Psychiatrists are being driven mad by their portrayal on screen

Hollywood screen psychiatrists such as Hannibal Lecter and Frasier Crane misrepresent the profession, and may actually prevent people seeking help, according to their real-life counterparts.

Hollywood screen psychiatrists such as Hannibal Lecter and Frasier Crane misrepresent the profession, and may actually prevent people seeking help, according to their real-life counterparts.

A new Radio 4 series, to run daily this week, surveyed 50 eminent psychiatrists worldwide to discover what they thought of their profession's portrayal on screen. The producer, Ian Docherty, said he was somewhat shocked at the vehemence of their replies. "There was a whole untapped resentment going on."

The doctors felt that cinema had given them a raw deal, and bemoaned every screen portrayal from Robbie Coltrane's hard-drinking, womanisingpsychologist Fitz in Cracker,to Kelsey Grammer's latte-swilling radio doc in Frasier.

Based on their answers,the producers of Celluloid Psychiatrists compiled five "types" of screen psychiatrist, from the "intellectual buffoon", typified by a character called Dr Dippy in Edwardian times, to the thrill-seeking "unethical exploiter".

Dr Anthony Clare, one of Britain's best-known practitioners, and one of those surveyed, said: "The buffoon character dates back to 1906; this is fear of the psychiatrist and it's an attempt by us, the public, to reduce psychiatrists to the level of ridiculousness because we're scared of them."

Mark Salter, a psychiatrist at Homerton Hospital in Hackney, east London, said some of the screen stereotypes were positively damaging. "All of these negative views are quite harmful beyond all the jokes and gags, because they put people off seeking help."

Many psychiatrists said patients were rarely shown being treated with drugs on film - despite the fact that drug therapy accounts for between 75 and 90 per cent of all medical practice in psychiatry - with the exception of Milos Forman's 1975 classic, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

Instead, screen shrinks are likely to give them "hugs not drugs", such as Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, sleep with their patients, such as Richard Gere in Final Analysis, or, in the case of Hannibal Lecter, eat them. Although, as Professor Glen Gabbard of the University of Kansas School of Medicine tells Mark Thomas, the presenter: "I've checked the American Psychiatric Association rules and I have to tell you, there is no rule against eating your patients."

The earliest term for a psychiatrist was in the Middle Ages, when they were known as "persuaders" - because they would attempt to persuade patients that they were not seeing things or hearing voices. The term psychiatrist was first used in 1846 - before then the most common term throughout 18th and 19th centuries was "alienist". Mr Docherty said: "That really speaks volumes about what we think they'reup to."

Professor Glen Gabbard, a psychiatrist at the University of Kansas, and author of Psychiatry and the Cinema, said no professional group likes their presentation on screen. "Psychiatrists are no different. It's just that we like to whine and complain more." The programme also airs the views of Dr Peter Byrne of the University of Kent at Canterbury, who is lobbying against the portrayal of mental illness in the forthcoming Jim Carrey film, Me, Myself and Irene. He said it was not the portrayal of psychiatrists that was damaging, but that of the mentally ill.

"Whenever surveys are done of the families of psychiatric patients, the thing which does most harm beyond politicians grandstanding, beyond movies, is newspaper headlines like 'Psychoslasher'.

"You are more likely to be killed by a speeding police car than you are to be killed by a mentally ill person."

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