Can (Should) TV Portray the Client-Therapist Relationship Realistically?


Sports Psychology on Television

There’s a relatively new television series on USA Network called “Necessary Roughness.” As the name might suggest, one focus of the series is football and, consequently, it is developing quite a following of sports enthusiasts. In part, it deals with anger, aggression, boundaries, and other issues of the players that keep them from performing at the top of their game.  But the “roughness” in the title is not all about football; it also reflects the toughness with which a certain therapist operates in her personal, family, and professional life. And thus another audience seems to be keeping a quiet eye on the program: psychotherapists--and a few of them have not been so quiet.

Clinical Psychologist & Therapist, Callie Thorne

Since the storyline revolves around a clinical psychologist (Dr. Dani Santino, played by Callie Thorne) who is hired as a therapist for a pro football team, the show has been catching a little flak for not being completely real, not presenting the sports psychology process appropriately, and even for placing a therapist (Santino) who is not technically a sports psychologist in that position in the first place.

Ethical Questions & Therapeutic Accuracy

If you watch the show (as a therapist, a client, or neither), what do you think? What parts are authentic about it and which are not? Could TK’s anger problem (and consequent performance problem) have been resolved so easily in real life? If you’ve seen only an ad for or a preview of the series, does it appear to you that Dr. Santino would be successful at helping professional football players improve their performance on the field? (Or other athletes, their performance in their respective arenas?) And, finally, does it really matter? Even if the therapist’s strategies or any resultant behaviors or events implied to be the effects of the therapy seem ridiculous to you . . . so what? After all, it’s just entertainment, not a training video. And there doesn’t seem to be a roar of complaints from the NFL about not portraying their profession authentically.

There ARE some principles of psychotherapy and associated professional ethics that “Necessary Roughness” presents in a very positive way and perhaps “teaches” its viewing audience, e.g., (1) forgiveness may be necessary in liberating yourself from anger and (2) a licensed therapist cannot or should not divulge any details of what goes on in the therapy sessions without consent of the client (player in this case)—not even to the coach.

So maybe we should just sit back, relax, and enjoy the television show for what it is: an escape from reality, not a reflection of it.

More information about CBT psychologist, ethics, and television.