- Jennifer Clasen/HBO
Editor’s note: This story discusses relationship abuse and contains spoilers for “Big Little Lies.”
- As the plot of “Big Little Lies” season 2 thickens, fans are starting to form opinions about a minor character first introduced in season 1 - Celeste’s therapist, Dr. Reisman.
- So far in season 2, Dr. Reisman has become a more judgmental character, and viewers have taken notice of her no-holds-barred approach at therapy.
- Psychologists told INSIDER that her approach crosses a line and could actually alienate her patients and make their problems worse.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
As the plot of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” season 2 thickens, fans are starting to form opinions about a minor character first introduced in season 1 - Celeste’s therapist Dr. Reisman.
In season 1, Dr. Reisman played a small but important role, helping Celeste strategize how to safely exit the abusive relationship with her now-deceased husband Perry. But in season 2, Dr. Reisman has become a more intense and judgmental character, and viewers have taken notice of her no-holds-barred approach to therapy.
Who else watches Big Little Lies? I need someone to listen to me rant about the therapist in the show because my god
— Cody Bondarchuk ???? (@codybondarchuk) June 24, 2019
The therapist on Big Little Lies has a very threatening energy.
— Jenny Jaffe (@jennyjaffe) June 25, 2019
Maybe Big Little Lies season 2 will end with everyone finding a better therapist
— Nicole Haley (@nkhaley) June 24, 2019
Lol OK this "Big Little Lies" therapist is OUT OF CONTROL
— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) June 25, 2019
ICYMI: Dr. Reisman is the resident therapist in Monterey County, California, where “Big Little Lies” takes place. The show centers around five moms embroiled in a murder that happened in the gossipy locale. In season 1, Dr. Reisman works solely with enigmatic Celeste, a lawyer played by Nicole Kidman. In season 2, she also works with other key characters and Celeste’s friends, Madeline and Ed, played by Reese Witherspoon and Adam Scott, as they navigate Madeline’s affair in couple’s counseling.
As season 2 progresses, Dr. Reisman’s therapeutic approach becomes questionable. Here’s a look at some of her potentially damaging behaviors, and what a (non-TV) relationship psychologist has to say about them.
Dr. Reisman’s candid and simplistic approach is self-serving
In one scene, Dr. Reisman attempts to make Madeline’s affair a black-and-white situation, becoming visibly frustrated when Madeline can’t seem to vocalize why she cheated on Ed. That’s only one example of Dr. Reisman calling out characters for their behavior, but not offering solutions. As a result, Celeste, Madeline, and Ed appear lost and alienated after sessions.
Kelly Scott, a psychotherapist at Tribeca Therapy who watches the show, told INSIDER that Dr. Reisman’s direct approach could be helpful in theory, but her lack of purpose in being candid leaves her patients feeling confused and frustrated. Rather than motivated by a desire to help people, Dr. Reisman seems to want to prove she’s right and morally superior, Scott said.
“My overriding feeling is that the therapist is provocative without a goal. She’s just trying to stir up conflict without framework [for helping her patients],” Scott said.
It was also “unfair” of Dr. Reisman to ask Madeline why she cheated on Ed, Scott said. “If they knew, they wouldn’t be in your office right now,” she said. The question oversimplifies a complicated relationship and situation, Scott said, and could deepen the rift between Madeline and Ed.
According to Scott, approaching affairs, abusive relationships, and other sensitive matters with the understanding that they’re complex, not black and white, will help patients more in the long run.
In her practice, Scott said she likes to encourage couples to be curious about each other when dealing with infidelity or other relationship problems because it paves the way for understanding and forgiveness. She tells couples to keep an open mind when one person is telling their side of the story. “One partner may believe they know what the ‘problem’ is, but if they can be curious, it opens up other possibilities for them to repair and build and deepen their relationship,” Scott said.
On the other hand, insisting there’s a right and a wrong like Dr. Reisman did can pit partners against each other.
Dr. Reisman uses shame as a tool, and that could alienate her patients
To further prove her moral superiority, Dr. Reisman invokes shame when she works with Celeste.
During one session, for example, Celeste tells Dr. Reisman she misses her dead husband Perry despite the fact that he was abusive. But rather than approach Celeste’s comment with understanding, Dr. Reisman tells Celeste to picture her close friend Madeline in the same abusive relationship, triggering traumatizing flashbacks for Celeste.
The session clearly didn’t help Celeste: Afterward, she tells Madeline she feels weak and like a bad mother.
According to Scott, Dr. Reisman’s approach - insisting that Perry was purely evil, with no positive attributes - only could have been effective if he was still alive and Celeste needed a one-dimensional view of him to leave the relationship. But now that Perry is dead, painting him as the bad guy serves no purpose for Celeste or her safety. Rather, it will likely alienate her.
“It damages the relationship between patient and therapist because [the patient] sees the therapist as someone who doesn’t understand or who is pushing an agenda,” Scott said. “It leaves the patient alone when the whole point of therapy is not being alone.”
According to Scott, Dr. Reisman could have been more effective if she recognized the various truths of Celeste and Perry’s relationship: That he was sadistic, abusive, and vindictive, but that he was also a provider, good father, and person who understood Celeste in ways others did not.