But Katz said he has never received any complaints about the show's content, and he would be "upset" if he felt he was contributing to stigma or to people hesitating to obtain care. "I'm actually a believer in therapy. I've had good experiences with it myself," he said.
At one point last year, Katz and his creation "Dr. Katz" were slated to be part of a citywide antidiscrimination campaign sponsored by New York City's Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Alcohol(Drug information on alcohol)
ism Services. But the $250,000 media blitz aimed at dispelling the stigma of mental illness stalled last June when the department and the advertising agency hired to run the campaign parted ways.
Suzan Mullin, the department's director of public education and community affairs, who is now responsible for the campaign, said they expect to hire a new public relations firm, and a roll-out is now scheduled for late this spring. The emphasis of the antistigma campaign will be redirected toward employment opportunities and the availability of mental health services. She said the decision not to go forward with using "Dr. Katz" centered around peoples' lack of familiarity with the image and their inability to relate to it. Smiling Through Tears,
a recently published book by Pamela Freyd, Ph.D., and Eleanor Goldstein addresses the recovered memories controversy using a combination of cartoons and text. Freyd, an education researcher, is the executive director of the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome Foundation, while Goldstein is the author of a previous works on the same subject, including Confabulations, Creating False Memories-Destroying Families
and True Stories of False Memories.
In this latest work the authors use cartoons that lampoon mental health-related topics, therapy and therapists to buttress their view that "through the use of mind-altering techniques therapists have contributed to the devastating damage inflicted upon tens of thousands of families." Both Freyd and Goldstein, however, told Psychiatric Times
that their book was never intended to disparage appropriate therapy and competent mental health practitioners.
"We would never be against psychotherapy per se," said Freyd. "Indeed, psychotherapy, therapy in general, and all of psychiatry is tremendously important to our society. People should have confidence when they turn to it."
Nevertheless, she conceded the book may not have made sufficiently clear that appropriate treatment is available, too. "In terms of guidelines for what one could expect or what are the things to look for in good or bad mental health care, that is not something that we included in this book, because it wasn't something that we felt was necessary for the story that we were telling," she said. "Perhaps that was an oversight."
Another recently published book, "Freudian Slips," by cartoonist Sidney Harris, also presents a satirical portrayal of therapy and therapists. The book is a collection of his works over the past two decades, and the comics originally appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker, Playboy, Science
and National Lampoon.
At one point, Harris said that his work even appeared in the APA's Psychiatric News.
He doesn't believe his form of humor adds to any stigma of the mentally ill and denies that he "is advocating anything." Harris tends to create cartoons about subjects that interest him, and he cautions against hypersensitivity that would prevent people from appreciating the humor in his work.
Meanwhile, the mental health community continues to gear up its efforts to combat stigma. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill already has an antidiscrimination campaign underway, and the National Mental Health Association and the APA have made efforts to turn the media around to a more sympathetic and accurate point of view.
But according to Menninger's Gabbard, although the media has sometimes realized its potential to educate the public about mental health, fictitious portrayals won't get significantly better as long as stereotypes of the mentally ill and the practitioners who treat them continue to entertain the American public. "As long as the box office is the bottom line, accurate depiction of mental illness and psychiatry will never be seen."