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Q: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one, but the bulb has got to really WANT to change.

Research is hard. While this is generally true of all science, psychology in particular is vulnerable, as it's a very, very new field still under heavy development. Only recently has psychology emerged as a mature science with robust theories, and supposed "facts" of the past are still in popular culture despite being debunked. Writers fail to recognize this, and the supposed professionals in their stories will quote woefully out-of-date representations of Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious, Carl Jung's collective unconscious archetypes, or Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This is the equivalent of a modern physicist discussing luminiferous aether, a chemist trying to create a Philosopher's Stone, or a biologist believing Lamarck Was Right.

Further complicating things is the Rule of Cool: if there are multiple versions of a disorder, a writer will tend toward the most interesting, dramatic, or visible of them. Thus, in fiction, all dyslexics can't read anything past a fourth-grade level, all people with Tourette's compulsively swear, and all people with schizophrenia think demons are out to cover up the truth of global warming. Many people, overexposed to the fictional versions, are surprised to discover that not only are there milder versions of all these disorders, but the milder versions account for anywhere from 90% to 99% of the people diagnosed with them.

Naturally, there is some Truth in Television. Freud is still relevant, he is simply not the state of the art, but rather, one of the beginnings (similar to the way Newton's Laws are still used alongside Einstein's). While many or even most of the theories of Freud, Jung, and other early psychoanalysts have been refuted scientifically, their work shaped and continues to shape psychology and the popular mind. Concepts like projection, defense mechanisms, and the like are still used in therapy... simply not in their antique form. For instance, Hollywood is woefully unaware of the refinements suggested by Anna Freud (Sigmund's daughter) and his other students.

One big area where Hollywood really missed the boat is that from the '30s well into the '60s, radical behaviorism dominated psychological research. Researchers attempted to stamp out "mentalism" (that is, the study of consciousness itself) in favor of quantifying behavior. Psychology was ghettoized, and in the US, survived in the shadow of psychiatry. This may partially explain the powerful, anachronistic hold Freud has over Hollywood. The Freud of Hollywood is psychoanalysis of the '60s, flanderized and spun for drama.

For a reality check on a number of these subjects, see the Psychology entries of our own Useful Notes.


Hollywood Psychology

Hollywood Mental Conditions

Hollywood Therapy

See also Emotion Tropes, Intelligence Tropes, Madness Tropes, and Parental Issues.

Other Examples

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  • Crazy laughter is the number one most common and stereotypical trait of insanity in fiction. While neurotic, hysterical or uncontrollable laughter does indeed happen with some mental illnesses that hinder your ability to communicate emotions properly (like schizophrenia), it's far from the only symptom, and it's situational. All the while, the media makes you think that literally every single psychological disorder ever turns you into a laughing lunatic and that this is the only type of patient in mental asylums.
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder usually comes in two ways on television: Jekyll & Hyde or Superpowered Evil Side.
    • For many years D.I.D. was referred to on TV as "schizophrenia." Anything even remotely resembling actual schizophrenia had another word for it - "crazy." This misunderstanding is likely due to the fact that schizophrenia literally translates into English as "Split Mind", though it's meant in the sense of broken rather than bifurcated.
  • On the topic of Psychopathy, the term is still used by Psychologists (but not Psychiatrists just to confuse you all) but not in the way that it's used on TV or indeed in any media. Sociopathy, however, is no longer in use. Currently, definitions characterise psychopaths as being narcissistic but interpersonally charming, lacking in emotional depth and in particular empathy and highly anti-social, irresponsible, and impulsive. Please note that psychopaths are completely in touch with reality and are highly rational; this takes a break from many media representations that seem to equate psychopathy with psychosis. When people also speak the word "psychopath" they talk about those "Always Chaotic Evil Serial Killers", but not all serial killers are psychopaths, nor are all psychopaths serial killers (although you do get psychopathic serial killers e.g. Ted Bundy).
  • It probably was Hollywood that actually created the public idea of 'psychos' as acceptable targets, flanderized the most antisocial elements of psychopathy and psychosis and fuses them both into Ax-Crazy-ness.
    • In fact, successful CEOs and wealthy businessmen (not to mention dictators) can be clinical psychopaths - the traits described above make for an excellent way to shaft innocent people for personal gain without feeling a hint of remorse.
    • For the record, the majority of serial killers are indeed psychopaths, and psychopaths are thought to be responsible for something like 60% of all serious violent crime in the United States (though this may be simply from the Hare Checklist, which is fairly accurate but which even Hare admits should not be taken as much more than a guide). That said, this does not mean that 60% of psychopaths are violent criminals; many of them live completely normal lives. (They are, however, much more likely than the general population to commit white-collar crimes and get away with it.)
    • Writers, critics, and commentators like to use the word psychopath when they want to emphasize the monster hiding underneath and use the word sociopath when they want to emphasize the normal-appearing facade.
  • Any show to mention Asperger's Syndrome. In Real Life, it's (to make it simpler than it really is) the "milder form" of autism that tends to show up as sensory-related problems, social difficulties, and concentrated interests in a limited number of subjects. Many with it have above-average intelligence and the names Steven Spielberg and Albert Einstein turn up in any discussion about it at least once. However, the TV version of it always concentrates on the "difficulty with social norms" and "above average intelligence" aspect.
    • The internet has its own Hollywood Psych version of Asperger's. On the internet, due to the "socially awkward" and "above average intelligence" parts, Asperger's Syndrome becomes something you self-diagnose if you are socially awkward (often, outright hostile or offensive) but want to claim that it's okay not to try to improve because you are "smarter" than anyone else. Even if you're not. It's basically an excuse to behave badly at will and still demand sympathy, and it annoys the average Internet denizen to the point that the faked syndrome has been nicknamed "Ass Burgers".
      In contrast, most people who actually have Asperger's strongly desire not to inadvertently hurt other people and will lay low about it and either attempt to imitate typical people, or, if such imitation is undesirable or impossible, work specifically on the skills that help them to be more diplomatic. (Some actually just don't mention it specifically because of how many people believe the Hollywood Psych version of Aspergers and lump them into stereotypes.)
      • L. Frank Baum probably said it best... "Thereafter he walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything."You people with hearts," he said, "have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful."
      • Of course, Baum was trying to say that the Woodman did have a heart.
      • The internet has also adapted their concept of the condition as a verb: anyone who demonstrates a ridiculous amount of knowledge and/or obsession with a topic (usually some sort of hobby) can be said to be 'sperging' about it.
    • Occasionally, Asperger's will be used as a sort of off-brand psychopathy, as part of the characterization of a Hannibal Lecter Lite villain, with patients portrayed as lacking any understanding of emotions, and often as being emotionless themselves. It's probably because the writers confused Asperger's patients' difficulty with nonverbal social cues with a lack of empathy. In reality, people with Asperger's have normal levels of empathy—basically, they care how other people are feeling, they just often can't tell.
  • Similarly, dyslexia on the internet is often used as a free pass by people who simply can't be bothered to write coherently or spellcheck, since it guarantees white knighting if anyone calls them on it; it's particularly popular with trolls. Real dyslexia might make language difficult, but it doesn't make the sufferer a moron; indeed, non-internet dyslexics often take great pains to ensure their grammar and spelling is up to scratch.
    • Dyslexia wouldn't even affect typing since it only causes trouble with reading. If you have trouble writing, that's dysgraphia.
  • Bipolar affective disorder (otherwise known as manic depression, a term no longer used by psychiatric professionals) is almost universally depicted as the relatively rare rapid-cycling variant, in which the extreme variations in mood take place over much shorter periods - days, or in extreme cases hours, rather than weeks - than is typical; the personality of a Mood-Swinger will sometimes be justified this way. Also, it is rarely acknowledged that a person with bipolar disorder will experience the symptoms maybe a few times a year rather than constantly.
    • A small correction: some researchers distinguish Bipolar disorder and Manic-depression as two separate disorders.
    • Also, in a person with Bipolar II, the manic phases, known as "hypomania," actually do tend to only last a few days, though the depressive phases are still long and painful.
  • Panic is among the more misunderstood psychological conditions and an unusually dangerous one to misunderstand. A great many people believe that people are very likely to panic in disasters. Panic is very difficult to induce: One needs a sense of potential entrapment (if people feel themselves to be definitely trapped, they are more likely to go limp), a sense of great helplessness, and a sense of profound isolation (one can have a panic attack in the "safety" of their own home). This is especially dangerous because it prevents the dissemination of useful safety information and the conduct of useful safety training.
    • One Brazilian official nearly refused to allow a simple fire drill to occur because he was worried people would bite off their own tongues in panic. It went no differently than if it were held in Great Britain. This was remarkably common in North America before the Our Lady of Angels school fire.
    • It can actually be counterproductive to tell people during a disaster that they shouldn't panic. For one thing, when people are told not to panic they sometimes slow down to the point that they don't escape in time. For another, some might not even think to panic until they're told not to. Telling people not to panic also wastes time that could be used to tell people how to get out. Most victims of large fires die because they unthinkingly try to exit the building the same way they came in and end up being squeezed together so tightly that they can't breathe. Telling people what to do also gives them a purpose - they'll move faster.
  • Insanity in general. Some shows like King of the Hill show people being able to check into a mental hospital or pretend to be insane and be checked in. Or someone will try to use the Insanity Defense to get out of prison. (Or try to be acquitted of all crimes.) Typically, people who are legally insane don't know it. Although emphasis on typically, as some people actually do know that something is wrong with them. Usually, if you try to be insane, people will be able to see through the act.
    • There is also a lot of confusion between the medical concept of insanity (mental illness to be precise) and the legal concept of insanity. In jurisdictions where it's allowed, it refers to a person who is unable to differentiate between right and wrong. Serial killers, especially of the movie variety, would never be able to successfully argue insanity as a defense because they are very aware that what they do is illegal (attempts to clean up evidence, hide your trail and evade the authorities are all evidence that you know it's wrong).
    • This is why it can be very hard to write insane characters; especially since the Hollywood version of "Crazy" is "someone obsessed with blood, death, and inflicting pain on others" or "Schizophrenic". A lot of sociopathic serial killers actually don't fixate on blood or death.
    • The psychotic disorders, schizophrenia being the most well known, are usually what people think of when they hear mental illness. Mood and anxiety disorders are probably a close second. There are also dissociative, personality, drug-related, eating, sleeping, and many other kinds of mental disorders.
    • The word "psychotic" itself has become the diagnosis of Hollywood Psych. It's usually used as a blanket term for "crazy", where "crazy" itself mostly consists of "murderous and loving it". Psychosis is medically defined as "a loss of contact with reality", which can manifest as delusions, hallucinations, or "disordered thinking"; in fact, it's usually a symptom of another disorder (or even just heavy drinking) than the problem in and of itself. It is possible for psychotics to be dangerous as a result of their disconnect from reality, but being psychotic does not automatically mean being dangerous, and vice versa. In Troper's terms: Pinkie Pie and Homestar Runner are psychotics; Carcer Dun and Hannibal Lecter are not.
      • Similarly the terms "sociopath" and "psychopath" are often used as a diagnosis for people with no emotions who kill indiscriminately. The terms are not used in psychiatry or in any clinical sense. The disorder that most closely matches the terms is Antisocial Personality Disorder, characterized as a pervasive disregard for the rights of others. Only in rare cases does this manifest as the classical 'serial killer' archetype.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia, specifically the variant where you repress traumatic memories, causing angst, depression, or other mental problems. To "uncover" repressed memories was popular with psychiatrists in the 1980s and '90s, but is now pretty much seen as a scientifically and ethically dubious practice. Oh, it was also very popular in incest cases. Yeah, therapists actually mind raped their patients into believing that they were molested by close relatives, and then put said innocent relatives in jail.
  • Eating disorders
    • According to many print media and the internet, any previously healthy and contented young person can very quickly develop an eating disorder of potentially lethal severity if she (usually girls) see enough pictures of Hollywood Thin people of their own gender. While the psychological processes that can lead to eating disorders are by far more complex than the media portrays it, a society that constantly rewards weight loss and punishes weight gain, even far beyond the point of medical advisability, is the leading factor for the high prevalence of anorexia or bulimia today. The pressure to lose weight is there for every woman in western society and those with low resilience are therefore susceptible to an eating disorder. Other factors include genetic disposition, problems in the family (especially during puberty), or sexual abuse.
    • In a Real Life incident, the actress Keira Knightley sued The Sun newspaper in 2007 over a story which clearly implied that a distraught mother held Knightly at least partly personally responsible for the death of her particularly young anorexic daughter. (Naturally, the Sun didn't shoulder any blame for inserting said pictures into their pages for very little reason several times a week throughout the last year or so...)
  • Assertiveness Training in fiction usually plays out as an Extreme Doormat undergoes Assertiveness Training (usually in the form of hypnosis or reading a book) and he/she will suddenly become either a greedy, self-centered, egomaniacal, Jerkass or a raging lunatic with a Hairtrigger Temper and end up alienating all their friends. Unlike in real life by the end of the story everything will be back to normal with no repercussions for their behavior. Real Assertiveness Training is not at all like that and involves multiple sessions with a trained psychologist. It's about learning diplomatic ways to stand up for yourself and get your fair share, not how to bully others to get what you want.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or any kind of trauma "response" is very hard to portray accurately in certain mediums, but it makes great fodder for award-baiting. PTSD is a specific disorder that requires time to develop: it is not so much a "response" to trauma as a set of problems that arise when the trauma is not dealt with or acknowledged at the time — not all responses to trauma are PTSD. The most viewer-friendly component of trauma, however, is the idea of "triggers" (an object, place, person, phrase, word, event, movie, or any other cue you'd like) that cause the character to "unlock" the event, forcing the character to re-experience it, and then, in most cases, return to normal. While re-experiencing is an element of PTSD, it seldom works the way it's presented in media, nor does it require a magic "key" for an individual to "remember" or "understand" what happened. Many people who have been trauma victims self-report and very well remember what happened — it's that they can't stop forgetting. Triggering someone will not unleash their Waif-Fu, magically resolve their issues in one episode, or yield more information about the plot, although good luck explaining that to writers.
  • ADHD is generally depicted as entirely about Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny! symptoms and hyperactivity. In reality, there are two kinds of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, and combined (or predominantly hyperactive). People who have inattentive ADHD may have some hyperactive traits but are generally defined by daydreaming a lot. (Though characters like this probably aren't seen as often just because very internal, withdrawn characters don't tend to make for very interesting television.) Another common misconception is repeated even in the name itself: the problem with ADHD isn't an inability to focus at all, but inability to control focus. Because of this, it's not uncommon for people with ADHD to hyperfocus on certain things to the exclusion of all others for a while, particularly with certain specific special subjects. Finally, one of the biggest symptoms of ADHD that rarely shows up in media is a great deal of difficulty with organizing. Overall, it says something that media depictions of ADHD versus autism tend to be polar opposites (ADHD people being overly energetic and excitable, autistic people being blank and rigid) when in reality most symptoms of ADHD are also present in autism and vice versa, making it quite hard to diagnose between them at times.
  • Clinical depression (Major Depressive Disorder), despite being one of the most common mental illnesses, is generally depicted inaccurately. Mostly it is portrayed as a reaction to some trauma or loss, with the person crying a lot and loudly bemoaning their life. In reality, there is often no trigger or cause for depression, the person will be plagued by low energy, loss (or gain) of appetite, lack (or way too much) of sleep and be unable to find enjoyment in things.
    • One of the most persistent tropes is the concept that finding a person's true love will magically cure depression and the person will be happy. In reality, depressed people generally have a difficult time maintaining relationships, and finding someone will not do anything for their underlying condition. The stresses of a relationship can very easily worsen depression.
  • Anger management is harshly misrepresented in the media, often portraying the idea that anger should never be expressed and that you are a bad person for being angry. In reality, anger management is actually about teaching people to express their anger in healthier ways, learning to utilize that anger for assertiveness, motivation, and passion, as well as learning to be empathetic with others. Primal therapy is even a form of treatment where clients are encouraged to vent their frustrations and rage so they can heal and move past them.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion has Shinji constantly navel-gazing, whining and angsting about his problems instead of actually doing anything about them. Eventually, he gets a revelation that only what he thinks about himself matters. That is not how psychology works in the slightest.
  • L and most of the other children from Whammy's House in Death Note display many Rain Man-ish tendencies. Also runs with Silva's ideas about autistics being morally deficient. While all of them are ostensibly on the side of good, they are also completely amoral and freely admit that they only solve crimes for the intellectual challenge and are willing to sacrifice people's lives in pursuit of their goals. This inhuman morality is mostly to make them better foils to the Knight Templar Villain Protagonist, who claims to be killing people for the greater good.
  • Hanaukyō Maid Team. Grace/Cynthia has a Split Personality, with her Grace personality dominant at night and her Cynthia personality in charge during the day. Except one day where Grace takes over their body during a day trip to an amusement park.
  • In the manga to School-Live!, Miki tries to find what's wrong with Yuki. She looks up with her symptoms in a book and comes to the conclusion that Yuki either has Dissociative Identity Disorder or she's faking it. The problem is that Yuki doesn't have any symptoms of DID. She suffers from hallucinations and is in denial over the Zombie Apocalypse. These hallucinations were brought on by the traumatic Heroic Sacrifice of her friend and teacher Megumi. In fact, Yuki still hallucinates that Megu-nee is still alive. Eventually, Yuki is shown to "snap out" of her state, only for Yuuri to develop the same symptoms as she undergoes a Sanity Slippage.

    Comic Books 
  • The arc in X-Men where Emma Frost seduced Scott Summers, is a clear case of bad psychiatry (probably an intentional one). Not only was she treating him when she made advances when Jean brought up that her husband was being taken advantage of to Xavier, who has been an actual psychiatrist for years, he tells Jean she is overreacting and doesn't even consider Emma just might be violating ethics. And as a double blow to actual psychiatry, Scott is now portrayed in a happy relationship with Emma.
  • Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth: According to the "doctors" in this work, The Joker is not insane (a legal term, that one won't find a mental health professional saying in that context) but Supersane! Yes, it's a condition similar to Tourette's! You know what else? It's a load of bullshit! Grant Morrison might as well have a physicist claiming that black holes happen because people fart while sleeping because of String Theory. Most interpret this as a way to show that the doctors in Arkham are a bunch of quacks and that they are the reason no one ever gets better in Arkham. To elaborate, this "Super-Sanity" is that the Joker remakes himself every day because he finds the flow of modern life too stressful and overpowering. Now, firstly, there is no universally agreed definition of sanity, but generally speaking, it is understood by psychologists to be one's ability to function normally in everyday life, and how "normal" you are. So the idea that being Super sane means that the world is crazy is a contradiction in terms. The second thing is that what the psychologists are describing is actually more like an extreme form of Dissociation, a psychotic break from reality caused by trauma and/or an inability to deal with life's stresses. So Morrison and his shrinks are wrong twice over (assuming, again, that Morrison didn't just intend the doctors to be talking out of their asses). Subsequent writers have occasionally made use of the term "Super-Sanity", as well, though the meaning seems to have shifted somewhat. Usually it just means he's at least slightly aware of the fact he's a comic book character. Which could, possibly, turn his earlier diagnosis into major Fridge Brilliance. If the Joker knows he's a comic book supervillain, his behavior actually is perfectly sane. His purpose is to entertain his fans, thus his violent acts and his constant reinventing of his own personality (to keep up with readers' changing tastes) are completely justified. As long as people keep buying and enjoying the comics he appears in, the Joker is, from a sufficiently meta point of view, a perfectly functional member of "society".
  • In Batman (Grant Morrison), the Flamingo was previously a law-abiding family man until The Cartel turned him into a flamboyant, face-eating Professional Killer by lobotomizing him. Real lobotomies do not work that way. In fact, that's just about the polar opposite of what an actual lobotomy would do to a subject's personality and capacity for violence.
  • At first, Daredevil villain (and sometimes other heroes' headache) Typhoid/Bloody Mary at least partially averted this; she had a severe case of MPD/DID wherein she actually had different psychic powers based on which personality was "in charge" at the time: each personality is unaware of the other personalities (like in real life cases) and literally don't realize the various abilities they don't use exist. The partial subversion is that she started out working in a brothel until Daredevil accidentally knocked her out a window while she and the other working girls were defending a villain he was fighting. This somehow triggered her mental break and her latent powers began to emerge whenever "regular" Mary went dormant (always claiming to have seen the actions the other personalities took while "hiding in another room" or the like). Mental problems do not work that way, but then again we're also dealing with someone who telekinetically makes armor out of kitchen knives when angry, so...
  • X-Men Noir takes place in an alternate continuity in the 1930s where none of the X-Men have superpowers and Charles Xavier is a psychologist who posits that sociopathy is the next step in mankind's psychological evolution. However, contrary to this, most of his X-Men clearly are not sociopaths, as they are shown to be capable of empathy and deeply caring of other people. The one individual who fits the definition of a sociopath perfectly is Jean Grey: she only cares for herself but is adept at faking emotions and manipulating others. It is made clear that Xavier's professional opinion is not to be trusted either, so the inaccuracies in his assessments are probably intentional.

    Fan Works 
  • The Arthur fic Proper Discipline has D.W. diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, with a possible second diagnosis of Histrionic Personality Disorder. D.W. is a kindergartner. Personality disorders typically only start manifesting in early adulthood and are normally only diagnosed in adults. At earliest, they'll be diagnosed at thirteen. Five or six is way too young for an NPD diagnosis.
  • In Ultimate Misfits, Stormer has dissociative identity disorder because of heavily repressed anger and hostility. In real life, DID is usually caused by early childhood trauma.
  • RWBY: Scars uses some artistic liberties with Weiss. She has schizoaffective disorder and has hallucinations of a version of herself in mirrors. This duplicate, dubbed "Mirror", typically insults and shames Weiss, but she's also shown to act as Weiss' subconscious.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Batman Begins, Dr. Jonathan Crane quotes woefully out-of-date Jungian ideas to explain Falcone's ravings. There's no scarecrow archetype in Jungian psychology, but gambling that laypeople don't know that is a lot safer than telling people that he intentionally drives people mad while wearing a homemade gas mask that looks like a scarecrow.
  • Batman Forever doesn't do much better. Nygma is a total whacko, but that's beside the point. On the other hand, she's probably making a joke, a professional using a highly unprofessional term. The same thing happens in The Terminator, with the police psychologist stating "In technical terminology... he's a loon."
    "In my professional opinion, this guy's a total whacko."
  • A Beautiful Mind
    • Schizophrenic hallucinations aren't that vivid or focused, though naturally they had to be portrayed that way in order to keep the audience from catching on in the beginning and keep them from getting confused toward the end.
    • The real John Nash once said in an interview about the movie that he had only auditory hallucinations, not visual ones, but he was okay with the change because otherwise it would not have been as credible in a visible medium.
    • The ending of the film averts Hollywood Psych by admitting that there is no way to completely "cure" a mental condition like that. You can suppress the symptoms to the extent that you can function normally, but they are never completely gone.
  • In Carefree (1938), the psychiatric material exists just to drive the comedy and/or plot. In particular, hypnosis does not work that way.
  • Applied in The Imitation Game to Alan Turing. He's given the familiar traits of Asperger Syndrome - doesn't know what a joke is, poor social skills, excessively introverted and finicky habits. By contrast, the real-life man was reportedly quite charming and knew very well how to tell a joke.
  • In Me, Myself & Irene, the protagonist clearly has Disassociative Personality Disorder (commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), but he's described as having schizophrenia in-universe, with several characters calling him "schizo" (which is now considered an offensive slur towards people with mental illness, but especially schizophrenics).
  • Combinded with Insane Equals Violent in the Netflix film The Perfect Man. The main antagonist (who is an obsessive, violent stalker) is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and is also implied to be a Serial Killer. This is despite his personality and actions clearly indicating narcissism and sociopathy.

  • In House Rules by Jodi Picoult, the typical portrayal of autism is actually inverted. Most portrayals have a character who simply is very smart and has no social skills, however Jacob has all the signs of severe autism but is simply said to have Asperger's Syndrome.
  • Zig-zagged in Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. The loosely autobiographical novel explores its protagonist's complicated romantic and sexual history, including her first marriage. Isadora divorced her first husband because he assaulted her during a psychotic break. The story of the breakdown starts amusing, then grows more harrowing as he forces her to stay awake listening to his conspiracy theories and attempting to talk him out of hurting himself.
  • In 1632, king Gustavus Adolphus is afflicted with receptive aphasia after a hit to the head. This fuels the plot of two-and-a-half books since the king's inability to communicate makes it impossible for him to rule his country.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • Though Haymitch is an alcoholic, in the first book he very conveniently decides to stay sober only when he needs to be on the condition that Peeta and Katniss do not interfere with his drinking when he feels like it. Real alcoholism isn't quite that convenient. Bit better in later books when we see him at least having difficulty sobering up. Many real-life alcoholics do go through periods of sobriety in-between benders so Haymitch's sobriety in itself is not such a stretch. The fact that it happens from one day to the next, on the other hand...
    • Catching Fire describes Annie as hysterical when she's reaped for the 75th games, without going into any sort of detail. This is enough to have Katniss think she's completely insane. Later in Mockingjay, we meet Annie and Katniss seems to think she's just a little quirky, though she occasionally covers her ears with her hands for no apparent reason. In real life, a person covering their ears that way would imply that they are hearing things that aren't there. Being that this isn't a one-off (she does it "occasionally") it's a pretty big alarm bell for a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified. So apparently Katniss was right the first time, though at the point in Mockingjay when Katniss actually meets Annie, she herself has become even more psychologically damaged, either allowing her to relate better to Annie's "quirks", or deciding that she has no right to judge. This change in opinion also happens after her friendship with Finnick develops, whereas before she'd never met him. Her defense of and possible friendship towards Annie might be a result of that, seeing her more the way Finnick sees her rather than how the majority might.
    • Hijacking. The way Tracker Jacker venom works in the first book is somewhat questionable, but in Mockingjay, it really doesn't make sense as a conditioning tool. For one, the brain really doesn't work that way. Conditioning is an unconscious mechanism that can't be manipulated into a deliberate response the way the book describes. This is why the CIA stopped trying to do this in the first place. For another, the part of the brain that controls fear is so separate from your memory that it's unlikely that a drug designed to affect the fear part of your brain would have any effect on memory whatsoever.
  • Chocoholic Mysteries: In Castle Clue, Kathy Street suffered brain damage at birth, so her mother made Kathy's twin sister Margo be always responsible for her. It's unclear even to the characters if this resulted in Kathy developing Dependent Personality Disorder, requiring her sister to always be there for her, but she apparently has an official diagnosis of it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • House
    • There was an episode where having synesthesia was depicted as being like the conclusion of 2001. Synesthetes wish it were that cool. In reality, it's really lame stuff like 7 having an intrinsic redness to it. And while there are slightly less lame versions (musical pitches having intrinsic colors is a version that many world-renowned musicians have put to good use), none of them are anywhere as cool as that.
    • Mostly Averted in the two episode premier of the sixth season, where House is sent to a mental hospital, and it first looks like a mental ward out of the 70's like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. While House's detoxing in solitude without any medical assistance and supervision is inaccurate (and unethical), the actual low security mental ward that House stays in afterwards is fairly accurate to how modern day mental hospitals are run. The head nurse is the polar opposite of Nurse Ratchet, being a very kind but assertive person who genuinely cares about all of the patients and wants them to become healthy enough to leave. When House tries to cause chaos in the mental ward, the people in charge react by either non-violently putting him in a quiet room as a time-out, or trying to talk with him to understand why he's acting out. As well, House's attempt to help the delusional Freedom Master by enabling his delusions (which would usually be seen as a Pet the Dog moment) ends horribly, much to his horror.
    • Another episode had a girl with DID that came as a result of a car accident she was in when she was a year or two old, which killed her father; she blamed it on herself because she had been crying. Forgetting for a moment the debate that exists around the validity of multiple personalities, two things are wrong with this: one, she was a baby when it happened, an age when she wouldn't have been able to even remember the incident, and certainly would not have been able to put together that her crying caused the crash — basically, the entire cause of her illness wouldn't have caused it at all. Two, the accident would have been more likely to cause PTSD than DID.
  • A psychiatrist treating Niki in an early episode of Heroes diagnoses her with Multiple Personality Disorder, outdated terminology, and all. In real life, one of the main symptoms of DID is that the victim isn't aware of the other personalities.
  • Monk not only seems to have both Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder simultaneously, but he is also a picture of retro-Freudian "neuroticism," seemingly to teeter into Generalized Anxiety Disorder (with agoraphobia, naturally), Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and sometimes even sociopathy. Underlying it all, of course, are deep, unrealized issues surrounding his dead wife. This is of course Played for Laughs when it isn't giving him supernatural insight into crime-solving.
    • All people who have OCD will show behaviors in common with GAD; they're both forms of anxiety disorder (OCD's compulsions can be seen as a maladaptive coping mechanism for the underlying anxiety).
  • Almost everything psychological in M*A*S*H ever, especially the later seasons, especially the finale. This could be considered more accurate than a currently correct treatment. M*A*S*H was supposed to be set in the early 1950s, remember. PTSD and Survivor's Guilt were still "shell shock", and the usual treatment was to send the guy home and expect that he'd get over it, and Freudian psychology was still pretty much the king of the hill. Although the psychological stuff might be historically accurate for the time period, the fact that it always works textbook perfectly (see: the finale) still fits this trope.
  • In Pushing Daisies, the cheese-loving aunts's agoraphobia without panic disorder is mistakenly called "social phobias" (social phobia, in the singular, is now usually called "social anxiety disorder"). It's also partially cured by homeopathic antidepressants put in pies. Now, if instead of homeopathic remedies, it had been St. John's Wort, that part would have been semi-accurate, though of course you'd have to eat an awful lot of pie to get a high enough dose to be effective. What's more, an overdose of the antidepressant causes one of the aunts to act stoned and have vivid hallucinations.
    • How exactly would a homeopathic antidepressant work? Do they cram sad thoughts into the pills? Of course, this extends to homeopathic anything, but come on.
    • If it's a placebo-type homeopathic remedy, how would it be possible to dose someone with it without them having noticed already?
    • The show really isn't meant to be realistic. It's got a car that runs on dandelions, come on.
    • "Social Phobias" also fits way better with the general tone of the show and its narration, and as such was probably completely intentional.
  • Averted in Supernatural. No doubt Season Two had flaws but one thing that it has been praised for is the treatment of Dean's Survivor Guilt and depression. He's trying too hard to stay like himself (be a good soldier, defend Dad from outsiders and protect Sam at all cost, no chick flick moments), trying for suicide more times than he should and just when you think he's been fixed, something happens to prove just how bad it's gotten.
    • The reactions to it are pretty realistic to it too throughout the series. While it's very sad that he has an abandonment complex, Sam (both times) and John couldn't very well stay just to please him. Sam really does try to help him out but he's got his own soul-crushing issues to deal with as well. By All Hell Breaks Loose, there was a mass war going on and while Bobby was clearly worried about finding one more dead body when he got back, the best thing Dean could do was to save the angst for later and - for the moment - buck up and help out. And as for the demons, why do you think they always tell him how useless/damaged/worthless he is? Dean's deep, dark pit of self-loathing is just so frigging easy to get into that there's not much point in telling him anything else.
  • Averted in The Flash (2014), when a criminal psychologist gives a deadpan assessment of the loss and guilt, narcissism, and worship of law and order figures that would motivate a costumed vigilante like the Flash.
  • Generally averted in The Sopranos. It helps that David Chase has had therapy.
    • Although it does have Dr. Melfi acting both as a psychiatrist (a medical doctor that prescribes medication) and a psychologist (a counselor or therapist who engages in talk therapy). In reality, those are two separate professions, a psychiatrist generally only sees you for about 15-20 minutes once a month to adjust medication levels while a psychologist is the one who will see you for an hour a week to talk through issues (but cannot prescribe medication).
  • St. Elsewhere also managed it with Tommy Westphall. Unfortunately, the series finale took it too far.
  • CSI is guilty of this trope due to one episode misrepresenting Asperger's Syndrome.
    • However, CSI also had Gil Grissom, who is charming and personable to his co-workers, but socially withdrawn, focused on scientific minutiae, and has described himself as a "ghost". It was hinted at least once that Grissom had Asperger's, and certainly displayed a more realistic array of the symptoms than most overtly-labeled TV portrayals.
  • Boston Legal had a character with Asperger's demand a partnership at knifepoint when he thought he'd been shafted. However, BL being what it is, he's since become a main character and quite a competent lawyer. When the most flattering portrayal of something that you've ever seen in prime time is the Boston Legal version, you've got a problem.
  • Law & Order: Trial by Jury had the defendant try to use his Asperger's Syndrome as a defense in a rape case.
  • Mary McDonnell (a.k.a., President Roslin ) guest-starred on Grey's Anatomy as a heart surgeon with Asperger's.
    • Part of her three-episode appearance can be seen here (for as long as the link stays healthy). A basic summation of her character is that she is very smart and very aware of her surroundings (and the motivations of others), but she is also quite rigid with her routines and methods (often getting upset when her expectations or plans don't follow through), and really sensitive to touch, having a conservative type of movement and dressing up in A LOT of surgery scrubs/winter wear.
  • Karla Bentham from the third season of Waterloo Road is a sympathetic version (created to highlight the issues surrounding adolescent mental health, which she does well), but still has a condition that less resembles Asperger's than ADHD with elements of OCD and generalized anxiety disorder.
    • The big problem with Karla is that she's more of a plot device than a character in her own right. It would be easier to forgive her OOT pedanticness and almost total lack of social skills or independence if she was shown the same sort of respect that the other characters get, but she isn't. The plot is never told from her viewpoint- every time she has a meltdown, for example, the perspective cuts to her TA, and their attempts to calm her down. She has been in the show two years and viewers still have no idea what she thinks and feels about things. She also never gets a plot that is unrelated to her Asperger's. It's a shame because she was written in the best of intentions but woefully executed.
    • OCD plus ADHD actually is a reasonable facsimile of Asperger's. Enough that a lot of Aspies get misdiagnosed with one or the other.
  • Criminal Minds
    • As a subversion, the actor who plays Dr. Spencer Reid works under the assumption that Reid has Asperger's (possibly complicated by inherited schizophrenia). Reid is not socially graceful, and often tends to go on about the unpleasant statistics about the current kind of case just a touch longer than civilians may find comfortable, but he's a fully-developed character.
    • There's some Alternate Character Interpretation at play with this one. Reid's actor thinks he has Asperger's, yes, but the only verbal indication of it on the show itself is given to us by an UnSub who also believes that Morgan is "a pumped-up side of beef", Elle can't make it in "the BAU boys' club", and Aaron "I am not a narcissist" Hotchner would stab Gideon in the back to advance his career. As such, a portion of the fanbase believes that Reid isn't autistic, just badly socialized. Since Reid does show autistic tendencies (such as the social awkwardness), it's more likely the incorrect part of the UnSub's line was that Gideon fails to see the symptoms.
    • Played straighter in one episode, where it was implied that the UnSub's psychopathy (called by name, so no excuses) resulted from childhood abuse. "Multiple Personality Disorder" was also suggested earlier on.
    • Psychopathy in the show is a word that has been thrown around quite a lot in the last few seasons. They seem to be using it to describe any UnSub that is inherently incapable of empathy and compassion, regardless of the underlying reasons. This isn't totally inaccurate though since psychopathy is not currently recognized as an official psychological diagnosis (so they have a bit of leeway on how they use it), and lack of empathy and compassion are generally regarded as two of the key symptoms in any current definition of the term.
    • Also in the very first episode, the UnSub brings up Split Personality and Gideon correctly calls it DID.
    • In fact, Criminal Minds as a whole is really bad about this. The majority of the psychology on the show is either out of date, misapplied, grossly exaggerated, or just flat out wrong, which can result in a lot of exasperation for psychologists watching the show. The most egregious of these is the premise of criminal profiling itself, which has been shown more than once to be inaccurate to the point that laypeople do just as well on it as professionals.
  • Fans of Bones have commented that the behavior of doctors Brennan and Addy looks a bit like Asperger's, though it's never mentioned in the show. This is not to even mention her view of psychology seems to be Hollywood Psych, as she claims it's far "softer" (i.e. a social science rather than a natural science) a science then anthropology. Most neuropsychologists would debate this.
    • Honestly, there's a good chance that even most anthropologists would debate this. Large swaths of anthropology is done using ethnographic observations, which make no claim to Brennan's beloved objectivity. Instead, this method encourages the researcher to make their biases explicit because the work cannot be done in an unbiased manner (thus allowing the analysis to approximate objectivity even though the observations were very subjective and biased). In fact, depending on where they sit theoretically, some researchers might reject the notion of an objective "truth" entirely. Meanwhile, psychological research is largely done using controlled experiments in laboratories - very strange that Brennan doesn't prefer that.
      • Dr. Brennan is a physical anthropologist, primarily, and that has actually a lot more in common with biology than it does with cultural anthropology. As for objectivity in psychology, that was for a very long time mostly the realm of biological psychology, which she may or may not have gotten much exposure to. If the psychology departments she's had much contact with were dominated by the... looser schools, it's probably the view she would have developed of psychology.
      • But Brennan does have a degree in sociocultural anthropology, or at least an education in it - just look at all the things on culture she spouts in the show, and the episode with the circus had her revealing that she did some ethnographic work with a circus, which she wouldn't have done unless she was doing serious work on it in university. The above point, then, that she criticizes psychology for being unscientific when one of her own areas is far less scientific, is accurate.
    • Zack Addy having Asperger's was confirmed by Word of God.
    • Word of God says Dr. Brennan does not have Asperger's, but the actress, Emily Deschanel, says she thinks the character does have it, and she plays the character that way.
    • There’s also resident psychologist Dr. Lance Sweets, who ends up using a lot of Hollywood Psych at times.
  • Averted in the Lie to Me episode "Beat The Devil," which has a chillingly realistic portrayal of a murderous psychopath.
  • Bob, one of the main characters in ReGenesis manages to magnificently avoid all the usual pitfalls of portraying a person with Asperger's syndrome. In fact, up to the point where he is explicitly stated to have it, the viewer could easily have chalked it up to Bob being just a socially awkward guy. He does work well with others in his familiar lab, thinks somewhat different than others, and has trouble reading emotional states. All in all, he is portrayed rather like a considerate, intelligent guy whose emotional development seems permanently stuck in teenage confusion.
  • Steven Moffat has a tendency to write characters who are impulsive and oftentimes violent (eg, Mr. Hyde, River Song, Sherlock Holmes and Mary Morstan) and repeatedly referred to as psychopaths - yet all these characters are able to empathize with at least one other character, something a real psychopath would find impossible.
  • Fiona from Elementary avoids most Hollywood Autism elements however her intro episode makes the error of stating autistic people can't lie. However, in the same episode, Fiona lampshades Sherlock's unspecified mental disorder, and Sherlock is very good at lying.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Madness Dossier: The lack of realism in this setting's highly cinematic treatment of psychological science is deliberate and significant. Mind control and other Hollywood-style psychological manipulations are perfectly possible in the setting but derive from knowledge and reverse engineering of the powers of the monstrous Anunnakku, which has to be kept from the public to prevent the Anunnakku from reappearing. So the heroic but ruthless Project SANDMAN systematically discredits such ideas.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 5 Royal introduces a school counselor by the name of Maruki. Most of what he says about psychology is completely false: he studies "cognitive psience", which does not exist, and he uses the word "unconscious" way more than a real psychologist would — consciousness is not a switch you can flip on and off, there are varying depths of it. He talks about the collective unconscious as a fact rather than a theory. Maruki also misuses the terms "sensation" and "perception" (sensing is when you detects something like a smell or a sight, perception is when you make sense of it and figure out what it is). Another notable error comes from towards the end of his Confidant, where he mentions that coming up with a good hypothesis is one of the last things he needs to finish his paper. Any scientist can tell you that making a hypothesis is the second step in the scientific process; you can't do further research until you state your goals and what you're expecting to happen. These facts are all presented as true in-universe, as well.

  • Ménage à 3:
    • Visible with Kiley from the moment she says that she is a psychology major. Undergraduate psychology majors don't have the experience or knowledge to do therapy or "fix brains," let alone have licensure, and no one with any body of knowledge about psychology would use the terms "fix your brain!" or nearly call someone crazy to their face. Not to mention "Phallophobe?" It looks like someone is trying too hard on a subject they're clueless about.

      Oddly enough, though, her attitudes and tendencies to act like she knows what she's talking about do approximate how a lot of first-year psychology students do act, so this may be an example of Truth in Television, especially since her attempts to "fix" people have mostly only resulted in slight, superficial changes of the neuroses. On the other hand, she also achieves some useful and/or dramatic results that basically amount to a psychological version of Artistic License – Medicine — she wields a mean (in every sense) Armor-Piercing Question.
    • Yuki's "delusions" follow Hollywood logic. She's entirely sane (if abrasive) all of the time except for one very specific trigger, whereupon she becomes completely psychotic and violent, then snaps back to normal as if nothing has happened. It's the usual Hollywood combination of schizophrenia with dissociative identity disorder (and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder), while flanderizing psychosis (meaning "out of touch with reality") into rampaging violence.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Elliot and Ellen discuss Ellen's implanted memories. Ellen mentions that remembering events from before the age of 4 isn't normal according to what she recalls from psychology class but Elliot reminds her that that information was obtained from watching a cop show.

    Web Original 
  • Jon from Game Grumps thoroughly criticizes the "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over" stereotype during the Donkey Kong Country playthrough, jokingly stating that "the definition of insanity is when you're flinging your shit at the wall," and that pegging the definition of insanity as belonging to any one specific behavior "is as anecdotal as it gets". That's because the original saying is metaphorical and doesn't try to provide an actual detailed definition of insanity - it simply means that doing the same thing over and over again is often pointless and irrational. Remember, common sense is not science.
  • Discussed and deconstructed in this Cracked article.
  • Everything about Jeff the Killer and other creepypastas about teenage killers. Insanity is never portrayed as a hindrance - in fact, it's the polar opposite: insanity makes you charismatic, confident, immune to pain, and more effective in battle (since you're "not holding back"). Psychotic episodes serve as a Super Mode of sorts, instead of making you helpless and vulnerable. Delusions like voices in your head or hallucinations are cool and funny and never stop you from functionally interacting with reality. And of course, you never actually lose control over your very thoughts and actions. Needless to say, stories like this are written by actual children/teenagers as self-insert fantasies, and psychology is far from the only thing they fail to get right.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Extreme Doormat Fluttershy gets some questionable assertiveness training in the episode "Putting Your Hoof Down". Then again, other episodes have shown her justifying a spot on Beware the Quiet Ones, and she gets all her "training" from a motivational speaker and his well-meaning, for-profit courses. Plus the training itself is shown in-universe to be harmful and ineffective.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "The Fish Bowl", Sandy does a "behavioral psychology experiment" on SpongeBob and Patrick. She appoints Patrick as the boss of SpongeBob and has them count grains of sand, then gives them ice cream, where one bowl is bigger than the other despite them both containing the same amount. There are many problems with her method:
    • First of all, Sandy is incorrect in classifying this as behavioral. Behavioral psychology surrounds learning and conditioning. As she puts Patrick in a position of power, this would fit the field of social psychology, which is about how people think, feel, and behave in relation to others.
    • Sandy refers to what she's doing as an "experiment". This does not fit the definition, as it does not have a control group. A "study" or "observation" would be more correct. Sandy does later introduce "variables" in the form of the size of the ice cream bowls, but that, again, defeat the purpose of an observation.
    • There's no hypothesis or questions asked. What data is Sandy looking for? What does she expect the results to be? How would other researchers be able to reproduce this test? The goals of exactly what Sandy is trying to accomplish here are unclear to begin with.
    • Sandy's description of "I observe you while you two act normal" would befit a naturalistic observation. The key point of this is that researchers must not disturb the participants or their environment. Sandy explicitly tells SpongeBob and Patrick about the observation, which means the data is incredibly skewed, and later brings them the buckets of sand during the observation. Also, by appointing Patrick in charge when he normally isn't, she basically sabotages her own natural study.
    • The observation takes place inside SpongeBob's house. This is not a good idea, being an environment that the researcher does not control and that both participants are already familiar with. Additionally, Squidward notices when Sandy sells ice cream under the guise of a vendor, which she did not account for.
    • Enlisting just two participants, people you know who are friends and live on the same street, are not enough to make any generalizable conclusions. Even if every other guideline was followed, any results would be useless. Two people do not represent the world at large.
    • The informed consent process, where the researcher tells the subjects anything they might be expected to do, is very brief and nonspecific in this episode. There is also no debriefing process at the end, where the researcher explains the purpose of the test and any deception they may have used. By not including these processes, Sandy breaks the rules of ethical studies.

Alternative Title(s): Hollywood Psychology