The Fifty Minute Hour

Thoughts on therapy and life

Side Effects, starring Jude Law and Rooney Mara

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Psychological Thriller

Side Effects

Side Effects is a psychological thriller, (my favourite kind of film), about Jonathan Banks, a psychiatrist (Jude Law), his depressed client Emily (Rooney Mara), and the use of anti depressants in her case.

I was using the film to illustrate a point to my supervisor yesterday, and in so doing inadvertently gave away the whole plot… so I’m going to limit myself to character observations here in case you feel like seeing it yourself!

As a psychotherapist I consider myself a distant cousin of the psychiatric profession and I was interested to see how the film would choose to portray this often, stereotypical role. Although I’m not sure Freud would be impressed, Banks comes across as a relational kind of guy, no couch and blank screen for him, he cares about his patients. Perhaps a little too much; boundaries, Dr Banks, they’re there for a reason. A fact that the scary Dr Siebert (Catherine Zeta Jones) also chooses to ignore, with spectacular results.

I guess for me, past and present psychiatrists casually comparing notes on Emily at a conference, jars with the therapeutic desire to approach each client in their own individuality. And yes I know psychiatrists are doctors but the gung ho pill prescription is a little scary, especially as it appears to form the main part of the therapy with “talking” a bit of an add-on. It was also shocking to see how quickly Banks’ partners jettison their unconditional positive regard when the going gets tough, and I hope that his supervision actually amounted to a bit more than one of them tentatively asking “have you thought about the transference?”

But ultimately what provides the drama in this film is the line between the personal and the professional, and what happens when this breaks down. When the therapeutic relationship becomes a conduit for the professional to get their needs fulfilled, (be they emotional, financial or narcissistic), rather than about the patient, then things go awry. A lesson for us all – Doctor/Therapist/Counsellor you have been warned!


Author: Johanna Sartori BA MBACP Accred.

Finding my way through life, and travelling with those on the same journey

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