Photo ID: Loops of movie film and the headshot of Dana Davis Williams overlayed with the text:

Portrayals of Mental Health and Therapy in the Media: An Interview with Danah Davis Williams, LMFT

Curt and Katie interview Danah Davis Williams, LMFT on the portrayals of mental health and therapy in the media. We explore responsible portrayals as well as the harmful practices that some writers and studios engage in. We also talk about the opportunities for modern therapists to have an impact on how diagnoses and mental health treatment are represented on film and television.

Transcript

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An Interview with Danah Davis Williams, LMFT

Danah Williams - Head ShotDanah Davis Williams is a Licensed Psychotherapist, an Actor, a Psychological Creative Consultant, a Podcast Host and current Past President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

As a therapist, Danah is in private practice in Santa Barbara, California (California Coastal Counseling) where she specializes in helping people break destructive patterns of coping through the use of practical, evidenced-based coping skills and personal process. She is extensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

As a consultant, Danah provides personalized psychological consultation for filmmakers, executives and creatives committed to socially responsible, captivating storytelling through authentic characterization of mental health, its treatment and interpersonal impact. She runs a psychological consulting business helping entertainment industry leaders ensure accurate representation of mental health: working with filmmakers, writers, execs, and high-profile actors from networks like FX, CBS, ABC, NBC, Freeform and MGM.

Danah is also the host, producer and co-creator of the Reel Psychology Podcast on Fireside, where she and Jon Lee Brody are raising mental health awareness by talking about fictional characters and their mental health.

In this podcast episode, we talk about how the media often portrays mental health

We invited our friend Danah Davis Williams to join us to talk about mental health in the media.

What does the media get wrong when portraying mental health and therapy?

  • Inaccurate portrayals of diagnoses
  • Manipulative or unethical therapists
  • The problems with “guilty pleasures” that include inaccurate or harmful portrayals

“I really feel that one of the ways that we can see more authentic representation is to have more diversity and more people with mental health background in storytelling, in the writers’ rooms, or becoming creators themselves – because people write what they know.” – Danah Davis Williams, LMFT

The opportunities for therapists to be creators and consultants

  • Translating clinical work into consulting and creating
  • Vulnerability when sharing journey as a therapist
  • Using skills from practice building to create opportunities as a creator
  • The process of consultation for scripts and what to consider when providing feedback
  • Ethical thoughts related to representations
  • How to build a network and consulting business

How the storytellers look at mental health and healing

“What I’ve had multiple times is a filmmaker or studio coming to me, and they’re looking for the silver bullet. They have a character that has had some trauma or struggling with a specific diagnosis or relational conflict or what have you. And they want to know, what’s the silver bullet, one- or two-page scene that we can include? (And sometimes not even that.) What’s the five second dialogue that we can include that shows that they have worked on their mental health, they have recovered, and they are thriving? And it’s like, it doesn’t work that way.” – Danah Davis Williams, LMFT

  • The silver bullet that “heals” the client
  • Inaccurate portrayals of therapy or healing and the impact on clients
  • Ethics to consider (especially given you’re not acting within your profession with an ethical code)
  • The challenges of unscripted shows

Shows that get it right when it comes to mental health and treatment

  • This is us – Toby
  • Comprehensive and realistic, tapping into lived experience within actors and/or writers
  • The attempts to portray diversity and the experience of marginalized communities and their interaction in the mental health system

Diversifying Media and the Portrayals of Mental Health and Therapy

  • Ava Duvernay’s Array program
  • Michael B Jordan hiring students and mentoring the next generation
  • Decreasing stigma for folks who have not typically sought mental health services

How to advocate for accurate mental health portrayals in the media

  • Calling things out on social media that are good and things that are done poorly (or are harmful)
  • Content creation about shows you watch (like blogs, articles, etc.)
  • Discussing content in sessions to help process what folks are viewing or their own experience
  • Not watching or purchasing tickets to content that is harmful (not reinforcing “guilty pleasures”)

Our Generous Sponsors for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide:

GreenOak Accounting

At GreenOak Accounting, they believe that every private practice should be profitable. They’ve worked with hundreds of practice owners across the country to have the financial confidence and information to make data-driven decisions. We want our client’s businesses to be profitable so they can focus on fulfilling their mission.

GreenOak Accounting specializes in working with therapists in private practice, and they have helped hundreds of therapists across the country reach their financial goals. They offer a number of monthly packages to fit a growing practice’s needs – from bookkeeping to CFO services. Other specialized services include Profit First Support, compensation planning, and customized KPI Dashboards. They help therapists achieve their clinical goals by making sure they have a profitable practice, and offer unsurpassed support along the way.

If you’re interested in scheduling a complimentary consultation, please visit their website at http://www.GreenOakAccounting.com/consultation to learn more.

Thrizer

Thrizer is a new modern billing platform for therapists that was built on the belief that therapy should be accessible AND clinicians should earn what they are worth. Their platform automatically gets clients reimbursed by their insurance after every session. Just by billing your clients through Thrizer, you can potentially save them hundreds every month, with no extra work on your end. Every time you bill a client through Thrizer, an insurance claim is automatically generated and sent directly to the client’s insurance. From there, Thrizer provides concierge support to ensure clients get their reimbursement quickly, directly into their bank account. By eliminating reimbursement by check, confusion around benefits, and obscurity with reimbursement status, they allow your clients to focus on what actually matters rather than worrying about their money. It is very quick to get set up and it works great in completement with EHR systems. Their team is super helpful and responsive, and the founder is actually a long-time therapy client who grew frustrated with his reimbursement times The best part is you don’t need to give up your rate. They charge a standard 3% payment processing fee!

Thrizer lets you become more accessible while remaining in complete control of your practice. A better experience for your clients during therapy means higher retention. Money won’t be the reason they quit on therapy. Sign up using bit.ly/moderntherapists if you want to test Thrizer completely risk free! Sign up for Thrizer with code ‘moderntherapists’ for 1 month of no credit card fees or payment processing fees! That’s right – you will get one month of no payment processing fees, meaning you earn 100% of your cash rate during that time.

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!
Danah Davis Williams on Fireside Chat (Reel Psychology Podcast)

Danah on Instagram: @danahdaviswilliams

Danah’s website: calcoastalcounseling.com

Ava Duvernay’s Array Program

Michael B. Jordan Outlier Society Youth Fellowship

Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

Therapy with an Audience: An interview with Doug Friedman, LCSW

What Can Therapists Say About Celebrities? The ethics of public statements

Grow Your Impact as a Therapist: An interview with Kiaundra Jackson, LMFT

Reflections on Content Creation and the Therapy Profession

You Do Not Have to be a Thought Leader

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at: http://www.curtwidhalm.com

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at: http://www.katievernoy.com

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

Stay in Touch with Curt, Katie, and the whole Therapy Reimagined #TherapyMovement:

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Consultation services with Curt Widhalm or Katie Vernoy:

The Fifty-Minute Hour

Connect with the Modern Therapist Community:

Our Facebook Group – The Modern Therapists Group

Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann https://www.facebook.com/McCannDW/

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano https://groomsymusic.com/

Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Curt Widhalm 0:01
This episode is brought to you by GreenOak Accounting.

Katie Vernoy 0:04
At GreenOak Accounting they believe that every practice should be profitable. They work with therapists all around the country and they give practice owners the financial confidence and information to make data driven decisions. They want their clients businesses to be profitable, so they can focus on fulfilling their mission.

Curt Widhalm 0:21
If you’re interested in speaking with a member of their team, visit their website at greenoakaccounting.com today, and listen at the end of the episode for more information.

Katie Vernoy 0:30
This episode is also brought to you by Thrizer.

Curt Widhalm 0:34
Thrizer is a modern billing platform for private pay therapists. Their platform automatically gets clients reimbursed by their insurance after every session. Just by billing your clients through Thrizer, you can potentially save them hundreds every month with no extra work on your end. The best part is you don’t have to give up your rates. They charge a standard 3% processing fee.

Katie Vernoy 0:56
Listen at the end of the episode for more information on a special offer from Thrizer.

Announcer 1:01
You’re listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm 1:17
Welcome back modern therapists. This is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast for therapists about how therapy shows up in our lives and in our practices. And a topic that we’ve broached a little bit a couple of times before, but diving a little deeper into today is mental health in the media. And we are joined by our friend Danah Davis Williams, LMFT and podcast host of Reel Psychology. We’ve known Danah from our work through the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, served at the board together and just like an overall very cool person. So thank you for joining us today.

Danah Davis Williams 1:59
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Katie Vernoy 2:02
We’re so excited to have you here! Oh my goodness, it’s so good to see my friends. So the first question that we ask everyone is who are you? And what are you putting out into the world?

Danah Davis Williams 2:14
Well, Curt, thank you so much for that great introduction. I’m Dana Davis Williams, and I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist based in California. I’m also an actor, and putting out creative content through Reel Psychology Podcast and also in different any opportunity that I get to be paid to, to act and, and to perform. And I’ve been doing some writing over the past couple of years as well that I haven’t released into the world, but look forward to doing that in the near future.

Curt Widhalm 2:43
So we often start our episodes asking a question of like, how does this get this wrong? And we do it from a place of I think that this episode is a little bit different in that we’re blaming the media here. What is the media get wrong about therapy and about mental health?

Danah Davis Williams 3:02
Wow, that’s a great question. I mean, there’s so many things. I think the portrayal of various diagnosis is often dramatisized on purpose, but sometimes in a socially irresponsible way. The treatment of different disorders does not often reflect what accurate treatment looks like. And so those are the two that come to mind for me, it’s just the portrayal of certain mental health symptoms, and then also the treatment of those mental health symptoms.

Katie Vernoy 3:32
Do you have an example of like the most egregious one that you’ve seen as far as really bad portrayals of either the diagnosis or therapy?

Danah Davis Williams 3:42
I didn’t think about that one. It’s interesting, because I do, I focus on in my consulting work with filmmakers, I help them before, you know, it’s released out there into the world. And so I’m often looking for what’s done well, and looking and often, like on our podcast, we talk about the mental health of fictional characters. I feel like you can find mental health anywhere, whether their intention was to portray it authentically and with authenticity is not always their aim. But I’m trying to think what comes to mind for either of you have just like really bad portrayals.

Curt Widhalm 4:20
You know, this is something that a lot of us in this field, we get this unsolicited suggestion of like, oh, this film, or this TV show’s about therapy, you would like it. And so a lot of us get this experience of everything, like, you know, depending on how long you’ve been in the fields, you know, you might have started out with like, What About Bob? And then I think that there’s a certain generation of therapists that, I don’t think you could have gotten through grad school without watching Ordinary People as like, part of one of your classes, and that’s actually a really good portrayal of it. Intreatment was really good for a season I think, and then I think that there always ends up becoming kind of this plot device where certain shows just kind of use therapy as like this insight into a character or like a, an unethical action by a therapist that, you know, just moves the rest of the story along. I don’t know, like I, a lot of the ones that come to my mind are like, here was a really good thing. And then character or new writers got added to the show or something that just took a character sideways like The Sopranos, Prince of Tides.

Danah Davis Williams 5:34
Oh, Prince of Tides, wow. I remember seeing Prince of Tides as a child, and I saw the, you know, that implied rape scene of the child. That was a movie that was watched a lot in my household. And I remember being that was like, the first real portrayal of what rape was and as a child trying to learn how another child could be raped by an adult, by a grown man and like trying to process that and make sense of that. So that movie, like even now, I can feel myself getting a little like, anxious just thinking about it. It has a whole different emotional sort of history with it to me that I was probably too young to catch on to the unethical nature of a therapist sleeping, I didn’t even know that that was a part of the storyline, to be honest, I just remember that scene where this person broke into the house and like, rapes this little girl.

Katie Vernoy 6:31
It’s so interesting, because I think there’s a, I mean, we’re all different ages. And so for me, it was, you know, I remember it as a romance story that I don’t remember very well. So how funny you know that it’s just, it’s, there’s so many things that we take from it. And, and to me, I guess the the biggest pieces for, you know, kind of the bad portrayals is, is kind of therapist doings things that are very manipulative, manipulative, or dangerous, or that kind of stuff that we have these, that were weird, strategic, you know, kind of manipulators, you know, that take over people’s lives or whatever. I mean, it seems like that had an effect on you too, Curt, did you have something that you wanted to say about Prince of Tides?

Curt Widhalm 7:14
Just gonna say that, I think that where it stands out is like, we tend to see bad portrayals a lot easier because those of us who were in our field, like, we know so often that, like, Oh, here’s a portrayal of a person with this kind of diagnosis. And it, those of us who have experience working with that diagnosis are like, all right, they’re taking quite a few liberties there. But that’s just not what this is like at all. I’ve always been a fan of like, Thriller movies. So one of the movies that I like as a movie, I hate as a mental health professional, is movie identity that John Cusack, and a host of other characters portrayed different identities of a person with dissociative identity disorder, that if you’ve never heard of it, it’s kind of a guilty pleasure. It’s as bad as it sounds sort of thing. But these are the kinds of things that a lot of us who are trying to advocate for better representations of mental health in the media point to is like, please don’t do it like that. And we tend to see them just continue to make this kind of material. I do think that there are better and better portrayals of mental health in the field. And I think that part of it is the people who are making TV shows, movies, this kind of stuff are more open about sharing their own mental health journeys, or how the mental health world has impacted them up into this point in their lives. And people are a lot more open about this content.

Danah Davis Williams 8:53
Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, I think that, as we were trying to reflect on where, what are some of the really bad portrayals that come to mind, I was thinking of it as a creator, and as a therapist, there’s this dialectic, where, you know, the creator is looking to tell a story and, you know, push a plot, and then also for a lot of creators, they’re trying to think of the audience and what’s going to be sellable and what will get picked up by a studio and, and then throughout the whole process, sometimes you work with a writer who is really passionate about it, and they do it justice, and it’s a more accurate representation. And then it gets to the studio and it gets cut and edited and all these things, and it’s not the original script that they had worked with the consultant on. So I do think there’s this balance and I really feel that one of the ways that we can see more authentic representation is to have more diversity and more people with mental health background in storytelling, in the writers rooms or becoming creators themselves because people write what they know. And when you have someone who hasn’t lived it writing about it, of course, it’s going to be one stereotype after another is their frame of reference. So to Curt’s point I think when somebody is writing about their own personal experience, or supporting a loved one, being in proximity to an a loved one who has a mental illness, or is working through things therapeutically, that you get more authenticity in the storytelling.

Katie Vernoy 10:28
It’s interesting, because I think there’s opportunities there for folks with lived experience, as well as therapists, and therapists can be both right. And I’m just curious, from your own experiences, how therapists kind of make that foray because you, you are a creator. I mean, I think that was almost simultaneous with becoming a therapist or maybe even before becoming a therapist, but what does that process look like? Really being able to take the work that you’re doing as a therapist and and translate that into a sellable piece of film or TV?

Danah Davis Williams 11:03
They’re wonderful questions, I think I’m still finding that forray, and mean, for me, it’s really come at first accepting that I am a creator, that I am an artist, and it took me years to be able to feel confident to say that and embrace that. And, and then from that point, it was sort of following my intuition and being open and saying yes, and creating, I mean, if you’re make something, put something out there, do the work. I guess, I think that’s the first foray into it. Because I think a lot of people have ideas like, Oh, I thought about this book, or I’ve thought about this story. But they won’t take the next actionable step to even outline it, or just start writing every day, or if they’re, you know, a musician to go play music somewhere. So I think it’s being willing to create that art and to do it from a heartfelt authentic place, where there’s, you know, willingness to be vulnerable, like bringing some of yourself to your work. And so if there are therapists that have their own journeys that they’re willing to start talking about. And that’s the other thing for the longest, I felt like, as a therapist, I had to hide the fact that I had been an actor, a working professional actor beforehand, because I thought, oh, all my patients are going to think that I’m putting on an act with them. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Now having, you know, been in this field for a long time. In fact, when people do find out, it’s, sometimes it’s a place of curiosity. Other times, it just makes me, I think more seemed like more of a whole person to them. And so I think there’s benefit in that. And I just would encourage, if there are any therapists out there that have been feeling intimidated about taking a first step, that any first step is your foray into that, sort of, you know, melding the two worlds.

Curt Widhalm 12:54
We’re hearing some similarities almost to the way that we talked about building a practice. Of just kind of being able to take some of these ideas and make them into something concrete, and then being able to share that. It’s just really fine tuning that down for a particular way of delivering this message.

Danah Davis Williams 13:14
Yes, I would agree with that 100%. And I think that I would not be where I am today, as a creator, if I hadn’t have gone through the process of successfully building a private practice. I’ve followed a lot of the model of what was successful for me and building my practice for going back into the film and television industry and building something for myself as a, as an artist.

Katie Vernoy 13:37
I know, you’ve also been consulting, which may be another first step for folks to kind of engage in the creative process and potentially take part of the responsibility of, you know, kind of responsible representation in the media. What does that look like? getting into consulting, and then even the consultation process? So people know if they want to actually try?

Danah Davis Williams 13:58
Yeah, you know, it really varies. I think there are some creators that will come to you, and they know exactly what they want consultation on. And so they might hand you a script and say, Look at this specific scene, I want notes on the dialog. And then there are others where there’s a concept and they want guidance around how to make that concept more authentic, more socially responsible. And I think there are others that like the idea of consultation, but don’t even know what they want to know. And so they just hand you a script and say, What do you think about this? And you kind of choose how deep you want to go. Like, there are some times where the script is, is so raw, or you might see so many opportunities for edits, that it can be discouraging to the person, you know, the Creator. And so you have to kind of decide how much input you want to provide it or you’re being solicited. I have a line where if there was something that I felt was morally or potentially socially harmful for people, like if it was so inaccurate that it could cause harm or damage to others, then I won’t hold back. And I’ll definitely say that, but I think yeah, and some people also decide to specialize within their specialty. So I’m only going to consult with people that like if someone has a, their background is in drug and alcohol counseling, they might say, I’m only going to talk to screenwriters that are looking for consultation around drug and alcohol issues in their storytelling. And I think there’s some that are more generalist. So it’s very unique in like building a private practice where you can kind of find your niche and pick your specialty, I think there’s an opportunity for that in consulting. And if somebody’s looking, where to start. I think a person could start with just building a website. Some people are very adept on social media. So having a presence on social media, I think you can do more grassroots networking, becoming involved with your local film commissions, just getting to know other filmmakers and introducing yourself, saying what you, the service that you provide. There are many different avenues into it.

Katie Vernoy 16:08
That’s very helpful.

Curt Widhalm 16:09
I think one of the things that you and I are both aware of too is the consultations that are like, alright, we got this character with this diagnosis, what can we reasonably get away with? That is also kind of that pushing that boundaries. How do you look at that process, as opposed to kind of like, we know you off air, we’ve known you for quite a while. We know you as a good person, with good morals, and we trust you when you say that, you’re gonna do like the good consultations. But what about those ones that push the lights a little bit?

Danah Davis Williams 16:42
Yeah, I haven’t had that specific example. But what I’ve had multiple times is a filmmaker or studio coming to me, and they’re looking for the silver bullet. They have a character that has had some trauma or is struggling with a specific diagnosis or relational conflict or what have you. And they want to know, what’s the silver bullet, one or two page scene that we can include, and sometimes not even that, sometimes it’s like, what’s the five second dialogue that we can include that shows that they have worked on their mental health, they have recovered, and they are thriving. And it’s like, it doesn’t work that way. And that it’s, I wish I could tell you that that’s a anomaly. But it happens so often that storytellers are looking for that. And I don’t try to find some quick fix to lead them to believe that there is any one isolated intervention that’s going to solve all of the characters problems. I tend to be more realistic, do you want to show the therapeutic process? Here are some dialogue that you can include. Or here’s some scenes if you’re looking because also filmmakers are looking visually, what does it look like they don’t always have the freedom to just put pages and pages of therapy into the text. So we’ll try to, you know, look at well, here’s EMDR. This is like one snapshot if you had a frame of this, what that would look like. But ultimately, if someone says we’re really looking for the silver bullet of the one thing, I have to be honest, I don’t think that, that is appropriate in the context of what this character is suffering with, what the backstory is on this character. And so I can’t give you a silver bullet.

Katie Vernoy 18:27
I think about kind of inaccurate diagnoses as really harmful. But I think also inaccurate portrayals of therapy and expectations of therapy, I think really hurt folks, especially those that have some pretty intense trauma, and are supposed to have this silver bullet. And I know that there are, their in the consulting room, and in the therapy room, I certainly have had folks that I feel like I should be better right now. I should be better already. You know, it’s taking me too long. And I know that part of that is the media portrayal of, of these silver bullets. Of this of this, like I am healed. You know, it’s kind of like what is the fast track to post traumatic growth? Like, how do I get there?

Danah Davis Williams 19:07
Right?

Katie Vernoy 19:08
Well, but it doesn’t show the whole picture. And I think it’s interesting, because I hadn’t thought about that being the thing that you would have to fight back against the most. I mean, you’ve said that there’s times when you’re kind of this is too egregious, this is too socially irresponsible, I’m gonna lay it on the line. I mean, how do you navigate that? Because it’s something where it seems like you have to really be willing to stand up and say, No, this is wrong.

Danah Davis Williams 19:33
Yeah, I think sometimes you lose the job. And I’ve been okay to do that. And sometimes it’s like a really big job, and you’re so excited about it. And it’s a very prestigious studio or very prestigious actors. And you just have to decide where, you know, what your personal code of ethics is around that since we don’t have, you know, guidelines and boundaries as a consultant with that. And so for me, it’s really been, I wouldn’t want my name on something in the credits that I know to be harmful. And, to me, trying to mitigate the potential risk and being proud of the portrayals is more important than the accolades of working on said project with said people. So I think, be willing to walk away and don’t compromise on your own integrity. If you feel, you know, your intuition tells you, if my gut feeling I shouldn’t go with this, you know, just being willing to walk away. And then as therapist, I think we know ways to be gentle about the feedback. And you kind of bring a little therapy into the room where you’re building that rapport, and you’re validating the things that are valid. And then you’d say, and you might consider this this, this, maybe you’re not as far along in the script, revision process as you thought you were. Have you considered…? and then giving them some different tools and ideas to consider incorporating,

Curt Widhalm 20:55
Shifting this a little bit from scripted TV and going to air quotes around scripted here into also maybe some of like the Dr. Drew/Dr. Phil type shows of how we’re being represented by professionals like that. And maybe this is an entire podcast series just on its own and talking about this. You’ve got Reel Psychology, I guess. But I guess maybe more where professionals have the potential of not just standing up in the consultation process, but maybe even a lot more so in the recording process of it as well.

Danah Davis Williams 21:35
Yeah, absolutely. I haven’t done any unscripted, I mean, apart from Reel Psychology, which is not an advice show at all, and intentionally so because I also think that it would be irresponsible to, you know, be giving people advice based on the fictional characters. And I don’t talk about anybody who is a real person – only completely fictional. But I’ve heard things over the years from different therapists, their personal opinions about the type of clinical work or perception of clinical work that some clinicians are doing on unscripted television. And I believe that, that is a conversation worth having about how can that be either more accurately represented or not exploiting a patient or a person’s pain or suffering or the relational trauma that they’re experiencing, which I think you do see a lot of that for ratings. And I think too part of it probably also comes with educating studios too, because people are creating content for studios to buy into it as well. And then someone’s just got to create a different successful model and see that it gets the viewership, so that it gets the advertising, so that it gets the ratings. And I think it could actually change the way that we do those unscripted shows. It’s what our audience is going to watch. If an audience doesn’t like something like their films and television shows that we were thinking about naming that we thought got it wrong. Anytime we watch it, we’re supporting that film in some way, or that show and so don’t watch things or pay tickets for things that you feel are unethical or unresponsible, because it sort of enables that to continue.

Katie Vernoy 23:30
Yeah, definitely voting with our pocketbooks, I think is really valid here. For sure. If we look at the other side, because it sounds like you, you have some great examples of when this is done really well. What are some of your favorite examples of media actually, not avoiding harm, but actually causing good and having socially responsible portrayals of diagnoses or treatment that feel like it moves our field forward?

Danah Davis Williams 23:57
There’s several that come to mind. One that comes top of mind is an episode of This Is Us, was the episode called Toby. I believe it’s season three, episode five, and it shows Toby’s character struggling with depression. And it also showed a bit of backstory where you could see that his mother struggled with depression. And then you saw as a child, that he was really her caretaker and that he was trying to use humor to defuse and deflect from all of the emotional pain that she was in suffering that she was in and then when he had his own stressors with sort of supporting his wife through multiple miscarriages and difficulties with fertility, and that toll that it was taking on him and how he felt like he couldn’t let her know and he stopped taking his medication because it was affecting his sperm count and all of these different things when they showed him going into therapy and I think at some point using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and it just felt more comprehensive and very realistic. And we were fortunate to have the actor who played Toby, Chris Sullivan, come on to our podcast. And he talked a bit about his own mental health experience. And I think that’s part of the reason too why that portrayal was so authentic because he had been to therapy before. And because he valued it and had a knowledge base about it, at least a general knowledge base about it. I know the writing team does a really good job at utilizing consultants too. But I would highly recommend people check that out. Of course, you can’t put years worth of therapy into a 45 minute show and expect everything to be 100%. But I felt that I hadn’t seen a show or a film really addressed that there’s a multi generational aspect to some mental health conditions, and then also explore the maladaptive coping mechanisms, the stressors that exacerbate that, the triggers and I just felt that it was really, really great, phenomenal episode.

Katie Vernoy 25:58
I’ve heard so many good things about this as well. That sounds like I really have to watch the whole series and have a gigantic box of tissues nearby.

Danah Davis Williams 26:06
Yes, I think so. It’s it’s a great show. And it’s coming to an end. But this is, this is the last season for the show.

Katie Vernoy 26:14
Then I’ll get to binge it all it once.

Danah Davis Williams 26:15
Yeah.

Katie Vernoy 26:16
That solves a lot of problems for me.

Curt Widhalm 26:19
Are you seeing more or better portrayals of mental health and therapy that focus on minority or marginalized communities interactions with the therapy system as the conversations have really changed in America here in the last couple of years?

Danah Davis Williams 26:39
Very, very good question. There’s a yes and a no for me, it’s mostly no. But I can see attempts. And again, for me, this is about having, I think it will become more prevalent as we have more diversity in the writers rooms, and more diversity in the, with filmmakers, and film executives and studio executives. So I do think that right now, it’s pretty stereotypical, what I tend to see. But I think there are some shows that are more cutting edge that do try to address it from a more nuanced approach. And most of those have people from marginalized communities serving in their, you know, creative process, whether they’re also the writers or they’re directors are the showrunner, the creator. And so I think that’s why we’re seeing that.

Katie Vernoy 27:27
Do you see a path forward for that to get even better? I mean, to me, it seems like we’re grappling with this at a pace that feels way too slow.

Danah Davis Williams 27:36
I would agree. It’s hard for me to say with certainty that it’s not happening. I would agree that it feels slow. But I’m like, the totem pole here like way at the bottom. So who knows the conversations that they’re having, you know, at the top and who they’re bringing in. I think that there’s more purposeful recruitment happening. And I also see people creating spaces for other marginalized filmmakers and storytellers to get a foot in the door. I think about Ava DuVernay is array program and how it’s cultivating opportunities for creators to get mentorship and feedback on their scripts and things like that. I think about Michael B. Jordan, right now is filming in Atlanta. And he’s directing the film for the first time. And there was an article in, I don’t know where it was in, but there was an article about how he hired a bunch of students from a local university in Georgia to work on the film and to get experience behind the camera. And so when people do things like that, and they’re using their position and their platform to start to mentor, and create opportunities for the next generation, I think that that will help with the problem of inaccurate representation.

Curt Widhalm 28:58
I think, when it comes to the way that this has shown up in media and with better and better portrayals, it has addressed some of the cultural stigmas around the ways that this impacts your practices, it’s I’m sure that we’ve all had clients be like, I saw this thing on a TV show that made me actually come into therapy, or even just kind of like, oh, because this character ended up in therapy in a TV show, it made me see that it wasn’t so bad. Overall, as a field, we’re really having a lot more public conversations about reducing the stigma around therapy, around mental health, that this is really an opportunity to try and connect with people and breaking into some of those circles. Other tips that you might have beyond just kind of like here’s my story and trying to shout that out on Twitter to whoever’s writing, or whoever’s potentially making the next show that you might suggest that people might try and get Get on kind of this ground dish floor of helping to shape the way that mental health is shown in the media.

Danah Davis Williams 30:05
Wow. I think even like if somebody is on social media, and they want to call out a show that they felt was really supportive or helpful, I think that’s one idea. They can also call out a show that they felt, misrepresented them and caused distress. If something like that, I think has the potential to go viral on Twitter or Instagram and get a lot of visibility around it. And so starting to have those conversations is sometimes the the catalyst to a studio looking at improving in those areas. I think sometimes incorporating the conversations in your clinical work around some of the portrayals and representations, blogging about it, writing like an op ed in a magazine or your local newspaper. And then also with your dollars, really, I think that’s very important, just being cognizant of the type of content that you’re investing in. And when we say guilty pleasure, like, it’s the thing that we all kind of laugh about, like, Oh, this is my guilty pleasure, the thing that I watch. But if you know that the guilty pleasure is perpetuating a portrayal of mental health or self image or self esteem that is harmful, don’t watch it, don’t buy it. Don’t support it in any way. Because again, the viewership reinforces to the people, the decision makers that this is content that is needed. And so they put more of it out.

Katie Vernoy 31:34
I liked those ideas, because it seems like it’s at all different levels. It’s as a consumer, what can we do? As a content creator? What can we do as a therapist what we can, what can we do? And then if we want to move into the space, how can we enter into consulting or doing the things where we can really have an impact? Thank you, Dana. That’s been so helpful. And we love, we love talking with you and this conversation. I just really have enjoyed thinking about this from a very different angle than I have before. So thank you.

Danah Davis Williams 32:00
Me too. Thank you so much for having me. This is awesome. I appreciate the opportunity at anytime to have a conversation with you two.

Curt Widhalm 32:09
Where can people find out more about you and your work?

Danah Davis Williams 32:12
My website is calcoastalcounseling.com, calcoastal counseling.com It doesn’t have much about the sort of creative side of my work. I’m like word of mouth as a consultant at this point, but I am launching a new website soon. People can get a hold of me through Cal Coastal Counseling. And if they like they can check out Reel Psychology Podcast which I co-host with filmmaker John Lee Brody on Fireside. It’s a live video podcast that airs Mondays at 2pm generally.

Curt Widhalm 32:46
And we will include links to those in our show notes and you can find those at mtsgpodcast.com. Follow us on our social media and join our Facebook group, the Modern Therapists group to talk about good portrayals in the media, bad portrayals, things that you might want to see represented. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy and Danah Davis Williams.

Katie Vernoy 33:12
Thanks again to our sponsor, GreenOak Accounting.

Curt Widhalm 33:15
GreenOak Accounting specializes in working with therapists and private practice and they have helped hundreds of therapists across the country reach their financial goals. They offer a number of monthly packages to fit a growing practice’s needs, from bookkeeping to CFO services. Other specialized services include Profit First supports compensation planning and customized KPI dashboards. They help therapists achieve their clinical goals by making sure they have a profitable practice and offer unsurpassed support along the way.

Katie Vernoy 33:45
If you’re interested in scheduling a complimentary consultation, please visit their website at greenoakaccounting.com/consultation to learn more.

Curt Widhalm 33:55
This episode is also brought to you by Thrizer.

Katie Vernoy 33:58
Thrizer is a new billing platform for therapists that was built on the belief that therapy should be accessible and clinicians should earn what they are worth. Every time you bill a client through Thrizer an insurance claim is automatically generated and sent directly to this client’s insurance. From there Thrizer provides concierge support to ensure clients get their reimbursement quickly, directly into their bank account. By eliminating reimbursement by cheque, confusion around benefits and obscurity with reimbursement status, they allow your clients to focus on what actually matters rather than worrying about their money. It is very quick to get set up and it works great in complement with EHR systems.

Curt Widhalm 34:37
Their team is super helpful and responsive and the founder is actually a longtime therapy client who grew frustrated with his reimbursement times. Thrizer lets you become more accessible while remaining in complete control of your practice. Better experience for your clients during therapy means higher retention. Money won’t be the reason they quit on therapy. Sign up using bit.ly/moderntherapists and use the code moderntherapists if you want to test rise are completely risk free. You will get one month of no payment processing fees, meaning you earn 100% of your cash rate during that time.

Katie Vernoy 35:14
Once again, sign up at bit.ly/moderntherapists and use the code moderntherapists if you want to test Thrizer completely risk free.

Announcer 35:24
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