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2021-12-01 10:28:04

A new TV show is prompting conversation about mental health in China, putting a clinical psychologist in the spotlight as people become more comfortable with talking about the once-taboo topic.

The drama, simply called “Psychologist” and which first aired on Nov. 23 on streaming site Youku, revolves around the fictional work and life of a female psychologist. The show follows her as she offers counseling to people with mental health issues ranging from depression to bulimia as well as touching on social issues such as parenthood, intergenerational conflicts, and dilemmas faced by women in the workplace. The hero helps each patient overcome their troubles in a several-episode arc, while facing her own challenges with love and life.

“All mental health cases in the drama come with solutions. We are not aiming to create anxiety, but to sew up wounds,” chief producer Guo Feng told domestic media.

Chinese media have called the 40-episode series, adapted from a 2007 novel of the same name by Chinese writer and psychiatrist Bi Shumin, the first in the country to focus on psychological counseling.

Xu Dingyuan, a Zhejiang-based psychological counselor, told Sixth Tone that while the show presents a plausible framework of counseling procedures and skills, the TV-ready plots don’t account for the slow pace of real psychological treatment.

“The process of psychological counseling in reality is very slow, without many ups and downs in the plot. Those who come for counseling are often not as cooperative as depicted in dramas,” said Xu.

The 42-year-old said that many people feel ashamed about mental health problems or visiting psychological counselors, while concerns over mental health have been growing since the pandemic.

“The drama can help raise public awareness of common mental problems and of the option of turning to psychological counseling for help, and help relieve people’s sense of shame around the issue,” Xu said.

In 2015, health authorities estimated that 173 million people in China live with mental disorders. Meanwhile, people’s awareness of mental health issues has increased, with 94% of respondents in a 2020 survey saying they regarded mental health work as important, an increase of 6.1 percentage points from 12 years ago, according to a report published in March by the psychology institute of state-backed Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Starring actors Yang Zi and Jing Boran, the show had a modest score of 5.1 out of 10 on review platform Douban as of Wednesday, with many viewers complaining that the show is unrealistic in how easily the hero solves her patients’ problems. The show’s official account on microblogging platform Weibo, where its hashtag has about 1.5 billion views, replied that the low score doesn’t matter, and that the show’s aim is to “improve people’s mental health.”

Some viewers say it has at least opened a dialog: one Douban user wrote that the drama had inspired her mother to apologize for a difficult childhood.

"She said that she did not sleep well last night after seeing children in the drama growing up with mental problems even with their parents around,” the user wrote. “And she said that she did not do well... while crying, she asked me if I blame her… This has always been a scar in my heart."

Editor: David Cohen.

(Header image: A still frame from the 2021 online series “Psychologist.” From Douban)