New HBO series-'In Treatment'

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Recently, the American TV network HBO (which is responsible for so many TV delights- including one of my personal favourites - 'Curb your Enthusiasm') started broadcasting a fascinating new daily drama, that centres on the relationship between a psychologist and his clients. Each chapter in the series, simply called 'In 'Treatment', is dedicated to a single therapy session with one client (or a couple) and the same day on each week is reserved to the sessions with that particular client. One day of the week is dedicated to the Psychologists' meetings with his own supervisor/mentor - with which he discusses his patients and the impact of issues in his private life on his professional functioning.

The structure of the series offers the viewer an opportunity to gradually, over a few weeks, witness the developing relationship between the therapist (Paul- Gabriel Byrne) and each of his clients. The series also offers viewers a great opportunity to have a close look at the nature and dynamics of the psychological intervention and the ways in which a range of day to day psychological problems, to which many of us can relate, are tackled in the course of therapy.

'In Treatment' is based on the Israeli series 'Be Tipul' ('In Therapy' in Hebrew) and the first season is a precise adaptation of the chapters from the Israeli version into English and to the American context.

Be Tipul (The Israeli version) enjoys a huge success in Israel, and the second season finished screening recently. The success of the first season led to the series winning the 'Israeli Oscar' award for best TV drama for 2006, after which it was bought by the HBO. Although the expectations from the series were originally minimal- especially given the basic production, and the fact that each chapter focuses exclusively on a conversation between a therapist and a client (forcing the drama to be created purely by dialogue) - the success was overwhelming. In fact, in the leading Israeli website for psychologists- hebpsy - a panel of expert psychologists hold a weekly discussion in which they further analyse the characters' stories, the relationship with the therapist, and the nature of his interventions. This discussion (in the form of series of articles) gained much popularity and is closely followed by many professionals and members of the public who actively participate in an online discussion forum dedicated to this series.

Importantly, the creators of the series hired the services of Israeli Clinical psychologist Dr Ronny Bat, who provides expert consultation on the content of the sessions. As a result, the series has minimal focus on production and peripheral features that are so central to the success of many TV series, and instead places great importance and emphasis on the quality and professional level of the dialogue, thus achieving a reliable depiction of the real therapeutic setting.

Interestingly, since the first season of the series, media reports described a huge rise in the public's interest in accessing mental health services in Israel. This has mainly manifested in a sharp rise in the number of people who sought psychological treatments for day to day problems. The series has been instrumental in promoting the wide acceptance of psychological therapy in Israel, and I would argue that due to its focus on relatively high-functioning and successful individuals (e.g. an Air force pilot, an exceptional athlete, etc), the series did much in the way of increasing the use of psychological services among people from less stigmatised social/cultural sectors. In other words, 'Be TipuI' played an important role in 'normalising' the use of psychological therapy by sectors of the public that wouldn't normally fit the typical criteria of having a 'mental disorder'.

I also think that there are intriguing parallels with the rise in use of psychological services in Australia since the inclusion of psychology under the Medicare Benefits Scheme late in 2006. My personal opinion is that although in both cases the outcome is that of a rise in access to psychological therapy services, there are significant differences in terms of the public's view of the psychological profession, and the long-term implications for the field- but I won't be focusing on these in this article.

An excerpt from 'In Treatment' on Youtube
An Excerpt from 'Be'Tipul' (Israeli version) on Youtube

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