Through The Lens: Psychology In Media, Part 2

Jasmine Sundri, Licensed Mental Health Counselor April 28, 2021

It has been quite a stressful year. While most of us have mostly been stuck inside, film and television have provided a source of relief for many. Here is part two of our psychological review of our favorite TV shows and movies that got us through the last year.

As we noted in part one of this series, it's been quite a stressful year. For most of us, film and television have provided us with much-needed relief and distraction. 

As a therapist, I enjoy bringing in TV and film into my work with clients, as I have found media has been immensely helpful in my journey of self-understanding, hope, and healing. I hope this post offers suggestions for viewing and some solace, escape, and an opportunity to help people better recognize and understand parts of themselves through these characters, writing, and stories. Without further ado, onto the shows!

Attachment

Fleabag (Amazon Prime) 

This show is as comical as it is heartbreaking. Written by and starring Emmy-Award winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the show follows the life of Fleabag, a young woman navigating her family, career, and dating life, and really struggling through all of it. We see her hilariously and honestly deal with loneliness, shame, codependency, grief, mental health concerns, self-destruction, and self-worth, all after the loss of her mother and her father's complicated remarriage. In all her pain and glory, Fleabag is relatable and someone to root for. 

Insecure (HBO)

A comedy and drama series by Issa Rae (who not only stars in the show but created and produced it) explores the romantic and professional lives and challenges Issa and her best friend encounter, particularly as Black women. This show honestly and hilariously tackles tokenism, code-switching and, as the title suggests, Issa's insecure or anxious attachment style.   

Bonding (Netflix)

This show follows a young woman, Tiffany, a psychology graduate student by day, and dominatrix by night in NYC. As we observe her relationships with her romantic partner, her friend, classmates, professor, roommates, and mother she has not talked to in years, we witness her attachment wounds, fears, codependency, and ultimate growth. In contrast to Issa's character from Insecure, Tiffany also has an insecure attachment style but is more avoidant in her relationships. 

*Tribes of Europa (Netflix) 

This German sci-fi show from the creators of Dark depicts a post-apocalyptic Europe of warring tribes trying to regain power after something called the "Black December." The show follows one family as they make their way through this new Europe after their village is under attack and most of their tribe is murdered. The show shows the power of familial bonds and attachment in times of war, genocide, and slavery. 

To All The Boys I've Loved Before (Netflix) 

I don't usually watch "cheesy" movies, but after much hype, I watched all three of these movies. They made me cry over my glass of wine. The movies follow Lara Jean, a half-white, half Korean teen navigating the ups and downs of dating, following a little mishap with her little sister sending out her love letters from when she was younger to all her crushes. The movie shows the growing relationship between Lara Jean and her crush, Peter Kavinsky. 

In this movie, we see Lara Jean spending her teenage years taking on a very maternal/caregiving role after her mother's death and slowly evolving and challenging her ideas of who she believes herself to be. I like this movie because it does a great job of showing different forms of empowerment and how one can challenge themselves individually and in their interpersonal relationships. Peter and Lara Jean grow and help each other develop individually and together over the course of the three movies and help each other face their fears and insecurities. We see them both actively choose to create healthy repairs, communication, and accept each other's bids for connection. 

Malcolm & Marie (Netflix) 

This movie was hard to watch. The story begins after Malcolm, a film director, wins an award for work based partially on Marie, his girlfriend's, life without giving her any credit. Instead of them being able to discuss this in a healthy way and hear each other out, both are reacting from a place of pain and continuously invalidate each other. This movie, for all its beauty, the cinematography, set, costume design, actors, and actresses (I mean it has Zendaya in it!!), is ugly. The fight, the low blows, the pain, their relationship, all of it makes film viewers wince at every moment and is a great depiction of everything not to do in a relationship and why. This film is mandatory viewing for understanding Dr. John Gottman's, The Four Horsemen of criticism, contempt, defensive, and stonewalling that are destructive and harmful to all relationships.

The Mandalorian (Disney+) 

This sci-fi series which takes place after Return of the Jedi follows a bounty hunter as he comes into possession of "the kid", Baby Yoda, or baby of the same species of Yoda, that he needs to deliver in payment of beskar, the same metal that builds his amour. Slowly, we watch as this lone bounty hunter's affection and attachment to "the kid" grow as well as his need to protect him that many parents and caregivers can relate to. 

More resources on attachment:

What is attachment theory? 

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find--And Keep-- Love

 

Sex Positivity and Sexual Health

Sex Education (Netflix)

This show is one of my favorites on the list because of its quirkiness. The comedy series follows a teenager, Otis, whose mother is a sex therapist (played by Gillian Anderson). Otis somehow manages to act as an Uncertified Sex Therapist for his high school peers to help his crush, Maeve, make some extra cash. The show is one many teens can relate to and helps teens, through laughing and crying at all highs and lows, navigate sexual health through a very sex-positive, affirming, and empowering lens. 

Big Mouth (Netflix) 

Many people are raving about this show for adults about adolescence as it gives voice to a lot of our fears and anxieties from the difficult and sometimes traumatic experience that can be puberty. The show takes on the challenges of navigating puberty and mental health in a creative, heartfelt way through animation that many find cathartic and reparative offering a creative that is "the hormone monster", "anxiety mosquito", and "depression kitty" which are comical as much as they are accurate. 

She's Gotta Have It (Netflix) 

Similar to Sex Education, She's Gotta Have It offers a sex-positive, empowered, black female gaze that follows Nola Darling's life, an artist in Brooklyn, navigating her relationships and sex life. Directed and created by Spike Lee, the show is based on his 1986 feature film

More resources on sex positivity and sexual health:

Sex Positivity 

5 Ways to be Sex Positive

Sexual health

Positive sexuality and its impact on overall well-being

 

Cultural/Racial Identity and Queerness

Never Have I Ever (Netflix)

This show centers around Devi, a first-generation Indian American teen, dealing with her crush, friendships, and the future after her father's death. Created by Mindy Kaling and based in part on her own life, we see Devi battle with her Indian-American identity. This show is great because it also portrays Devi's best friend Fabiola's struggles with coming out to their friends and mother. 

The Half of It (Netflix) 

I love this movie. It is so realistic, heartwarming, and relatable. Following the life of Ellie, a young teen who is a first-generation Chinese American, as she slowly comes out of her shell as she helps her peer date a girl in their school, whom she too has a crush on. The movie very subtly depicts the difficulties, sadness, loss, and loneliness that comes with cultural integration, immigration, and the loss of a parent while also presenting a coming-of-age story about cultural and sexual identity. 

More resources on cultural/racial identity and queerness: 

LGBTQ+ Love & Relationships: Facing Heterosexism with Celebration

Gender Equality and Diversity

Janet Helms studies the mechanisms of inequality

Ethnic/Racial Identity

Ethnic and Racial Identity Development

Theories on LGBTQ Development

What Does Queer Mean? 

Cass Identity Development

 

Dissociative Identity Disorder 

*Mr. Robot (Amazon Prime) 

Starring Emmy-award winner Rami Malek, this tv series is hands down one of my favorite shows ever made next to Bojack Horseman. The series follows Eliot, a cybersecurity professional by day and a hacker by night. In the show, Eliot struggles with his mental health, social anxiety, paranoia, depression, and difficulty connecting with others. He slowly comes to learn and understand his past trauma and struggles with dissociative identity disorder (DID). This series is one of the best portrayals of severe DID I have ever seen. It explores the need for understanding, healing, love, support, and connection and what it means to reconnect with ourselves and others. It puts forth the question: what is real and to what extent does that matter? 

More resources on dissociative identity disorder: 

What Are Dissociative Disorders?

What It's Like To Live With Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

 

Domestic Violence 

*Big Little Lies (HBO)

This show takes place in a beautiful beach town in California. Like Malcolm and Marie, for all its beauty and wealth, there is a lot of ugliness and secrets in this town. Based on the novel, the story follows the lives of 6 A-list celebs and their families, the secrets that bind them all together. I like this show because it accurately depicts the fear and complexity of domestic violence, regardless of race, gender, class, ability/ immigration status, etc.

More resources on domestic violence: 

The Best Domestic Violence Support Groups

Domestic Violence Support

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