During the 2023 Fan Expo Convention held in Chicago, I went to a talk by the Popcorn Psychology Podcast: Decreasing the Stigma Through Pop Culture.

The podcast started in 2018 to dispel how therapists are shown in film and television. Three Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors go over the film but also how they would treat the characters if they were a client of theirs. During the Expo, Ben, a trauma specialist, and Brittney, a child counselor, were in attendance.

They explained that therapy should be a safe place for clients to express themselves and challenge themselves, and it should never become a romantic/personal relationship.

So we went over a few examples of when therapy is correctly portrayed and a few instances where it didn’t.

Ted Lasso – it showed both the best and worst portrayals. Ted’s therapist, Dr. Fieldstone, did everything right. She was compassionate and appropriate and helped Ted. The show, in general, showed well how a person can be two things at once. Ted is optimistic but also depressed.

However, his couples therapist did the ultimate bad thing: he started a romantic relationship with Ted’s wife. This is a common trope that frustrates them greatly.

WandaVision – they were pleasantly surprised by how it should be when a person is overcome with grief. While how Wanda is manipulated by Agatha is unethical, the way her trauma made her tough and closed off is true to real life. Her refusal to acknowledge trauma and grief kept her and others in danger through the world she had created until the reality of what happened was conceded. However, it goes array when Wanda comes on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Then she goes full evil to deal with her grief, which was just too much, especially having done a better job on the show.

Falcon and The Winter Soldier – this shows a Marvel character finally going to therapy, albeit court-ordered. Bucky Barnes sees a therapist who knows how to communicate with Bucky and get to him. This is called irreverence, when the client isn’t buying what you are selling, so the psychiatrist communicates closer to the attitude and thought process of the client.

Similarly, Rick and Morty have an excellent point made by the therapist. In a monologue, Dr. Wong explains the importance of maintaining therapy as part of your well-being. It can be tedious, but she also compares it to washing your teeth: boring but a necessary part of keeping you well.

The Sixth Sense portrayed a child therapist well. Brittney’s specialty is this, and while the twist is a big reveal, the way the doctor plays, communicates, and bonds with the child is very accurate. Rarely is a child seeing a therapist by choice, so they feel reluctant. Brittney explained that for a few weeks, it could be them playing games so that she could win the child’s trust. Then once that trust happens, a secret is revealed, and that is when they can really get to work on helping the child. This is shown in the film as well.

When it comes to shame, it is a powerful feeling that makes a person feel less deserving of good things. A good example is in Stranger Things Season 4, where Max is depressed, isolating herself, and temperamental. She feels shame and guilt for surviving her step-brother’s death that she keeps anything good away from her.

The hero’s survival guilt or shame is excellently portrayed in The Last Jedi. It was the first episode of the podcast. It was done because while many were not a fan of the film, it was authentic to what a person could go through. Luke is going through trauma by not dealing with it, and when confronted with what has happened, he has an attitude and self-defense mechanism against acknowledging what he went through and what happened.

It happens in the Hunger Games series where Katniss doesn’t want to be a leader. When she wins the game, she wants to be left alone like Luke. So when viewers see their heroes not being very heroic, it is because most people don’t want to be in that position in the first place.

These films, tv shows, and books showed why a character does what they do. To the podcasters’ point, with the right therapist, they could do better for themselves and those around them.

During the Q&A portion, I asked,” Is there anyone who does not need therapy?”

Ben said, “Short answer? No.”

*Cover photo by Tara Jabbari attending the Fan Expo