Our On Screen Obsession With All Things Therapy: Paul Weston in ‘In Treatment’

Series 2 by Jacqueline Lucas Palmer.

In Treatment’s Season 2, continues to draw in huge audiences who are charmed and intrigued by Paul Weston, Gabrielle Byrne’s compelling psychotherapist. And again I find myself sucked into the lives of his clients; April, an architectural student facing cancer alone, Mia, an ex patient and lawyer in her forties wanting a partner and child, Oliver a twelve year old boy, troubled by the fallout of his parent’s divorce, and Walter, a powerful CEO whose panic attacks signal a life crisis and attempted suicide. And of course there is Paul’s supervision with Gina, (Dianne Wiest) which explores his weekly trials.

As Paul gains in screen popularity, he is a target for his client’s anger, their disappointments and projections. Mia tells him, “You owe me a child”, after an abortion in her twenties when she was last in therapy with Paul. With Mia’s firm handling a lawsuit against him by the father of a former client, she uses her power in tough sessions to test his boundaries. She brings them breakfast while recounting explicit tales of a weekend of casual sex, trying to seduce him with provocative fantasies involving Laura, Paul’s ex client and love interest, entreating him to “call it a day and go to a bar and act like we just met”.

While therapist’s private lives are rarely seen by clients, we are treated to a bird’s eye view of Paul’s troubles in his therapy sessions. Now divorced and living away from his children in Brooklyn, he continues to blame his father for his mother’s suicide when he was a teenager, conducts a half hearted affair with a married ex girlfriend, is rejected by his ex wife, and experiences a profound loneliness echoed by his clients, “I hate my life, it’s broken” he tells Gina. Indeed his work feels punishing, and cancelling sessions for his father’s funeral leaves Paul with angry clients who feel abandoned: April is furious he is “not there to take care of me”, Walter runs a background check on him and discovers his lawsuit. “I’m like a knife in your neck”, says Mia, “you feel relieved when it’s gone”. So it is no surprise Paul questions why he is doing this work. Yet in his self-doubt there’s a willingness to dig deep into his own process, “Would you use a plumber if you found out all the drains in his house were blocked?” He is all too aware he cannot give his clients what they need: a lover, child, a better parent, as Gina reminds him that’s not what therapy provides. 

Paul’s clients want more from him, and he delivers for good or not: he takes April to her first chemotherapy session, and tells her mother she is ill, against her wishes. “Stop all the therapy and tell me what you really think!” Mia taunts. He allows her to comfort him after his father’s loss as he speaks from “personal experience”, imploring her to face her issues with her father, while he’s still alive. He warns her what might happen if she doesn’t face the truth in therapy, “You’re going to keep punishing the men in your life for not being what you need”. 

In parallel process he is equally provocative, testing Gina’s boundaries, “Drop the fucking cat like smile, the bullshit Buddha pose of yours and for once tell me what you really think!” rattling her enough to yell back and get out of her chair. Indeed there is some fun to be had for an audience of clients fed up with ‘therapy-speak’, as he belittles Gina for mirroring his words.

We understand that Paul cares deeply for his clients, lovingly collecting fragments of April’s destroyed architectural model, and trying (unsuccessfully) to protect Oliver from his parent’s fighting. He helps Mia unpack her idealised image of her father, and encourages Walter to reconnect with “the little boy whose been sitting in the dark scared half to death”. He encourages clients to confront unhelpful patterns and fictions that foster a false sense of self. In a moving role-play he phones Oliver in their session, creatively imagining the challenges awaiting him in his move from the city, confirming he’ll be there for support. He acknowledges the hard road they travel through chemotherapy, loss, divorce and bullying and admires them for their courage. What we get is a lot more elegant and choreographed than ‘real therapy’, which often takes longer than this neat seven-session TV version.

The journey ends for some and continues for others. April ends therapy, Mia ‘ends’ with a last ditch seduction, “Why don’t we just go in the bedroom now and fuck instead of pretending this talking nonsense actually helps!” Yet this ‘talking nonsense’ is often pretty spot on, and reveals the deep-seated reasons which can govern our lives and keep us trapped. Mia uncovers her role as a powerful lawyer defending men, as she always defended her father, just as Walter recognises his life was built erroneously rescuing others since his brother’s death, and decides to continue the work of healing his lost inner child. Armed with insight into improving their relationships, we vicariously experience the sort of therapy In Treatment audiences might like a go at, while an audience of therapists love to compare their game with Paul’s scripted methods. 

“I haven’t lived one moment of my life for myself”, Walter realises approaching seventy, and this resonates for Paul as the raison d’etre of his work, “I want to be there”, he tells Walter, “when you go back and rescue yourself”. Beautifully put, this feels a pretty worthwhile project. And for those who dislike Paul’s brand of therapy, there are plenty of episodes on YouTube complete with commentary by Control Mastery, rubbishing the script and his style of working, his poor boundaries and more. For aficianados, the good news is that Paul has not thrown in the towel, and series 3 is done and dusted. Also look out for Necessary Roughness, a spin off therapy series you can download, if missing Paul’s weekly sessions and private demons leave you in withdrawal. And of course there are a variety of therapy approaches demystified on the London Psychotherapy Network website for those of you searching for your own Paul Weston, warts’n all…