In those individual sessions, the therapists I spoke to have loved watching Dr. Reisman’s masterful work at compassionately, but firmly, guiding Celeste to confront the deeply painful truth about the violence in her relationship with Perry. “She does a good job of very gently reflecting what she’s seeing — she’s echoing or repeating back words that the client is using,” Long said. “Or when [Celeste] is equivocating — Oh, it’s not a big deal — the therapist keeps coming back to, No, this will happen again, he will hurt you again, you need to have a plan. That is perfect protocol for working with clients who may be being abused.”
That said, not everything about the fictional Dr. Reisman is perfect. The mental-health professionals I talked to were concerned that she hasn’t yet asked enough probing questions about the children’s safety; if Celeste and Perry’s twins are being abused, or even witnessing abuse, Dr. Reisman would be obligated to break client confidentiality and report that, they told me. At the same time, some of them thought her tone had shifted to being overly blunt, even stern, in a way that might frighten away a real-life Celeste from seeking treatment.
In practice, it means Dr. Reisman never breaks eye contact with Celeste; she’s always watching. It’s uncomfortable to watch. But then, a good therapist knows how to use that discomfort. “As therapists, you do so much work with emotions — you learn that all emotions are okay, and all emotions are necessary to communicate,” Long told me. “Sitting with that discomfort that’s in the room — eventually there’s a part of Celeste’s brain that picks up on, Okay, I’m with this person who is safe. Look how comfortable she is. She’s okay, and she is able to stay with me here. Eventually, that will help the Celestes of the world learn to be comfortable with their own emotions.”