What’s the Mental Health Accuracy of the T.V. Series “Shrinking”?

What's the Mental Health Accuracy of the T.V. Series "Shrinking"?

As time goes on, more television shows and movies are attempting to shine a light on mental health and therapy. But some are doing a better job of this than others. With the new series Shrinking, the intention is to start a conversation about therapy and seeking help when it’s needed. However, while attempting to break the stigma around counseling and therapy, the show is also raising questions about mental health accuracy and whether this is really the way a therapy practice operates.

What Is Shrinking About?

Shrinking is a 2023 comedy/drama series in its first season. The show follows Jimmy (Jason Segel), a therapist who’s recently widowed. As he copes with his wife’s sudden death, Jimmy begins to go against the rules and best practices of a therapist and begins giving his patients direct advice, telling them how to live their lives and even going so far as to invite one patient to live with him.

Harrison Ford plays the lovable Dr. Paul, a kind-hearted man with a bit of a quirky personality. Dr. Paul steps in to be there for Jimmy’s 17-year-old daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell), who’s struggling with the death of her mother and the distant behavior of her father in the aftermath.

What People Are Saying About the New TV Show

The reaction to Shrinking may not be what the creators, Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein, were hoping for. Vulture says that Shrinking is a show “about feelings, people grappling with their own and hurting those of others and talking about it all incessantly,” adding that it has a desperate need to be liked by audiences. The Ringer refers to the show attempting to have the same comedy and drama balance as Apple TV’s Ted Lasso but says it misses the mark.

Unfortunately, while the intention of the show might be to shine a light on mental health and make therapy more accessible, the conversation surrounding the series is more focused on its messy plot and forced comedic moments. However, one opinion piece suggests the primary issue with the show is that it makes malpractice into a joke, when in reality, there’s nothing funny about it.

The opinion piece says that “the idea that a therapist can not only see ‘the truth’ but that somehow this could help a client” indicates arrogance on the part of a therapist or psychologist. This begs the question of whether accuracy is important in a show like this and how damaging inaccurately depicting mental health treatment is to the public.

How Accurately Does Shrinking Depict Therapy?

Shrinking does little to accurately represent the experience of attending therapy, mainly because Segel’s character, Jimmy, is violating multiple boundaries that are in place to protect patients when they speak with therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. The misrepresentation of what therapy can be like could dissuade viewers from seeking the help they need. The traditional media representation of therapy has always been two people in a room, with the patient talking while the therapist takes notes and asks, “How does that make you feel?”

But in the modern age, therapy comes in many forms, including telemedicine and therapy apps. The depiction of therapy on the show doesn’t shine a light on these positive changes but rather offers a portrayal that ignores major red flags.

Factual inaccuracies and examples of malpractice that occur within the first few episodes of the show include a therapist:

  • Taking patients on field trips outside of sessions
  • Telling patients what to do because he thinks he knows what’s best for them
  • Speaking with patients outside the professional environment
  • Breaking patient/therapist confidentiality
  • Coercing/pressuring patients into speaking about past traumas before they feel ready
  • Inviting a patient to move into his home

It’s important that audiences realize these major transgressions are things that shouldn’t occur in a normal mental health treatment scenario. If audiences are aware that the show depicts a therapist gone rogue, rather than the kind of therapist they should be seeking for self-betterment, there’s less of an issue with the series.

The Show Is Starting Conversations About Mental Health Accuracy

While the show may not be demonstrating what a healthy, constructive relationship between a therapist and a patient looks like, it’s still driving a media conversation about seeking treatment for mental illness. This is an important topic for media publications to continue discussing in a critical way that gets readers thinking about the issue themselves.

An article in USA Today asks how much responsibility TV show creators and filmmakers have when depicting mental health care. As the article points out, Shrinking is not the first show in recent years to portray therapists overstepping. The hit TV series How I Met Your Mother shows Robin dating her therapist (Kal Penn), and the Netflix show Gypsy also depicts a therapist crossing personal boundaries with patients and their families.

The thing about television and film is that they’re meant to entertain. Watching a traditional therapy session may not be very exciting, which is why shows in Hollywood that depict mental health care often go to extremes to make it engaging for viewers. The danger here is audiences not understanding the exaggeration or where the lines are crossed. It’s critical to know your rights and boundaries as a patient. Therapists have an ethical obligation to respect patients, their private lives and boundaries.

Professional, Ethical Help Is Available

For individuals who are considering seeking treatment for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, addiction or any other mental health condition, professional help is available. At Restore Mental Health, our team of counselors is waiting to take your call and upholds a strict code of ethics to protect all patients. Talk therapy and other treatment options can be beneficial and aren’t as they seem on television series like Shrinking. Call us today to learn more or book a session.