I arrive on set excited to support actors as they pretend to watch TV or perform a steamy spur-of-the-moment love scene, but I quickly find out my role is much worse: I’m playing a therapy couch. I am complicit in fictionalizing the therapeutic experience.
Theoretically, having the main character in a movie go to therapy could be revolutionizing. Showing mental health in a real way?! That could be so cool! And, if therapists actually treated their patients on couches, I would be proud of the work that I’m doing. But most, if not all, therapists use chairs. And if by chance they do use couches, their patients rarely lie on them. Yet here I am, spreading a narrative around therapy that just isn’t true. And, on top of that, I’m taking an opportunity away from a chair that could tell a more honest story.
I think I’m perfect for roles like Couch In a Jiffy Lube Waiting Area, Couch In a University Admissions Lounge, or even Couch En Route From a University Admissions Lounge to a Jiffy Lube Waiting Area. Point is, I have a lot of range. Back when I studied with other furniture at the thrift shop, I met real armchairs who had worked in real therapists’ offices. They helped me clear up many misconceptions I had, and from then on I vowed to not participate in misleading and egregiously incorrect depictions of therapy.
But not wanting to be the spokesperson for therapy in the first place doesn’t change the fact that since I am on camera reinforcing terrible inaccuracies, I am essentially endorsing this entirely unrealistic idea of therapy.
At one point, the character Donna jokes to her pretend therapist about having OCD because she doesn’t like living in filth and washes her dishes in a timely manner, unlike her roommate. This totally uncertified movie therapist doesn’t even correct her on what OCD actually is! I’ve never taken the LPC exam, but something tells me they generally encourage you not to be okay with that. And this ignorant character is lying on me throughout the whole charade and never gets corrected for her problematic stance! And since she is sprawled across me dramatically, the camera is locked right in on us the whole time, as I quite literally uphold this erroneous ideal!
Holding up dead weight is my job, though. I feel like I shouldn’t make my work into this thing that’s bigger than it needs to be. I should just clock in, clock out, and do whatever I need to in between. I should just be a couch that doesn’t really care about the ethics of what they do because their job is so small anyway. But when I finally feel like I am at peace with the decision to stay quiet, I hear my mother’s voice. Her strong and noble stance as a chaise lounge makes me question the kind of couch I am. Will I just stay silent like the PA who spilled coffee on me and hoped no one would notice?
Even if I do speak out, it might not matter. At the end of the day, I’m just one couch. There are tons of other couches that viewers see in TV and movie therapist’s offices, so I’m sure no one is thinking about me at all. It’s an issue much bigger than my individual choices. But maybe I can inspire some of the other couches? Maybe I can be the tipping point in this movement of couches taking accountability for their complicity?
Do I have any agency in this choice even? The set designer’s assistant picked me for this job. This is not an easy path to take. I can’t just walk away. Literally, I’m a couch.
At this point, frozen with guilt and very sturdy furniture glue, I just have to pray that the studio will run out of funding before filming the scene where the therapist comes on to their client.