In the movie The Prince of Tides, Nick Nolte played Tom Wingo, a former football coach haunted by his dark family history. After a suicide attempt by his twin sister, Tom travels to New York as an attempt to provide a better sense of his family’s history to her new psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein, portrayed by Barbara Streisand.
In her dealings with Tom, Lowenstein clearly demonstrated a theoretical orientation similar to that of Carl Rogers, whose core conditions of psychotherapy focus upon building a strong relationship between therapist and patient; furthermore, Lowenstein fulfilled each of the tenants of Rogers’ theory: empathy, positive social regard, and congruence. The most obvious facet of Rogers’ fulfilled by Lowenstein is that of empathy. Rogers’ defined empathy as when “the therapist is experiencing an accurate, empathic understanding of the client’s awareness, of his own experience” (Watts, 1996, p. ).
As Tom Wingo recounted the episode where three escaped convicts broke into his childhood home and raped him, his mother and his sister, Lowenstein listened with the steely resolve with which Wingo retold the story. However, after she encouraged Tom to face his feelings concerning what happened and Wingo began to weep, she held him and began to softly weep herself, a perfect example of empathy by a therapist for a patient.
Rogers’ saw positive social regard as the “caring for the client… s a separate person, with permission to have his own feelings, his own experiences” (Watts, 1996, p. 3). During a session where Tom described his mother as a liar, Lowenstein did not attempt to defend his mother or steer him away from his feelings about her. Rather, she encouraged him to continue giving details concerning the relationship between his mother and himself and his twin. Rogers viewed congruence as an act whereupon ‘the therapist does not put up a professional front or personal facade” (Watts, 1996, p. 4).
Lowenstein demonstrated this tenant throughout the film. Towards the end of the aforementioned conversation regarding his mother being a liar, Tom Wingo claimed that he was a “courteous southern boy, who did what he was told; I was responsible and normal and dull. ” Of course, Lowenstein disagreed with this self-characterization, proclaiming that she didn’t “know what normal is, and you are certainly not dull. ” This personal observation clearly does not come from a professional opinion, but rather one derived from Lowenstein’s personal feelings. While Dr.
Lowenstein had success in treating Tom and his sister Savannah, there is typically more than one way to skin a proverbial cat. Dr. Alfred Adler, a forbearer of Rogers’ school of thought, had a slightly different view than that exhibited by Lowenstein. Adler’s process of therapy featured three phases: understanding the client, explaining the client’s behavior to the client, and then strengthening social interest (Capuzzi, 2003, p. 110). It seems likely that Adler’s interaction with Tom would have been more organized along each of these phases, rather than the more casual interaction experienced by Tom and Lowenstein.
Adler likely would have begun much like Lowenstein, attempting to elicit details about Tom’s childhood. However, one has to assume that this beginning would then divert into a formal discussion where Adler would attempt to explain Tom’s action for him. This would be followed by an attempt to reconcile Tom’s being into something with increased positive social action. While certainly more organized, it seems unlikely that such a real life regiment would be as effective as the fictional resolution seen in The Prince of Tides.
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