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Bashing psychiatrists

Bashing psychiatrists — ”Final Analysis,” ”Sessions,” and ”Raising Cain” all portray the medical analysts

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Hollywood seems to be on a shrink-bashing trip, to judge from the plots of some new and upcoming films featuring psychiatrists — Final Analysis, Sessions, Raising Cain, and Mr. Jones. The analysts in these movies put on a mature, controlled facade, but emotionally they’re a bunch of loose cannons: They sleep with their patients (as Barbra Streisand does with Nick Nolte in The Prince of Tides), get caught up in murder plots, and are generally enslaved by unruly passions. The current crop of psychiatrists with less than professional rectitude:

Richard Gere, as a charismatic shrink in Warner Bros.’ current Final Analysis, has a torrid love affair with a patient’s sister (Kim Basinger).

Annabella Sciorra, as a psychiatrist in Sessions, falls for attractive womanizer Jamey Sheridan — who just may have killed her former patient.

John Lithgow, as a child shrink in Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain, kidnaps his own daughter and pins the blame on the boyfriend of his ex-wife (Lolita Davidovich).

Lena Olin, as an analyst in Mr. Jones, plunges into an affair with her smooth but manic-depressive patient — yes, again, Richard Gere.

What is it about psychiatrists that seems to ignite screenwriters’ imaginations? ”There’s definitely a vogue going on,” admits Sessions writer-director Christopher Crowe, ”but it has nothing to do with Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs). Psychiatrists are simply good metaphors. They’re closer to people’s inner fears than anyone else, and yet they’re expected to act calm and composed, as if they have no fears of their own.”

Bethesda, Md., psychiatrist Robert Winer, a board member of the Washington, D.C.-based Forum for the Psychoanalytic Study of Film, says he understands Hollywood’s tendency to portray therapists as unhinged. ”If they made realistic movies about psychiatrists, everyone would be very bored,” he concedes.

Judd Hirsch’s sympathetic therapist in 1980’s Ordinary People is, no surprise, the hands-down favorite among psychiatrists. ”That’s the one everybody loves,” says Forum member Irv Schneider. ”He’s a very warm and appealing character.” But clearly not a role model used by screenwriters.