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Gabbard, G.O. Gabbard, K. (1985). Countertransference In The Movies. Psychoanal. Rev., 72(1):171-184.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Review, 72(1):171-184


Countertransference In The Movies

Glen O. Gabbard, M.D. and Krin Gabbard, Ph.D.

The image of psychiatry has probably suffered more at the hands of moviemakers than at those of any of its other detractors. Going to the movies is a favorite national pastime, and countless moviegoers have their only contact with psychiatrists through an image on the silver screen. judgments are made, biases formed, and assumptions upheld from screenwriters' fantasies of what psychiatrists are really like. For better or worse, the naive audience member may confuse these images with a mirror held up to nature. As we suggested in a previous publication (Gabbard & Gabbard, 1980), the film psychiatrist has suffered a steady decline over the last 20 years or so, with only a few notable exceptions, such as I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Ordinary People. The most negative depictions have involved the mishandling of countertransference feelings; psychiatrists fall in love with patients, exploit them sexually, sadistically manipulate them, murder them, and employ ECT and psychosurgery to punish them.

Countertransference, narrowly defined, refers to the therapist's unconscious reaction to the patient's transference. More broadly defined it is the total emotional reaction of the therapist to the patient (Kernberg, 1965). All practicing psychiatrists, of course, experience countertransference feelings to varying degrees every day. Years of training and supervision are devoted to the proper management of these feelings. Filmmakers, and quite possibly the general public as well, seem to find it hard to believe that psychiatrists can really prevent themselves from acting on the strong feelings conjured up in their interpersonal relationships with patients.

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