As therapists, we often watch television and film depictions of therapy with a lot of interest, and sometimes skepticism. Case in point: Dr. Reisman, the therapist in HBO’s popular show Big Little Lies. Responding to others’ critiques of Dr. Reisman’s judgmental attitude toward her patients, INSIDER recently reached out to our therapist Kelly Scott to analyze Dr. Reisman’s counseling style.
As a therapist who works with individuals and couples (as does Dr. Reisman on the show), Kelly observes that while Dr. Reisman’s directness isn’t unhelpful by default, her candidness comes off as an attempt to be morally superior to her patients. Kelly says in the article, “My overriding feeling is that the therapist is provocative without a goal. She’s just trying to stir up conflict without framework [for helping her patients].”
One example of this is a scene in Big Little Lies in which Dr. Reisman asks Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) in couples counseling why she cheated on her husband, which, as Kelly explains, “oversimplifies a complicated relationship and situation.” In contrast, Kelly describes how she approaches infidelity and other tough issues in couples therapy “with the understanding that they’re complex, not black and white…” Rather than pitting each partner against one another like Dr. Reisman did on the show, Kelly encourages couples to be curious rather than judgmental with each other, which can “open up other possibilities for them to repair and build and deepen their relationship.”
Kelly also comments on a scene in which Dr. Reisman triggers Nicole Kidman’s character Celeste by making her relive a traumatic moment of her late husband’s abuse after Celeste said she misses him. Kelly notes that it would likely hurt “the relationship between patient and therapist because [the patient] sees the therapist as someone who doesn’t understand or who is pushing an agenda…It leaves the patient alone when the whole point of therapy is not being alone.”