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Shrinks on the small screen

Shrinks on the small screen — We analyze the real and fictionally TV psychiatrists like Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Dr. Jason Seaver

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Guilt. Confusion. Depression. They’re enough to drive you to a shrink, unless, of course, you happen to watch TV. Counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, and self-help experts — both real and fictional — abound on the small screen, helping troubled souls. Now, rather than make an office visit, you can take to the comfort of your own couch and watch John Bradshaw, Leo Buscaglia, and even Frasier Crane of Cheers handle such problems as dysfunctional families, angry spouses, and back-stabbing barmates. No neurosis or crisis is too insignificant for these tele-shrinks. But is their advice enlightening or lame? Are they capable of leading us to happiness and sanity, or are they goofballs? Here we analyze the TV analysts.

The Real
Dr. Westheimer
SHOWS: Various TV appearances, including regular stints on Late Night With David Letterman.
CREDENTIALS: Doctorate in education, Columbia University’s Teachers College.
SPECIALITIES: Prurient accent-plagued advice on everything from foreplay to whether it’s okay to call your mate ”cupcake.”
STYLE: Lovable grandma with a dirty mind
BEST ADVICE: ”Please, always have safe sex, okay?”
WORST ADVICE: Once wrote that sex during ovulation was unlikely to cause pregnancy; the mistake was later corrected.
PRESCRIPTION FOR HAPPINESS: ”Find yourself a man that you are very excited about.” ”No matter what the person or preference, it’s important that you talk to your lover.”

The Real
Dr. Leo Buscaglia
SHOWS: The Art of Being Fully Human, Love Talks, and other PBS specials.
CREDENTIALS: Ph.D. in language and speech pathology, University of Southern California.
SPECIALITIES: Inspirational, sugar-coated chatter on love, honesty, and intimacy in relationships. Hugging people incessantly, sweating profusely.
STYLE: Pavarotti meets Mister Rogers.
BEST ADVICE: ”Become the best you you’ve ever known.”
WORST ADVICE: Tells you to ask your mother what her ”greatest ecstasy” was.
PRESCRIPTION FOR HAPPINESS: ”Ride more merry-go-rounds, smell more flowers, hug more children.”

The Real
John Bradshaw
SHOWS: Bradshaw on: Homecoming, Bradshaw on: The Family (both 10-part PBS series)
CREDENTIALS: Counselor and educator with bachelor of sacred theology and master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Toronto. Also did graduate work in psychology and religion at Rice University.
SPECIALITIES: ”Toxic shame,” wounded inner children, dysfunctional families, abusive parents, wearing garish neckties.
STYLE: Charismatic, evangelical New Ager.
BEST ADVICE: Says that we are all entitled to make mistakes and that ”each one of us has the right to our own life.”
WORST ADVICE: Says we make all of our mistakes because ”we are all divine infants in exile.” Got that?
PRESCRIPTION FOR HAPPINESS: ”Rigidity is mental illness. Flexibility is freedom.” ”All of life is a heroic journey. We’re going to meet monsters and dragons on the way and we’re going to have to slay them.”

The Not-So-Real
Dr. Jason Seaver
ACTOR: Alan Thicke
SHOW: Growing Pains
CREDENTIALS: Psychiatrist with medical degree from unspecified university.
SPECIALITIES: Mike’s girl problems, Carol’s boy problems, general teenage angst, rebellion, and rivalry.
STYLE: Even-handed, fatherly, sappy type who enjoys conducting sessions on his hallway steps.
BEST ADVICE: ”We all have to choose between order and chaos. If you choose order, then there is a reason for everything, a reason to get up in the morning, to make something of your life.”
WORST ADVICE: To his son Mike: ”In every male there is the drive to nest and the drive to hop from tree to tree to see what is shaking. Society’s rules often force men to capitulate and get married.”
PRESCRIPTION FOR HAPPINESS: ”If you treat people with respect, if you are fair, honest, and sincere, then nothing can harm you or the people you love.”

The Not-So-Real
Dr. Frasier Crane
ACTOR: Kelsey Grammer
SHOW: Cheers
CREDENTIALS: Blue-blooded psychiatrist with degree from Harvard Medical School. Also brags about having attended Andover and Princeton.
SPECIALITIES: Sam’s woman chasing, Rebecca’s depression, Woody’s witlessness, Carla’s viciousness, and Cliff and Norm’s entire existence.
STYLE: Reform Freudian
BEST ADVICE: ”Sam (Woody, Rebecca, Carla, Cliff, Norm), you’ve got to tell the truth.”
WORST ADVICE: ”Sam (Woody, Rebecca, Carla, Cliff, Norm), you’ve got to tell the truth.”
PRESCRIPTION FOR HAPPINESS: ”Treat life like you would a lover — with passion yet sensitivity, with wonder and appreciation. Even on Saturdays when she doesn’t wear makeup and her eyes are all buggy…you know what I mean.”

The Not-So-Real
Dr. Gordon Kenderson
ACTOR: Show producer Barney Rosenzweig
SHOW: The Trials of Rosie O’Neill
CREDENTIALS: Full-fledged psychiatrist with medical degree from the University of Southern California.
SPECIALITIES: Rosie’s desperation, loneliness, and lack of male companionship. Never revealing face to audience.
STYLE: Benign, monosyllabic traditionalist who occasionally asks provocative questions.
BEST ADVICE: Told the childless Rosie that if she really wanted to have a baby, she should go to a sperm bank and stop waiting for a good man to come along.
WORST ADVICE: Told Rosie it was okay if her role models were Miss Kitty, Hazel, and Harriet Nelson — a saloon keeper, a maid, and a housewife.
PRESCRIPTION FOR HAPPINESS: ”Don’t go looking for something profound to happen in your life. It rarely does.”