As of 2017, there are more than 577,000 mental health professionals hard at work in the United States, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when some of these characters show up in your favorite TV shows. Maybe it’s to show the conflicted inner side of a mobster or anti-hero or to serve as a comedic foil to a narcissistic womanizer.
Of course, fictional therapists are not the same as in real life. It’s more dramatic or funny when TV therapists overstep boundaries left and right, push their clients too hard or are there as a prop to support the development of another character. But when TV writers put a little thought into it, sometimes we catch glimpses of what therapy is really like or why it’s important, and that can be cathartic.
In addition, when TV shows include your favorite characters heading to their therapist’s office again and again at critical moments in their life, and the depiction of therapy is generally positive overall, it helps normalize getting help for your mental health in the real world. And it can make therapists seem just a little less intimidating.
“I think it’s great to have therapists depicted on television and film,” therapist Janet Zinn told Vice. “It normalizes going to a therapist and takes the stigma out of getting support.”
To gather up the best TV representations of therapy — past or present — we asked The Mighty community to help us identify and rank the best fictional TV therapists of all time. Here’s how things shook out:
10. Dr. Katharine Wyatt, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
Dr. Katharine Wyatt (Amy Madigan) didn’t have a long stint on the hit medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” but she arrived on-scene in season four to support a headstrong Meredith Gray (Ellen Pompeo) after Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsy) started dating another woman. There were definitely times Dr. Wyatt overstepped, perhaps because Meredith was reluctant to commit to the process. In the end, Dr. Wyatt was a perfect match to stand up to — and ultimately help — Meredith.
Meredith was all fake happy after resolving one of her many problems and kept trying to quit, but Dr. Wyatt wouldn’t let her give up. She was quiet when Meredith needed to figure it out for herself, and pushed when she needed it. — Miranda Cook
9. Dr. Linda Freeman, ‘Two and a Half Men’
To offer counsel to womanizer Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) on earlier seasons of the long-running sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” the situation called for a no-nonsense therapist who goes toe-to-toe with him. Enter Dr. Linda Freeman (Jane Lynch), who didn’t buy into Charlie’s tricks, could dish out her own zingers and, in the end, offered a healthy dose of insight coated in sarcasm.
Jane Lynch in ‘Two and a Half Men’ was pretty great. Quick witted to respond with sarcasm to Charlie’s problems. — Katie Schmidt
8. Justina Jordan, ‘You’re the Worst’
Life isn’t easy for new therapists, especially when they run into challenging clients like Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) on “You’re the Worst.” The show itself tackles mental health topics often and brought in Justina Jordan (Samira Wiley) as Gretchen’s therapist for several episodes in seasons three and five. Gretchen throws Justina curveball after curveball — both in and out of the office — and Justina takes it like a total professional at every turn.
7. Dr. Frasier Crane, ‘Frasier’
Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) on “Frasier” remains a classic representation of the mental health profession, even now, 15 years after its final season aired. Frasier is a psychiatrist who hosts a radio show to dish out mental health advice in response to the troubles of those who call the show with his signature line, “I’m listening.” Behind the scenes, viewers see the human side of Fraisier as he struggles with relationships, family and life.
Frasier. Smart, funny, and obviously has his own mental health challenges. You can’t help but love him! — Amy King Stephenson
6. Dr. Noelle Akopian, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’
Dr. Noelle Akopian (Charlene “Michael” Hyatt) can bust out a song as needed — and showed “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” lead Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) that therapists stick with you for the long haul. Initially, Rebecca resisted treatment (and self-awareness), but Dr. Akopian was right there for support no matter what happened. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” received a lot of praise from borderline personality disorder (BPD) community for destigmatizing the condition and Rebecca’s diagnosis. Dr. Akopian’s steady reliability also showed that growth, change and hope are possible if you live with a mental health condition.
5. Dr. Sidney Freedman, ‘M*A*S*H’
“M*A*S*H” was a hit war dramedy that ran from 1972 to 1983. The series created many memorable characters during its run, including the wise psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus). His therapy sessions onsite at camp could be less than traditional — he was in the field after all — but he was always ready to offer kind words, treat depression or psychosis, perform an evaluation or play a game of cards.
More psychiatrist than therapist, and very old school, but I’ve always been partial to Dr. Sidney Freedman on MASH. — Allen Schwarz
Sidney Freedman from Mash. He was such a calming presence in the midst of the hell that was taking place on the show, and he always tried his best with his patients. — Savana Earnest
4. Dr. Charles Kroger, ‘Monk’
Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is a brilliant detective on “Monk,” and relies on his long-time therapist, Dr. Charles Kroger (Stanley Kamel) for support, particularly around Monk’s debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Monk proves a difficult client — at one point nailing garbage to his therapist’s house — but Dr. Kroger doesn’t waver in his grounded and often appropriately firm approach.
The therapist from ‘Monk’ because he seems so supportive and understanding, yet he is like a friend to him. — Summer Shymanski
3. Dr. Amanda Reisman, ‘Big Little Lies’
“Big Little Lies” often goes dark. In season one of the series, Dr. Amanda Reisman (Robin Weigert) starts as a couples therapist to Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) and her abusive husband, but, eventually, Dr. Reisman sees Celeste individually. Dr. Reisman’s approach is direct and shows how sometimes it’s necessary to push clients to make progress, especially in dangerous situations. However, after a banner first season, “Big Little Lies” received criticism for its portrayal of therapy in its second season.
Dr. Reisman from Big Little Lies. She is present in a ‘feeling-ful’ way, not just in an intellectual way. She isn’t one of those tabula rasa kinds of therapists who just sits as if on a safe perch and observes, you know? She’s not just an agent of an emotional experience for the patient — she’s also risking being emotionally engaged herself. — Sabrina James
The therapist from big little lies. I love how she was so intuitive but let the patient come to their own conclusion on their story. She also was straight with the patient while gently guiding her through her abusive situation. — Nina McPherson
2. Dr. Linda Martin, ‘Lucifer’
A therapist who can look in the face of the devil (and adjust to the presence of a supernatural reality) is already likely to be something special. So is the case with Dr. Linda Martin (Rachael Harris) on “Lucifer.” There’s some unethical mingling of relationships with Lucifer’s friends (and Lucifer himself), but she learns to accept Lucifer is indeed the devil and still finds his emotional complexity. She’s not afraid to push back or hold boundaries, and she brings grounded humanness to the entire series.
Dr. Linda from Lucifer. Watching the show helped me a lot in terms of healing and understanding myself. — Krizzia A. Udtohan
Dr. Linda Martin from Lucifer. Linda is the therapist for the devil himself and his supernatural family. She shows her resilience as she comes to terms with the idea that angels and demons exist, but continues to help Lucifer anyway. However, she overcomes a lot throughout the story and is a fully three-dimensional character as opposed to just being a supporting role. — Lisa Green
Dr. Linda from the show ‘Lucifer’. She’s the devil’s therapist. The devil, has a therapist. It’s very normalizing. Makes the show all the better. — Kimy Larkin Byars
1. Dr. Jennifer Melfi, “The Sopranos”
Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) as Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) therapist has been held in high esteem since she first appeared on “The Sopranos” in 1999. She not only represents competent therapy — seeing mobster Tony as a human struggling with his mental health and traumatic history — but she is also a full, human character. She wrestles with her own dilemmas, like having romantic feelings for Tony, alcoholism and surviving rape, but manages to come out on top professionally.
Dr. Melfi from The Sopranos. She showed the full range of what a psychiatrist/therapist could go through. For the first time I saw a mental health professional as a well rounded person who had flaws as well. She probably is one of my favorites because she was one of the first non-stigmatized version of a therapy session. — Clarissa Henry
Jennifer Melfi from The Sopranos. She was so vulnerable throughout the series and went through a lot trying to treat a difficult client. … She did her best to try and help him and showed compassion as well as determination to help him overcome his challenges, his pain and even his resistance to change. As a former clinician I can understand the battle between wanting to help while struggling with personal pain and Melfi’s journey was powerful to watch. — Shel Ottesen
What do you think? Who’s your favorite therapist? Vote below!