Subtle lack of objectivity flaws 'My Doctor, My Lover'


November 12, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

A 30-year-old woman is feeling depressed and guilty about an extramarital affair she has just ended. She goes to a psychiatrist, but her condition keeps getting worse.

After a year and a half, she quits therapy with him following a discussion in his office about how she and the doctor feel about each other.

They then begin a sexual affair.

Welcome to the world of "My Doctor, My Lover," the "Frontline" report at 9 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67). The 90-minute examination of this patient-doctor relationship, her subsequent lawsuit against him for "sexual abuse," the trial, and the psychiatric establishment's involvement in the case is as

provocative as the title. This is TV journalism that goes for the gut, stirring up emotions in good ways and bad.

The Colorado psychiatrist, Dr. Jason Richter, admitted to having sex with his former patient, Melissa Roberts-Henry. The dispute was whether he took advantage of her condition, as her lawsuit said, or whether she willingly entered into the relationship, as he said.

And once that battle is joined, the story becomes larger and more complicated. It becomes woman-as-victim at the hands not just of the male psychiatrist, but a male-dominated American Psychiatric Association, which the filmmakers portray as using considerable resources to protect its own and punish any who would challenge it. It's a compelling report.

But there are problems with it. Canadian filmmakers John Zaritsky and Virginia Storring, who made this report for "Frontline," use the camera to suggest what they can't prove as journalists. It's a visual grammar of guilt -- pioneered and used by "60 Minutes" -- at its journalistic worst.

Watch, for example, how Ms. Roberts-Henry is often photographed lying in bed in a darkened room looking suicidal. We are repeatedly shown these extraneous shots while the narrator is telling us how she has suffered. The images say, "This is a victim's victim."

On the other hand, watch how the camera closes in on Richter's face when he is asked a tough question. It's the filmmaker's way of telling us, "Look closely now, he's lying." Dr. Richter may be an easy man to dislike, but that doesn't give TV journalists the right to load the dice.

"My Doctor, My Lover," like the Clarence Thomas hearings, is also a report that men and women may react to differently. Most of the male and female psychiatrists in the report did. Because allegations of sexual abuse elicit such strong feelings, I wish the producers had been more even-handed. They do a good job of generating the heat of emotion; what's in short supply is the light of understanding.

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