Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"In Treatment": Crack For Students of the Human Condition

Sorry if I've been a little hard to find, lately. See, we were in the Seattle area for a week and, while there, I happened upon a box of DVDs from Season One of the HBO series "In Treatment". Since then, I've been obsessively spying on a number of psychotherapy sessions involving a middle aged therapist and an array of his fascinating patients. Don't worry -- they have no idea I'm watching them or that I can hear EVERYTHING they say. And get this: I have even been tagging along with the good Doctor as he shows up for sessions with his former supervisor. You should see him engage in battle with her (played very believably by Diane Wiest) as he wrestles through his own issues. Pretty delicious stuff, you say? Yes, indeed. But, don't be jealous. There's a seat behind the one way mirror for you, too!

"In Treatment" began life as an award-winning Israeli production called "BeTipul". This HBO production features the character of Doctor Paul Weston who is played by the excellent Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, etc). In Season One, his patients include an admiring, unpredictable and beautiful 30-year-old anesthesiologist, a grounded military jet pilot with an attitude the size of Texas, a troubled young gymnast and a couple who are as volatile as a Molotov Cocktail. Meanwhile, the ever-cool, ever-focused Doctor Westin has troulbes of his own. His marriage to Kate is on the brink and his kids seem to get the leftovers of his time and attention. Sure, each episode pretty much consists of a small number of people sitting in a room, talking. However, there are plenty of ingredients here for a spicy, spicy stew.

As a Pastoral Counselor who works with Marriage and Family Therapists and Interns in a professional environment, there is plenty in "In Treatment" that I can relate to. In fact, I can't recall a more true-to-life dramatic portrayal of the powerful and mysterious aspects of the counseling or psychotherapeutic process: the mystery, the edginess, the raw honesty, the doubts, the risks, joys, intimacy, pains and triumphs. And as someone who has been on "the other side of the couch" as a client, I totally get Paul's desire to lash himself to someone he can trust in search of his own answers.

"In Treatment" is not perfect and a binge can be exhausting. There are things that are definitley amped up for dramatic effect. The language and subject matter definitely earn a strong "R" rating -- this is NOT kid stuff. Still, I find the series to be riveting, educational, bittersweet and even a little depressing (I'd like to conclude on this last point).

"In Treatment" for all its considerable benefits, reminds me of how blessed and fortunate I am to live, practice counseling, and work in an environment that honors Jesus Christ, respects the notion of "truth" and employs (where appropriate) things like prayer, Scripture and other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Over and over, the powerful moments portrayed on the screen remind me that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom".

It is not religiosity that helps in this regard, but what the Bible refers to as "the light". I love the way counseling / psychotherpay can invite brute honesty, self-awareness and even a very unique and beautiful form of love. But when the Holy Spirit is honored, one's own sinfulness is accounted for, and an atmosphere of total regard and service is supplied, counseling provides a unique opportunity for two or more to "walk in the light as He is in the light" (and, according to I John) "have fellowship with one another".

I'm gonna keep hangin' with the Doc and his crew throughout the rest of Season One's unviewed discs. Furthermore, Season Two is now up and running and, as I understand it, there are plenty of new adventures to go on. But even as I feed my appetite for this portrayal of raw humanity, I will continue to miss and long for the things that only God can bring to the healing process and maybe, just maybe, I'll say a prayer for the Doctor Paul's of this world and their clients who, like me, need that mysterious thing called "grace" as they live their lives in a sharp-edged world.

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