Therapy in soap operas

POSTED ON 28/06/2019 IN Mental Health In TV & Film

I was delighted to see in a couple of episodes of ITV’s soap opera, Emmerdale last week (episodes broadcast on Tuesday 18th June) David talking about and visiting a counsellor. His step-son, Jacob, has recently been groomed by David’s girlfriend, Maya, who was also Jacob’s teacher, and the fallout has been catastrophic for all involved. David decided to have counselling after he realised that the way he deals with life is to go from woman to woman, and constantly seeks out the affection from women around him.

Emmerdale has a good track record (compared to most soaps) with characters seeing counsellors, and counsellors being spoken about. In recent years, fan favourite Aaron Dingle sought help from a counsellor to deal with his self-harming and many other issues he has had to deal with in his life. Another fan favourite, Bernice Blackstock also qualified as a relationship counsellor, but unfortunately found it to be a false qualification. Even just this week, a relatively new character, Ellis, spoke about going to a group counselling session after he had suffered from PTSD after being stabbed a couple of months ago.

In the past two years, Hollyoaks and Coronation Street have focused largely on mental health and with the latter, counselling as well as help lines have been mentioned in the show. It hasn’t been focused on as much on screen, but just hearing about it has been a big positive. Hollyoaks even had a regular character be a Clinical Psychologist for a year or so, which I loved, and we did see a couple of sessions with different characters over that time. It’s a shame that character, Farrah, left because it was an insight so rare in soap – we don’t usually get to know the person who is the listener too.

Neighbours is another soap I remember recently speaking about counselling, but in this instance it was a married couple, Jarrod (aka Toadie) and his wife Sonya who sought relationship counselling a number of times across a couple of years. They had certain issues to discuss, but at some points they spoke about how it was also just good to talk about everything in general. I’m a huge soap fan overall, and this is the only time I remember long term counselling being mentioned with any characters in any soap.

As soap viewers, we don’t always see the characters in such sessions, but just speaking about it is enough for the viewers to understand. I do remember Lauren Branning in Eastenders attending a therapy session after becoming addicted to alcohol a few years ago, but I’m pretty sure that was a bit of a plot device as she met a new character, someone who would also become a love interest, while she was in the waiting room. However, we did see a small amount of time with her as she attended a session, which was good as it made us understand what she was thinking about everything she was going through.

These are just a few examples of what I remember over recent years with how therapy has been portrayed on arguably the most popular television genre. What I love about these examples is that none of them are the same, and they are therefore portraying to the millions of people who watch them that counselling can be used for all types of different subjects people can encounter in their life. The thing is, therapy is not often spoken about as being an option to many people in day to day life, although I think that may be starting to grow, but it will still take time to become more widely recognised. However, the more it is talked about in fictional media, like soap operas, the more it becomes the norm, and any perceived stereotypes attached to it can be eradicated.


Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)


Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach