L.A. Shrinks: Is Your Therapist's Life a "Hot Mess"?

A new Bravo reality television show depicts questionable behaviors.

Posted Jan 24, 2013

People have been fascinated by the private lives of high-powered individuals since the beginning of time. Whether it was a scandal at church involving the priest and his wife, or the company CEO with the questionable trading practices, we’re drawn to finding the Achilles’ heel of the seemingly faultless perfect people whose lives fascinate us. It may be envy, or simply intrigue. Reality shows naturally exploit this intrinsic curiosity. What would it be like to be a teen mom, or a rich Texas housewife? Reality television gives us some clues. It may not be reality, but it certainly gives us scintillating hints.

Over the years several docu-style reality shows have tried to get into the lives of physicians. Shows such as Boston Med, NY Med, and others would depict the lives of residents, nurses, and other medical professionals in hopes of finding a real-life McDreamy such as that in Grey’s Anatomy. While the private lives of psychologists has managed to fly under the radar for some time, it seems the era of “de-mystifying” them has come. Psychologists have already expressed much disdain for the plotlines that either confuse them with psychiatrists (only select psychologists in New Mexico, Louisiana, and in the Indian Health Service or military can prescribe medication) or have them sleeping with clients (which for the record is against our ethics code if that wasn’t already obvious) . However, a new Bravo show, called L.A. Shrinks wants to take thing to the next level. The idea being, “think your life sucks? Just look at your own therapist’s life. Now there’s a hot mess.”

Throughout their training, psychologists (both practicing clinicians and researchers) are aware of the highly sensitive nature of their work. Adherence toward and awareness of ethical behavior and treatment is at the forefront of our work. We are one of the few professions where we can’t come home and talk about our job with our families. That’s because everything that is said in a therapy session is confidential.  Even research data is protected as such.  Many wonder how psychologists and therapists manage this. How do they hold so much pain without falling apart themselves? Rumors abound that this contributes to the common notion of psychologists being the “crazy” ones. This is why mental health professionals may be more prone to substance usage, divorce, and other concerns, some may posit. However, in all of my training, I have yet to learn that by becoming a psychologist I am royally out of luck. Instead, we talk about compassion fatigue, burnout, the importance of self-care, consultation, and when necessary, referrals .

Certainly as a psychologist, you learn to monitor your public behavior perhaps more than individuals in other professions. When out with friends in a small town and teased for keeping a low profile, I’d often joke, “how would you feel if your therapist to whom you just divulged your deepest concerns and secrets was intoxicated and dancing on a bar counter? Would you trust them with your vulnerabilities again next week in session?”

It comes with the territory that we lead unconventional lives. Yes, at times our work even sounds strange. Sit with someone in a room for 50 minutes and hear all of their woes and then do it again with someone for the next few hours. But we understand it is much more than that. It is bearing witness to the joys, the triumphs, the growth and the breakdowns. There is beauty in it all, and I consider it a privilege to be in this field. We are not immune to the same concerns that ail our clients, as we are humans at the end of the day. Even if a few rebels from our field decide to completely disparage and taint our reputations as a profession, we still prevail. How does that work? The knowledge of those two magical words in our lexicon that communicates volumes among us. Axis II.

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