X xTC Therapists say Striesand's Dr. Lowenstein is just latest ina series of damaging portrayals

PSYCHIATRY TAKES A POUNDING

January 22, 1992|By New York Times News Service

From the pompous Dr. Leo Marvin portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss in "What About Bob?" to the suave but murderous Dr. Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs," psychiatrists on film suffered from an image problem in 1991. Not the least of the notable doctors is Dr. Susan Lowenstein, the psychiatrist played by Barbra Streisand in "The Prince of Tides."

In the film, based on a Pat Conroy novel, Dr. Lowenstein becomes romantically involved with Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte), a Southerner who comes to New York after his sister, Savannah (Melinda Dillon), a patient of the psychiatrist, attempts suicide.

Here is how some professionals view Dr. Lowenstein.

George Hagman, psychoanalyst and associate member, National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis:

"There's no apparent conflict on Lowenstein's part regarding the impact of indulging such clearly incestuous fantasies; the seduction of Tom is condoned and overtly romanticized. It also takes place in a quasi-therapeutic relationship of the most simplistic sort -- not only does Tom get to sleep with his therapist, but the 'treatment' is free! The film completely ignores the crucial ethical and professional issue and reduces the drama of a deeply human, albeit forbidden, act to a titillating romantic cliche."

Dr. Harvey R. Greenberg, clinical professor of psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, and author of "The Movies on Your Mind: Film Classics on the Couch From Fellini to Frankenstein":

"This is Hollywood psychiatry, and Dr. Lowenstein falls into the unrealistic Dr. Wonderful stereotype. . . . This movie rests largely on the dramatic idea that unburdening yourself about the past will cure everything from neurotic alienation to schizophrenia."

Dr. Jeffrey Rosecan, assistant professor of psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons:

"Lowenstein commits the cardinal sin of psychiatry by sleeping with Tom Wingo, the twin brother of her suicidal patient. That's totally unethical, it's immoral and it's probably malpractice."

Dr. Glen Gabbard, director, C. F. Menninger Memorial Hospital in Topeka, Kan., and co-author of "Psychiatry and the Cinema":

"There's a pattern in movies of female therapists having affairs with male patients, and this movie perpetuates the stereotype of the therapist with a barren personal life who's 'cured' by falling in love with her patient. Films about female psychiatrists usually show their jobs as a way of evading traditional feminine roles, and these wayward women are rescued by male patients who, in a role reversal, prove themselves better diagnosticians than their doctors -- Tom sees that Lowenstein needs a 'real man' to bring out the 'real woman' in her."

Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, chairman, American Psychiatric Association Ethics Committee:

"Overall, it's a better portrayal of psychiatrists than usual -- at least she isn't out murdering people or hissing from her cell in prison. The unfortunate thing is that psychiatrists want to be seen as compassionate, supportive and dedicated to helping their patients -- which Dr. Lowenstein is -- but she ends up doing something totally unethical."

Dr. Harvey L. Ruben, public affairs chairman, American Psychiatric Association:

"Streisand portrayed the humanity of a psychiatrist and her frailties. Psychiatrists are human beings, but in real life, we would hope Dr. Lowenstein would have sought help to address her personal problems."

Dr. Donald O. Chankin, psychoanalyst and co-curator, "Camera on the Couch," a film series of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis:

"The film is deeply reactionary; Lowenstein's professionalism is completely undermined -- the first thing she does is serve Tom coffee -- and she's shown as unhappily married and having a dysfunctional relationship with her son. Finally, she's left weeping on the streets of New York while Tom returns to nature -- it's like a Douglas Sirk melodrama."

Dr. Gene Gordon, psychoanalyst and co-director, Forum for the Psychoanalytic Study of Film:

"I appreciate the film's depiction of an ongoing psychotherapeutic relationship, but there's a narcissism inherent in Lowenstein's grooming -- her nails suggest exaggerated associations of clawing that would be distracting in a therapeutic situation."

Dr. Paul Fink, chairman, department of psychiatry, Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia:

"The actor Richard Dreyfuss once said, 'Our job is to make good films, not to worry about the image of psychiatrists.' That's true, but for thousands of people who see this film, Lowenstein's behavior will be the truth about the way psychiatrists act. Because Streisand's performance is very believable, it will be hard to distinguish between the dramatic conceits and the reality."

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