According to the book Manufacturing Victims
, the therapy industry operates under the same market economy as any other business: If the customer doesn't come back, it means you have failed. Thus, the ideal therapy is one that makes the patient dependent on the therapist rather than ready to move on with her life.
As a trope, this comes to play in the form of therapists who encourage patients to get stuck in their problems, or even get worse, rather than to move on and improve their lives.
In some cases, this malpractice includes a variant of Defiled Forever
and/or false memories
Please note that those who make a living Manufacturing Victims
are not necessarily malicious: They keep telling themselves that their method is popular because it works, when the grim reality is that it's popular because it gets people hooked on it. Regardless, a large majority of training for therapeutic work attempts to instill the idea that this trope is bad, as making the person dependent on therapy just replaces the old problem with a new one. Unfortunately, there's generally no good way for an outsider to tell the difference between the actual use of this trope and the existence of a hopeless case that keeps coming back despite lack of improvement. Also note that many psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and clinical depression are chronic conditions that would legitimately require years
of drug therapy, counseling, and passive monitoring. That doesn't even get into the many and varied controversies over addiction treatment and therapy, including whether 12 Steps, non 12-step abstinence programs, or managed substitution/use are the gold standard or are enabling addiction itself. Mental health issues and dealing with them are highly
individualized and personal matters.
Finally, there is the elephant in the room that for some disorders (especially in regard to PTSD, complicated grief, the autism spectrum, and some forms of anxiety disorder and some personality disorders) that existing drug therapy, counseling, and passive monitoring and other therapeutic intervention are of limited use at best
and useless at worst, and that accommodations (from sensory accommodations for autistic individuals to learning and avoiding triggers for PTSD or grief or anxiety) and time are the things that help the most in recovery.
individuals and at some
times, intensive therapy and drug treatment might help immensely, but for others, the time spent in therapy, the side effects of maintenance medication aren't worth their limited or nonexistent benefits, and at least in three cases it can actually worsen disorders. note
In these cases, Manufacturing Victims
happens when therapists or mental health/rehab businesses promise unrealistic success rates and persuade the parents of autism spectrum children or anxious people willing to please their therapists to continue maintenance medication when as needed or none would do, to continue therapies or counseling that really aren't needed (and that in the case of trauma like PTSD or grief, can be itself a trigger), or to consider inpatient rehab/therapy at a facility they are being paid for referrals to when outpatient is adequate.
This trope is about getting people hooked on therapy, including similar activities such as self-help support-groups. Compare and contrast Withholding the Cure
(where the villain suppresses medication that cures a problem so they can sell medication that merely treats its symptoms, or because they want people to die from it) and Poison and Cure Gambit
(where the villain creates the problem in the first place).
No real life examples, please. However, media examples of how different real life therapies have been portrayed are, of course, welcome.
- Before she got her powers, Moonstone (usually of the Thunderbolts) was an extremely unethical psychiatrist. One of her female patients was afraid her husband was cheating on her. When the patient started making progress with her issues, Moonstone telephoned the patient, disguised her voice to sound like a bimbo, and asked to speak to the patient's husband.
- Averted in Dykes To Watch Out For: As Mo turns into a therapy junkie as a way of avoiding dealing with her life, her therapist actually throws her out.
- In the David Cronenberg flim The Brood, Raglan manages to get at least one patient addicted to his treatments.
- Zig-Zagged in Fight Club. The main character and his love interest join group therapy for conditions they don't have, such as cancer, in order to feel a sense of connection and community. The question of whether the therapy helps people who actually need it is not addressed.
- Law & Order: SVU has played this card a few times.
- There's a few episodes that deal with "repressed memory" therapists and the problems they cause, since "repressed memories" are usually false.
- The cast does it too, though. There are numerous incidents where a "victim" doesn't think she was victimized, and she is portrayed as being in denial. Which is possible, although in some cases it seems more like they legitimately weren't traumatized by whatever "should" have traumatized them.
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit! have an episode on 12-steppers, where they argue that the method is nothing more than brainwashing and religious indoctrination. It doesn't help at all against alcoholism, and at worst it gets people more hooked on the alcohol itself as well as getting hooked on the AA movement.
- Dr. Fontaine in L.A. Noire, who turns artists and shell-shocked Marine veterans into addicts and serial killers.
- Dr. Steinman in BioShock uses ADAM, a highly-addictive genetic modifier, to perform his plastic surgery. Combined with his Mad Artist tendencies (he's a plastic surgeon who worships Picasso), his patients tend to need more plastic surgery to undo the first round. And he's the only one in Rapture.
- South Park had an episode where Stan's Dad drank too much and was forced into the AA movement. He quickly got hooked on it, thus making his life miserable AND making his alcohol problem worse. It's implied that the other members of the support-group had equally dysfunctional relationships to the whole thing.
- Drawn Together (season 3, episode 13) has Foxy going into therapy. The psychiatrist implants a false memory of childhood sexual abuse, and this false memory takes over her life. Ruining her life, making her end up in jail, and make her murder a lot of innocent people — in that order. To be fair, the "specalist" was just another housemate.
- Family Guy in the episode Friends of Peter G. has both Peter and Brian sentenced to 30 days of AA as a result of extreme public intoxication. When they complain to Lois about how pointless the meetings are she says that AA has helped a lot of people over the years. Brian retorts that all that has happened is that their members have simply traded their addiction to alcohol for being addicted to the idea of being AA members.