Critical Psychoanalysis Failure
As they dragged him away, Rorschach spoke to the other inmates. He said "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me." My earlier optimism was obviously unfounded. He's getting worse.Not Rorschach.
So am I. Just read back what I've written above. The sixth line down should read "Kovacs spoke to the other inmates".
—From the notes of Dr. Malcolm Long, October 26th, 1985, Watchmen
"Hey, pal, if you didn't want to know about my childhood, you shouldn't have asked!"—Dan, Dan Vs.
The job of a psychiatrist seems safe enough so long as the violent patients are restrained, but this is often not the case in Fiction Land. There are people out there who are dangerous to your mental health and no matter how much you want to help them, it is you that ends up needing the shrink. At its least damaging, you just need a few hours of therapy. At its worst, you end up as incurably insane as they are.
May explain why most don't bother.
An occupation-specific Sub-Trope of Infectious Insanity. Also often a sub-trope of Hannibal Lecture, but not always, as sometimes the character has no intention to do it. For an example of a villain running into this problem, see Shut UP, Hannibal.
While not entirely the case, this can occasionally be considered Truth in Television, seeing as some therapists do end up depressed or taking medication due to the relationship with their patients.
- Marv of Sin City was once psychoanalyzed, but the analyst, the girlfriend of his parole officer Lucille, pulled out because she "got too scared."
- Rorschach, as the page quote suggests, causes a gradual breakdown of his therapist's positive worldview, and replaces it with his own existential perspective. Dr. Long comes to realize that nothing truly means anything, and that reality is just like the inkblots that gave Rorschach his name: the only meaning in life is that which we choose to impose. Despite this, though, he still tries to help people, because to him, it's the only thing that means anything.
- He's showing signs of a real recovery by the time he blows up along with New York City.
- Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series was the Joker's therapist, Dr. Harleen Quinnzel, before he drove her insane. Now she's nuttier than a fruitcake and a Villainous Harlequin to boot. Really, though, she deserves it for not spotting the Meaningful Name and bailing to get it changed before things got too... weird.
- The Joker tends to do this a lot, actually. In the novel adaption of the Knightfall saga, one of the secondary characters comments that one of the doctors examining the Joker lost their mind themselves, and another joined a monastery.
- Harley was shown in "Mad Love" to have slept her way to her degree, so it's very likely she was unprepared to deal with Mr. J. Poor girl should have stuck to gymnastics.
- Although, in her defense, she does occasionally show that she knows what she's talking about when it comes to psychiatry. In a certain Catwoman arc, she actually helps Catwoman work through some of her latent guilt and worries about Selina's younger sister, Maggie.
- A version of Dr. Quinnzel's first meeting with Joker from Harley Quinn shows her seeking him out with the name "Harley Quinn" already in mind. If he drove her mad, she was willing to carpool.
- Batman actually warns a shrink when she feels sympathy for him that this is likely to happen.
- Jeremiah Arkham, who used to run Arkham Asylum and is now one of its highest-profile inmates. Not to mention his forebear, Amadeus Arkham, who ended up as Gotham's first vigilante murderer.
- Psychoanalyzing The Scarecrow is possibly even more hazardous than a session with Joker, since Scarecrow's in the habit of sneaking in some fear toxin and taking a quiet, academic interest in why the therapist is suddenly scratching out his own eyes. Doesn't help that he's an actual psychologist himself either.
- Gotham City: Where For Want of a Nail is "For Want Of Good Psychologists"...
- The Joker tends to do this a lot, actually. In the novel adaption of the Knightfall saga, one of the secondary characters comments that one of the doctors examining the Joker lost their mind themselves, and another joined a monastery.
- In Elf Quest, the healer Leetah tries to cure the Anti-Villain Two-Edge, a half-elf-half-troll Chessmaster who spends a lot of time cackling insanely from behind walls. It goes pretty well until she starts calling him "son", pretending to be a comforting mother figure to him. The result: Two-Edge runs off, only half cured and becoming much more dangerous, and Leetah ends up guilt-ridden over her mistake. She's also very thoroughly squicked by the madness and mixed heritage she felt inside him while using her magic.
- Rudi's buddy whose shrink became depressed himself after analyzing him and ended up as a beggar.
- Soil (a manga but stylized more like a western graphic novel) has a school councelor who is actually pretty knowlegable and spot-on about her subjects' problems (once she realizes how horrible they are), but keeping her insane(?) son(?) locked in the basement behind an electric fence that he keeps trying to get out of to the point the wires' pattern is burned into his body kinda diminishes her authority.
- Therapist Dr. Ellen Whitby fell in love with Deadpool when he was briefly institutionalized. There was no way it could end well, and it didn't.
- In the AU Death Note fic Point of Succession this happens to pretty much everone with BB. Like The Joker, BB isn't so much insane as he is "super sane" and anyone who tries to get into his head will regret it. So far the one's who seem to be most affected by BB's little chats are Light who, in this universe, is the criminal profiler who took BB on as a subject of study and later Mello (the kid BB kidnapped).
- Analyze This does the unnerving bit, since the psychologist has reason to fear his patient will end up putting him and his family in legal trouble among other things.
- Deconstructing Harry has a psychoanalyst who married a former patient; they ended up getting divorced and she still seems very hurt by the experience, some years down the line.
- While not dangerous to the psychologist, Don Juan Demarco is clearly a case where the analyst was affected more than the patient.
- Used as a throwaway gag in Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Renfield is sitting in his cell at the asylum, when another man speaks to him through the slot, saying he can't take it there anymore, the screams, the crazy faces, that the walls are closing in on him, etc. Then his boss tells him to get back to work. Turns out he's a security guard, not a patient.
- In Good Will Hunting, Will goes through quite a few therapists.
- However, this is not a typical example. He does nothing to affect their sanity, but he also does not want therapy and is simply smart enough to know how to annoy them.
- Grosse Pointe Blank:
Dr. Oatman: You didn't tell me what you did for a living for four sessions. Then you told me. And I said, "I don't want to work with you any more." And yet, you come back each week at the same time. That's a difficulty for me. On top of that, if you've committed a crime or you're thinking about committing a crime, I have to tell the authorities.
Martin: I know the law, okay? But I don't want to be withholding; I'm very serious about this process. [Beat] And I know where you live.
- The psychiatrist in the Lethal Weapon films gets progressively crazier as she has to deal with Riggs.
- In the first film this is because he is angry and depressed. In the sequels though it's just because he likes messing with her.
- Mr Frost: In a World where people no longer believe in God or The Devil, what is Satan to do? Simple: manifest as a serial killer in order to get locked in a psycho ward, with the intention of slowly corrupting his psychoanalyst until she snaps and murders him, causing a wave of revulsion that would make humanity turn its back on rationality. "Stronger than passing time", indeed.
- By the end of Quills, the Abbe du Coulmier, who ran the asylum where the Marquis de Sade was housed, has lot his mind and become just like his former patient, even carrying on his writings.
- Played with in the second and third Terminator films. Neither the patient [Sarah Connor] nor the therapist is crazy. The therapist just prefers to think he is insane than to accept that her story could be correct.
- And that's totally understandable until halfway through the third movie.
- This is basically the plot of What About Bob? although it's a variation: The therapist is on vacation and the patient follows him. This is mixed with a hearty dollop of The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes.
- This is used to re-introduce the character of Artemis Fowl in the second book.
- Subverted with the one we actually see on screen. It's mentioned that Artemis succeeded in doing this to all previous therapists, but this one proves resistant.
- Catch-22 plays with this a bit.
- Michel Duval in the Red Mars Trilogy spends several decades as the only therapist within several million miles, and consequently has no one to help him deal with his own problems (which include dealing with all the First Hundred's problems) and slowly becomes unbalanced and retreats into nostalgia.
- Norman Spinrad's short story Look! Up in the Sky! begins with the description of Superman Syndrome, where people forget their own past in favor of being Clark Kent/Superman. This doesn't end well for Doctor Felix Funck.
- Just After Sunset, a collection of short stories by Stephen King, features the novella N. A compelling story about a mysterious circle of stones on the outskirts of town ensnares quite a few people, including a psychiatrist.
- Any story by Philip K. Dick that has a psychiatrist in it will end up being one of three things: 1) this trope played completely straight (where the psychiatrist will break down into a psychotic reality along with the protagonist), 2) this trope heavily inverted (where the psychiatrist is in on the nature of reality and pulls the protagonist further down into insanity), or 3) a total aversion of this trope (to the point where the psychiatrist accepts different altered states of reality and acts as sort of a benevolent guide to the protagonist). Example? VALIS (number 3). This trope also applies to any character that interviews, tries to help, or tries to reason with an apparently insane character.
- Isaac Asimov's super computer Multivac becomes suicidal from having to help countless humans with their psychological problems.
- Cruelly yet hilariously subverted in the short story The Earth Men by Ray Bradbury. Thinking you're from Earth turns out to be a common psychological disorder on Mars, where delusions can actually manifest physically due to the Martians' psychic abilities, so the demonstrable existence of your spaceship and crew is more of an expected symptom than a proof of sanity. Upon making contact with the natives, the titular spacefarers are eventually directed to a psychiatrist who ends up forcefully euthanizing them as an incurable case - and when the ship and their bodies fail to vanish, he concludes to his horror that he's been infected with this trope and shoots himself.
- In Red Dragon Will Graham's MO is to use his empathetic imagination (a match for Lecter's own, which is what allows him to bust Lecter) to mentally imitate the killer as best he can. He succeeds (with the help of a self-imposed, accidental case of Bluffing the Murderer by Lecter himself) at exposing Lecter as the Chesapeake Ripper but as a result has to go to a mental hospital just for having Lecter's thoughts in his head.
- Cordelia Naismith, Hero of Beta Colony, came home and could only speak wonders of her captor, Admiral Vorkosigan. Her government believes she has been brainwashed when she plans to retire. They go so far as to drug her and attempt 'treatment' on her to fix the obvious tampering on her, likely to make her a spy. Cordelia though is the biggest hero of the war and manages to outfox everyone to be reunited with her love.
- In a softened form, one of the central themes of In Treatment, leading Paul to act unprofessionally and/or fail to help several of his patients in differing ways. Notably with Laura in Season 1, April in Season 2, and Sunil in Season 3.
- This happened with the title character of Becker.
- John Cleese wrote a half-hour sketch in which Ronnie Barker plays a psychiatrist treating a man who thinks he's being stalked by a dwarf. Barker is skeptical at first, until the dwarf turns up in his office. The patient is relieved to know that he isn't crazy after all, but as he walks out, the dwarf vanishes...
- George Costanza once drove a therapist to suicide.
- In Seven Days, Frank's psychiatrist storms into the supervisor's office ranting about Frank's impossible psychiatric state. Apparently he has a god complex and a martyr complex at the same time and likes tormenting the poor doctor.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: A patient in a space-borne asylum for the criminally insane turns the tables on the institution's supervisor, turning him into a neurotic wreck who hands the keys over to the patient. And that's just the start...
- The My Family episode "Shrink Rap" features a therapist who was trying to quit smoking with the help of another therapist. She ends up eating nicotine patches as the general stress of attempting to deal with the Harpers' dysfunctions for even half an hour takes its toll.
- In the "R. Tam Sessions," one of the tie-ins to the Firefly movie Serenity, River is undergoing prolonged interviews with a counselor/interrogator while being experimented on. While in most cases, Critical Psychoanalysis Failure results in mere mental damage, this one ended up far worse; the interrogator, not realizing just how dangerously mentally unstable River is becoming, eventually ends up making the extreme mistake of giving River a pen when she says she needs to write something down. Stab.
- In the first few seasons of The Sopranos, Dr. Melfi gradually gets distraught by her therapy sessions with Tony Soprano, leading to weight gains, drinking, and needing therapy herself.
- Dr. Cox of Scrubs has been giving psychologists fits for years.
- An episode of The Facts of Life had a youth guidance counselor have to be talked out of jumping off a building.
- Likewise, an episode of Perfect Strangers had a reporter for the Chicago Sun be talked out of jumping after reporting on human bastardy made him depressed.
- Muppets Tonight did a sketch where Kermit goes to psychiatrist Sandra Bullock, complaining that every time he hears the word "phenomenon", the singers from the old "Manna Manna" song suddenly appear and start singing. Bullock asks if she can try it, says "phenomenon", and joins in the singing, leaving Kermit even more disconcerted.
- Inverted in Red Dwarf when we learn that Rimmer once volunteered on the Samaritans' suicide prevention hotline.
Rimmer: I used to be with the Samaritans.
Lister: I know. For one morning.
Rimmer: Well I couldn't take any more.
Lister: I don't blame you. You spoke to five people and they all committed suicide. I wouldn't mind but one was a wrong number. He only phoned up for the cricket scores.
Rimmer: It's hardly my fault everyone chose that particular day to throw themselves off buildings. It made the papers you know. "Lemming Sunday," they called it.
- An episode of Forever Knight had a serial killer who escaped from a mental institution. He talks about killing in such an enticing way that he almost drives Nick (a vampire trying to "go straight") into killing again. Also, his ranting has already gotten to his therapist: she kills one of her patients, and is about to kill another when Nick stops her.
- A non-villainous example: in one episode of Monk when his psychiatrist retired, Monk mentioned that every time he had to find a new therapist he ended up driving several to early retirement before he found one who could tolerate him. Also, Dr. Kroeger frequently looks like he is one OCD tick away from losing it.
- A variant has, after Monk is taken in by a cult, Lt. Disher tries to deprogram him. The others quickly find him shirtless and singing hymns with Monk, then have to stop him from going to the bank to withdraw all his money.
- Dr. Hopper in Once Upon a Time had a few of these moments, most prominently in the second episode where he essentially sold Emma out to Regina. He had another moment where he put "David" (Prince Charming) under hypnosis. David said something that incriminated Mary Margaret for murder, but Archie didn't bother questioning it. In the second to last episode, he also gave Emma some horrible advice that would have resulted in her leaving town and putting Henry back with Regina, so Regina could continue emotionally abusing the kid and bullying the townsfolk (Hopper included) without interference.
- The Jack Benny Program did a Running Gag in the 40s where Jack kept hearing a yodeling echo whenever somebody said a word ending with an "Oh" sound. It culminated in Jack visiting a psychiatrist (played by long-time adversary Frank Nelson) who explained that it was just a mild psychosis he picked up in his visit to Switzerland, and that all he needs is a vacation, a change of scenery. Jack suggests "Idaho," cue the echo, Jack: "Well, okay I suppose ..." Frank: "Just a minute Mr. Benny. Did you hear that?"
- The basis for JAGS Wonderland, an Alice In Wonderland-inspired TRPG, is that people can be infected with a mental disorder/meme/parasitic reality that tends to suck other people in when a sufferer has an episode, or 'goes down the rabbit-hole'. Many psychologists who care for those affected are inevitably affected as well, dragged down through levels of reality until they reach the lowest layer and go insane.
- The intro fiction for the New World of Darkness fan game Genius: The Transgression features a psychoanalyst trying to treat a veteran Genius who's just sick of it all. She eventually Catalyzes and demands that the Genius make sense of all the strange things that rampage through her head.
- Also appears in Hunter: The Vigil, particularly with Slashers of the Genius and Maniac variety. Extended conversation with them allows them to create derangements, alter your morality, predict your every move, and otherwise screw with your head. Fitting, since they're based on Hannibal Lecter, The Joker, and others.
- The corebook for Promethean: The Created opens with a psychiatrist called in to interview a "Mr. Verney" who's held in police custody. The interview actually leads to her recalling that she's a former Promethean who managed to achieve mortality... and Verney's arranged the whole thing, believing she's been working with his twisted "bride"...
- Inverted in Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game), where a fumble on a psychoanalyst roll makes the patient lose SAN points. Although there's nothing keeping the sadistic GM from also inflicting SAN loss for psychoanalyzing the minds of those touched by the Cthulhu Mythos...
- Somewhat implied in the Unknown Armies supplement Post Modern Magick, which mentions that trying to treat adepts (insane magicians) in an mental institution is risky. The corebook, however, doesn't use this trope in the normal rules for curing madness (but GM can certainly inflict madness checks on the therapist if he feels it appropriate).
- In the old second edition of AD&D, there was a bard kit called the Jester, which played up the silly and chaotic nature of the character. Attempts to read a jester's mind could result in Confusion for the caster.
- In the Ravenloft boxed set Nightmare Realms, Dr. Illhousen's attempts to assist his dream-plagued patients wind up getting him targeted by the Nightmare Court, who begin attacking the sanity of Illhousen and his colleague Dr. Trasker along with that of his patients'.
- Also, Madness checks are mandatory for Ravenloft characters who read the minds of the insane, or of creatures whose thought-processes rate as "insane" by humanoid standards.
- Subverted in Baldur's Gate II: when you first arrive to the Asylum, a Cowled Wizard tells you that the place is in disarray since its former director went insane after communicating with his mad patients for too long. This "Wizard" turns out to be Irenicus who has, in fact, driven the director mad with his magic to take over Asylum.
- The patient interview tapes in Batman: Arkham Asylum feature a few examples, like a doctor being seduced by Femme Fatale eco-terrorist Poison Ivy.
- In the doctor's defense, Poison Ivy is capable of manipulating pheromones and manipulates the emotions of men (and women). It's not one of her more well known abilities either.
- Almost all of the Doctors in those tapes meet a fate like this. Dr Young is horrified to learn she's been working for the Joker (though what she was working on proves she wasn't all that sane anyway); Dr Cassidy gets transferred from Zsasz once she finds out he knows where she lives (he later shows up at her house, although she survived); Dr Westler is informed by Killer Croc that she's on his meal list; and Dr Murphy is drugged by Scarecrow in their first interview session (Scarecrow tries it on Dr Kellerman, and then everyone in Arkham, but Batman stops him).
- There's similar tapes of Harley Quinn "curing" the Joker. The first of her tapes though is her applying for the job, where she says she's so fascinated by the powerful villains that end up in Arkham. And Arkham still hired her. Presumably because all competent Doctors recognized the pattern and applied for jobs anywhere else.
- Happened to the Asylum's founder, Amadeus Arkham, as well after a serial killer murdered his wife. And as the Spirit of Arkham messages reveal, it's happened to the current administrator as well.
- This is inverted with the interview tapes in Batman: Arkham City, in which the interviews are being conducted by none other than Professor Hugo Strange who manages to out-creep most of Arkham City's various maniacs with devastating Hannibal Lectures.
- Fred Bonaparte from Psychonauts is a variation of this. He was originally the cheerful Chief Orderly of Thorny Towers Asylum, until he tried to cheer up chronically-depressed Jerkass Crispin by playing a board game. Crispin won game after game after game, and soon Fred snapped and developed a split personality (the Genetic Memory of Napoleon Bonaparte) while Crispin took over his job running the asylum for Dr. Loboto.
- A bonus video from First Encounter Assault Recon had the psychiatrist get Mind Raped by Alma, and she ends up cowering under a table while Alma skips around the room.
- One of the patients in Die Anstalt, a Flash game about giving psychotherapy to animate stuffed animals, is a psychiatrist himself, a stuffed raven named Dr. Wood who is slowly revealed to have his own issues, up to and including narcissistic personality disorder. If you screw things up during your sessions with him, he might try to put you on the couch and give you electroshock therapy.
- Where does a therapist turn after talking to the Sluggy Freelance crew? The nearest bartender, of course!
- There haven't been any explicit examples of this trope in A Loonatics Tale yet, but it's a safe bet that this is because it's already happened; the psychiatrists at the Mercia Sanitarium and Straitjacket Emporium are all at least as screwed up as the rest of the cast, who they're supposedly in charge of treating. For your consideration: cold, unempathetic Cheryl Lutetium, bitter, apathetic Robert Chester, excitable, angry Charles Terbium, and overcalculating Jeffrey Nobelium, and manically cheerful Wilhelm Qubert. The closest to a sane individual they have on staff is Nobelium's grandson Van Parker, a quiet, dutiful Deadpan Snarker, but he's not without his own issues either.
- The Warner kids in Animaniacs do this to Dr. Scratchinsniff on a regular basis.
- In one episode of Dan Vs., Dan manages to send a top-tier psychologist running out of the room screaming.
- Crocker's only and temporary shrink in The Fairly OddParents loses it towards the end of the one episode she's in, becoming just as Fairy-obsessed as he is... to be fair, though, he is a lost cause (for a reason).
- One Code Monkeys episode had a psychiatrist assess the staff, who were all noticeably crazy in different ways. She wound up hating them until she was just as insane. She also pointed out her own need to get laid.
- While Ax Crazy patients usually don't spawn this reaction, psychologists who work with depressed patients have a disturbingly high suicide rate.
- This is true for humans on the whole - the main problem with social workers is that they're very empathetic, and so essentially suffer critical psychoanalysis failures as they see the same situation over and over. Test it yourself - try spending a significant amount of time a website like FML and you start getting depressed at a lot of the crap that people go through.
- And while it's not a matter of trained therapists, there is also folie à deux, which is where a spouse or close relative can go crazy while trying to deal with their crazy partner. When you live in madness...
- He Who Fights Monsters indeed.
- They sometimes call it codependency, and it is usually played straight, though it can have its comic side once you dumped that partner.
- Another high-risk field is psychologists who work with survivors of abuse. Some of the things human beings can inflict on each other are truly horrifying.
- And Police Officers who end up dealing with the aftermath of such cases are also a high-risk group.
- Medical professionals, too. Especially pediatricians.
- Similarly, dealing with the worst that human nature has to offer on a daily basis is a big reason why lawyers have such a high occurrence of alcoholism.
- Mental health workers tend to have a higher instance of mental illnesses, especially mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, and the like). Whether the mentally ill are drawn to psychology or it's this trope in action is up for debate (although it's probably a combination).
- In The Fifty Minute Hour psychoanalyst Robert Lindner describes the case of Kirk Allen, a brilliant young physicist who claimed to have a parallel life in a galaxy far far away. His fantasies were so consistent and extensive that eventually Lindner came to believe them himself, at which point Allen confessed that he had invented the whole thing. A brief outline of the story can be found in The Demon-haunted World by Carl Sagan.
- She's the redhead in the Medical wing, in case you missed the connection