Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011.
Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995
Last night’s premier of the sixth season of HBO’s “The Sopranos” television show featured a scene with mob boss Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi, his psychiatrist and psychotherapist. In this episode, Tony, conflicted about taking care of his uncle Junior who appears to be rapidly going senile, talks with Dr. Melfi about his experiences. I quote the exchange here becuase it is a good illustration of the Interpretation of Repression, a psychodynamic psychotherapy technique about which I recently wrote an essay. My comments are in yellow. You can see the therapist sizing up the situation, and ultimately making an interpretation of Tony’s behavior in an attempt to try to help Tony become more aware of his real motives. You can also see Tony resisting the interpretation – trying to deflect it rather than consider it deeply. Sometimes it can be painful to hear the truth!
Tony Soprano (TS): “He was vital – my uncle. Alive. For all his faults – he was sharp in his day. But now … We stopped at a light yesterday and I see this nanny – black girl – pushing a baby carriage. Coming the other way is another one with this old lady in a wheelchair – stairing off into space.
Dr. Melfi (DM): “The circle of life”.
TS: “Circle jerk of life! Where’s the dignity?”
DM: “If you’re lucky in the end you can let go of your pride, let your loved ones care for you.”
TS: “I’d rather they hold a pillow over my face” (e.g., and kill him via suffocation)
DM: “I find it interesting you would say that – you tried to smother your mother with a pillow”.
TS: (shocked) “What!?”.
DM: “In the hospital – after her stroke … “
TS: “The F— I did! I grabbed a pillow – but just to keep my hands occupied!”
DM: “Have you considered getting your uncle some live-in help?”
TS: “We got a girl comes in days – she’s from Trinadad”.
DM: “Does he have the means for assisted living?”
TS: (angry) “Didn’t you just say to let your loved ones take care of you?”
DM: “If it’s feasible”
TS: (indignant) “Well – he’s my uncle!”
DM: “I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about.”
TS: “What are we talking about?”
DM: The fact that you still, after all this time, cannot accept you had a mother who didn’t love you. In pitying your uncle – the man she conspired with (e.g., to kill Tony) – you’re turning the blame for what she did back on yourself again, after all this time.” (This is the analysis/interpretation of repression right here)
TS: “What was your mother like? Did she ever let you down? Hurt your feelings?” (Tony isn’t ready to hear this interpretation. He deflects it by turning it around on Dr. Melfi without considering what it would mean for his own situation)
DM: “Of course she did. She was controlling and manipulative at times. She also never tried to kill me!”
TS: “I pushed her over the edge”.
DM: By placing her in a lovely retirement community?”
TS: (angry) “It’s a nursing home!”
DM: “It’s less hurtful to believe that they were right to try and destroy you than to accept the fact that she didn’t value you”. (Melfi makes the interprtation again – and this time it appears to stick. There is a long silent pause during which Tony appears to contemplate the meaning of her words – and the scene ends.)
Now that’s good TV!
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