who lives on the couch as it were. Styles of theraphy change and they change with theoretical changes in what we think psychoanlaysis is. But doesn’t that put us in a position of defending the current orthodoxy–or our style–as if it were the final or best word. What if we’re still just beginning to discover what goes on in a “genuine” psychoanalysis?


  2. larry says:

    I resonate with Mac’s remarks.

    I would add its not just that we are just beginning to understand what goes in a “genuine” psychoanalysis, as if we would eventually find out, but rather,
    it will always be changing because the context psychoanalysis develops in is always changing -what psychoanalysis becomes is an endless process.


  3. Steve says:

    Thanks to Mac, Jon, Richard and Judy who have written about my latest obsession and somewhat guilty (dis)pleasure.
    Perhaps as Larry points out, there cannot be a permanent, fixed “genuine” psychoanalysis because the context in which psychoanalysis develops is always shifting. I believe this is also part of the problem with “In Treatment”. HBO offers us no real context-not even an impermanent, evolving one to grasp onto if just for a while. Even allowing for a flexible and changeable definition of what would constitute a “genuine” therapist or treatment, what’s presented is amorphous and often feels to be inauthentic, even though at times quite absorbing. It’s some time into the series before we know if this is a psychologist, psychiatrist or other type of mental health professional and I’m still not certain if that’s been made clear. Again, it’s a while before we know whether or not he is psychoanalytically trained, if he completed his training or even still identifies as such, though vague references are made to Stephen Mitchell, Jodie Davies and “The New York group”. That said, he does seem to espouse analytic theory-albeit in what sometimes seems to me to be a form of wild analysis. His relationship with Gina isn’t given a clear context either. From what I can tell, she is a former supervisor/senior colleague/friend, who’s currently functioning as a combination supervisor-therapist. More recently, she’s his couples therapist as well. And apart from being a highly stylized version of a set designer’s fantasy of what a shrink’s office should look like, we’re given no sense of place. This could be any town in any state in any part of the country. One gets a sense that Main Street, USA is just outside the door and still the dialogue (translated from the Hebrew) and the characters often seem oddly out of place. I’ll keep tuning in though, even if primarily in the context of wanting to keep company with a larger community of colleagues, patients and friends who are also watching, cheering, cringing and complaining.


  4. William Rickles says:

    Here is a little more detail about the Israeli origins of “In Treatment” that may be of interest. Click the link to read.

    The New York Times Magazine
    In This Week’s Magazine: The Rerun of the Repressed
    By Virginia Heffernan

  5. Merle Molofsky says:

    I do not have premium channels like HBO, and have not seen In Treatment. I have requested the dvd from NetFlix, and am in the NetFlix waiting room, waiting anxiously…. In the meantime, I am glad that the show has generated interest in the psychoanalytic/psychotherapeutic encounter, with all its dangers and desires, as the Sopranos did, and as many TV shows and films have in the past. Sex, Lies, and Videotape was one of the best depictions of the psychotherapeutic encounter I have seen on screen.

    The heyday of Freudian and Jungian analysis, the 1930’s and 1940’s, led to films that either captured the psychoanalytic adventure through dream imagery and symbolic content, or that represented the psychoanalytic encounter, while exploring the psyche not only of the analysand as subject but the analyst as subject. In Treatment seems as if it follows this venerable tradition. If we take seriously the transference/countertransference matrix, then we have to recognize that therapists/analysts will be depicted as flawed, self-involved, emotionally unbalanced, while at the same time the therapeutic process is still recognized as useful to the person who comes for help. Perhaps we are witnessing a cultural transference that needs the analyst/therapist to be depicted as unstable, as less than idealized. And perhaps that cultural transference has its uses, its symbolic resonances.

    I invite response, wondering if any and all of those reading my comment would like to speculate in cyberspace dialog about the need for a de-idealized analyst object as a manifestation of a deeply pervasive cultural transference.


    (Merle Molofsky)

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