I’m a fan of Gilmore Girls. I started watching it back when it was still coming out, when I was just a little junior high girl who thought it was maybe an accurate representation of what grown up life was like (lol). So I was pretty excited for the new mini-series, and devoured it in a single day. Like most reboots, there’s good and bad to it, but I want to focus specifically on something that as an adult with more experience I now KNOW is not how the world works. Not even a little bit, not at all.
This mini-series of Gilmore Girls is the first time that the show portrays therapy (despite the fact that basically every character ever seen could have used a heaping helping of it from the opening sequence). I am pretty gunshy of media representations of therapy no matter what, but I have to say that I was particularly disappointed in this one because it a. had the potential to show a really positive therapy experience to a great number of people and b. broke some very fundamental rules of therapy without a thought, creating a misleading portrayal of therapy that (I think) could easily scare young viewers or viewers with no experience in therapy away from pursuing help if they have a mental illness or are simply struggling.
The first thing that concerned me was that we saw multiple therapy sessions, and never once did the therapist offer any actual suggestions of what Emily and Lorelai could do to repair their relationship, or of skills that Lorelai could use in her own life. Nearly every time we saw her she just smiled and nodded or said that time was up. The sessions between Emily and Lorelai appeared to consist of sitting in silence for an hour. Now I know that it’s not unheard of for clients to be reticent, and for there to be a lot of silence, but most therapists will do more than just sit there. They ask questions. They suggest interpretations of different events. They give actual concrete ideas of how to handle your emotions and things to do so that your emotions start to feel better. I’ve found it a common misunderstanding that going to therapy is just paying someone to listen to you. Sure, that’s part of it, but that greatly underestimates all the work that a therapist actually does.
I’m sure there are therapists out there who don’t do much, but if you find a half decent one, they will be doing actual WORK. They will help you create images to understand your emotions better. They will help you draw connections between different events in your life and your current behaviors. They will give you strategies for dealing with other people. They will challenge different beliefs that you have which might be leading to unhappiness. They will give suggestions of activities, mantras, exercises, etc. that can help emotions feel less powerful and can calm you. The conviction that therapy is “just talking” is a huge part of the reason people are resistant to it. Why would you waste your time doing that when you can do it with friends or family? But therapy, while it is talk based, is about learning. It teaches you what you’re supposed to actually do outside of therapy. This therapist was the WORST portrayal of a therapist that doesn’t do anything.
Beyond that, when Lorelai and Emily actually did say things, they out and out fought and insulted each other. They were passive aggressive and cruel. No self-respecting therapist would let those behaviors go unchallenged. The point of therapy for any relationship is to create a safer space where nasty behavior like that gets curtailed and you can actually speak civilly to each other to get at real issues. All of the things that Lorelai and Emily said were ripe for further discussion, and the therapist just let them hang there. The show for some reason did not address that this was an AWFUL therapist.
And finally, perhaps worst, was a serious ethical breach that happened in the show without a single note. When the therapist is auditioning for Stars Hollow: The Musical, she sees Lorelai, greets her, and asks Lorelai to put in a good word. NO. NONONO. Therapists are not allowed to acknowledge that they know patients outside of therapy unless the patient acknowledges it first for confidentiality reasons. Not only that, but it’s horrifically unethical to use your position as someone’s therapist (where you have power over them) to ask for favors from them. This therapist should lose their license.
I understand that TV does not perfectly mimic reality, but these are huge problems for the portrayal of therapy on TV, and they are damaging to people’s understanding of what they can expect and their openness to attending therapy. We can do better.