In Treatment: Pushing Patients

I’ve never been in therapy, but have always been curious about it. I do have a friend who was simply unable to put a destructive relationship behind him once and for all. What went on during the therapy sessions concerns only him and his doctor, but it was obvious that things would not look up after just two or three visits. It takes much longer to find a path forward, and requires a lot of hard work from both patient and therapist. This critically lauded TV series invited an audience on that long, meticulous journey.

In Treatment ran for three seasons and starred Gabriel Byrne as Dr. Paul Weston, a middle-aged, married psychoanalyst who received patients in a private office in his Baltimore home; the second and third seasons relocated Paul to Brooklyn after his divorce. Each episode was a half hour long and there were five of them a week (four in the third season), giving viewers one session with a different patient a day. The last day of the week had Paul himself as a patient, in the first two seasons attending sessions with Gina Toll (Dianne Wiest), a colleague he knew well and had an antagonistic relationship with, and in the third season he reluctantly started seeing a new therapist (Amy Ryan). The patients varied a lot, from troubled teenagers to older men facing crises they were reluctant to even recognize.

Simple settings
In Treatment
began as an Israeli TV series, BeTipul (2005-2008), and was then adapted by the Colombian filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia, who had directed other HBO shows, for American audiences. The settings were simple, just Paul’s and his therapists’ offices. The show demanded a lot from its writers and cast; each patient, including Paul, had an emotional journey to complete every season and the keys to their feelings and problems lay in the abundant dialogue. Paul was always pushing his patients, leading to revealing moments of lingering irritation and explosive anger. Not every patient, or perhaps Paul himself, interested you as a viewer, but hey, a new one was waiting the following evening. The problems were complex; some of the cases that intrigued me the most included a fighter pilot who was hiding a lot behind his cocky shell, a suicidal teenaged gymnast, a high-powered CEO who was suffering from panic attacks and an Indian man, living in New York with his son and daughter-in-law, who was showing disturbing signs of violence. The cast was a brilliant mix of new talents, including future stars like Mia Wasikowska (amazing as the gymnast) and Dane DeHaan, and veterans like Debra Winger and John Mahoney (also amazing as the CEO). Byrne himself carried a big load and we certainly got a better understanding of Paul over the years, his flaws and virtues; the latter were usually revealed in his role as therapist, but the former materialized in his fiery exchanges with Gina and his odd sessions with the new therapist in season 3, where his behavior around this attractive woman showed him as unable to move beyond a childish infatuation with her – leading to a surprising, but still logical, conclusion to the whole series in the final episode.

At its best, In Treatment reminded me of my own mortality. Partly because of where the different patients were in life and how they handled their youth or old age, but also because of Paul himself and his constant search for fulfillment. I’m much younger than him, but I could relate.

In Treatment 2008-2010:U.S. Made for TV. 106 episodes. Color. Developed by Rodrigo Garcia. Cast: Gabriel Byrne (Paul Weston), Dianne Wiest (Gina Toll, 08-09), Michelle Forbes (Kate Weston, 08-09), Melissa George (08), Blair Underwood (08), Mia Wasikowska (08), Embeth Davidtz (08), Josh Charles (08), Hope Davis (09), Alison Pill (09), John Mahoney (09), Aaron Shaw (09), Irrfan Khan (10), Debra Winger (10), Dane DeHaan (10), Amy Ryan (10).

Trivia: BeTipul has been adapted into TV shows in many other countries.

Emmys: Outstanding Supporting Actress (Wiest) 08-09; Guest Actor (Glynn Turman) 08-09. Golden Globe: Best Actor (Byrne) 09.

Last word: “I’m much more interested in the psychotherapist as actor than in the actor as psychotherapist. People will say to you sometimes, ‘Acting! How do you do that? It’s a really difficult job.’ But the reality is, we act all the time. True individual moments of intimacy throughout the day, when are they? So when a man is in a chair and he has to listen to somebody else’s story – I often wonder how much of that story we take on.” (Byrne, New York Magazine)

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