An old joke says that the only difference between the people running the asylum and its inmates is that the former get to sleep in their own homes. Popular fiction certainly hasn’t helped the public’s opinion of psychotherapists. Psychotherapists have unfairly received a bad rap as being charlatans on power trips who control their patients’ lives instead of helping them.
The amount of dedicated and competent psychiatrists far outnumber the bad seeds, but their work lives rarely translate well to mainstream stories. Most memorable fictional psychiatrists are tyrants, supervillains, serial killers, or tyrannical supervillains that happen to be serial killers. These characters have probably scared off plenty of people with legitimate mental infirmities from seeking the treatment they need. Let’s examine 10 of the worst fictitious mental healthcare providers who should’ve never been licensed in the first place.
10) Dr. Ben Harmon, American Horror Story
Dr. Ben Harmon is a philanderer who moves his family cross country from Boston to Los Angeles into a gorgeous mansion in an attempt to save his marriage. Too bad the mansion is haunted by more ghosts than the Ghostbusters could fit in their containment unti and is infamously known as The Murder House. For a show filled with unsympathetic characters, Ben strives to be the most repugnant by being extra obnoxious to everyone. When his pregnant wife is temporarily institutionalized after realizing she’d been raped by a gimp-suited ghost, Ben tells her she should rot for destroying their family. It takes him weeks to realize his daughter is dead. In addition to his deplorable interpersonal skills, one of his patients even gets murdered for following his advice. He’s here primarily because he commits the professional sin of telling psychotic ghost Tate that psychoanalysis is sham. Maybe if he’d actually have some success with his patients if he didn’t spend so much time crysterbating.
9) Harley Quinn, Batman
Like everyone who has ever worked at Arkham Asylum, Dr. Harleen Quinzel failed woefully at her job. She became the Joker’s psychiatrist to write a tell-all book about him, but fell madly in love with him instead. The Joker (a.k.a. Mistah J, My Puddin’) rechristened her Harley Quinn because of her preposterous real name and they embarked on a madcap life of crime together. Harley gained enhanced athletic abilities and immunity to toxins thanks to her pal Poison Ivy. Unlike most of Batman’s foes, she’s much more lighthearted than homicidal. She dotes on her “babies,” a pair of attack hyenas. Harley’s twisted romance with the Clown Prince of Crime makes her the poster girl for domestic abuse. The New 52 relaunch of Harley Quinn as a slutty Juggalette in Suicide Squad makes her the poster girl for “Grodd damn it, DC!” syndrome.
8) Dr. Sofia Lamb, Bioshock 2
Dr. Sofia Lamb was brought to Rapture by founder Andrew Ryan to help its inhabitants cope with living in a crazy underwater nation filled with Adam-addicted mutants. The only problem was that whereas Ryan was an objectivist capitalist, Dr. Lamb was a utilitarian socialist. After a series public debates on the correct philosophy for the ideal society, Ryan got fed up with her and tossed her in the slammer. After Ryan is assassinated, Dr. Lamb assumes power with the backing of The Rapture Family, her personal religious cult. She plots to genetically modify Rapture’s inhabitants so they have no choice but be supremely altruistic. She further experiments on her daughter, former Little Sister Eleanor Lamb, in an attempt to turn Eleanor into an exemplar of her extremist philosophy called the People’s Daughter. Then Dr. Lamb briefly smothers Eleanor to sever her connection to Subject Delta, Eleanor’s former Big Daddy. Bad mommy!
7) Dr. William Haber, The Lathe of Heaven
After he abuses prescription drugs to keep himself from dreaming, Portlandian George Orr is assigned to the care of oneiriologist Dr. William Haber. Orr wants Haber to prevent him from having “effective dreams” that alter reality. Instead, Haber hooks Orr up a machine called the Augmentor so he can direct Orr’s unconscious mind to make the world a better place. Although Haber’s life improves with every reality shift, each solution he has Orr dream up is more dystopian than the initial problem (e.g., his solution to racism is to make everyone gray). The megalomaniacal Haber breaks reality altogether when he uses the Augmentor himself and becomes a sadly non-literal vegetable. By showing how even responsible uses of power to cure society’s ills will inevitably ruin everything, audiences are absolved of all responsibility for not trying to make a difference in the world.
6) Dr. Hugo Strange, Batman
As one of Batman’s earliest recurring villains, Dr. Hugo Strange (no relation to the Sorcerer Supreme) started off as a mad scientist known for creating the Monster Men. He was reinvented as a crooked psychiatrist who discovers Batman’s secret identity and tries to destroy Bruce Wayne’s life. In Arkham City, he completely overhauls Arkham’s treatment plan by firing all its hilariously inept psychiatrists and replacing them with an army of coldblooded mercenaries to shoot escapees on sight. While this radical zero treatment plan is probably safer for Gotham’s citizens, it comes at the cost of fencing the inmates inside a huge swath of prime real estate and scads of human rights violations. Although he’s an effective villain, he’s missing the over-the-top gimmick and costume that would make him feel less generic. Hugo Strange is obsessed with taking on the mantle of Batman himself, which makes him indistinguishable from nerds everywhere.
5) Dr. Philip K. Decker, Nightbreed
Aaron Boone comes to Dr. Philip K. Decker after having recurring dreams about an ancient subterranean city of monsters named Midian. To find the mythic Midian, Dr. Decker murders six Calgary families wearing a mask only Coraline’s Other Mother could love and pins it on Boone. Surprisingly, his harebrained plan actually pays off with the discovery of Midian under a cemetery in the boondocks of Alberta. Then he leads a platoon of the trigger-happiest Canadians ever back there to slaughter the innocent monsters. Unfortunately, the really stupid looking one with a giant chin on his forehead survives. Writer and director Clive Barker cast David Cronenberg, the master of body-horror, as Decker, which begs the question: Why hasn’t David Cronenberg directed his own Clive Barker movie yet? Somebody convince him to film Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament!
4) Captain Sanity, The Tick
Unless you’re in Futurama, never trust a dismembered head in a water cooler. When the Tick is skeeved out by swarms of thieving ants disguised as humans, he flees The City to Captain Sanity’s Superhero Sanatorium. Unfortunately for the Tick, the only treatment Captain Sanity dispenses is having Richard Roundtree-lookalike Taft wrestle patients dressed in an array of goofy costumes. This kind of therapy could be hazardous on patients who aren’t nigh-invulnerable. Unlike most of the characters on this list who are consciously corrupt, Captain Sanity is unaware that he’s a terrible psychiatrist. The Tick’s first warning should’ve been that Captain Sanity accepts coupons.
3) Scarecrow, Batman
Lanky bibliophile Dr. Jonathan Crane hates being compared to Ichabod Crane, especially before the dreamy Johnny Depp version existed. After losing his tenure as a psychology professor at Gotham University for his unorthodox teaching methods, Dr. Crane did the only sensible thing: he put on a burlap mask and gas his enemies with his homemade fear toxins. Believing that fear is the only genuine emotional state, the Scarecrow spreads horror as a free exposure therapy intended to traumatize rather than cure patients. His strategy is ingenious because even the most hypercompetent of crimefighters can’t wring his scrawny neck if they’re on a drug trip that terrifies them beyond the capacity for rational thought. Recent tales have not been kind to the Scarecrow: in the comics, he’s been deprived the power of a Yellow Lantern Ring twice; although he was promoted to head of Arkham Asylum in his theatrical debut, he was merely a patsy to whitewashed Ra’s al Ghul and effortlessly defeated by frickin’ Katie Holmes. On the upside, for one all too brief shining moment, he had a fire-breathing horse.
2) Moonstone, Thunderbolts
Even before she became a supervillainess, Dr. Karla Sofen was secretly sabotaging her patients’ lives so she could drag out their treatment or talk them into committing suicide. After interning with the equally criminal Dr. Faustus, she tricked the original Moonstone into giving her his alien power source. She gained the powers of flight, super strength, intangibility, photon blasts, gravity control, and the ability to alter her costume at will. She was a key member of the Masters of Evil especially when they duped the public into believing they were a new superhero team called the Thunderbolts. She treats her lovers as disposable and will betray her teammates whenever it suits her. Despite being an abominable person, she’s constantly put on government-sanctioned versions of the Thunderbolts designed to rehabilitate supercriminals. Moonstone has yet to become an A-list solo supervillainess, despite exceeding all the qualifications.
1) Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is actually a brilliant psychiatrist, especially when it comes to profiling fellow serial killers; it’s just that he lacks the temperament for helping others. If you come to him with mundane problems, he’ll merely insult you with his caustic wit. If you’re rude, he’ll make an epicurean meal out of you. As a man of great culture, he’ll also kill you if he feels you’re doing disservices to art such as by being a lousy philharmonic flautist. Don’t try to quantify or imprison him, either. He was able to ruin the life of Will Graham, the agent who originally ended his cannibalism spree, by tipping off the Red Dragon from the confines of his cell. The only person he respects is the FBI’s Clarice Starling, who he affectionately describes as “one generation from poor white trash.” They become an item after he resolves her daddy issues via hypnosis and psychotropic drugs. His true calling was as curator of Florence’s Palazzo Capponi Library, a position he literally killed for. In the books, Dr. Lecter has red eyes and an extra finger just in case you missed out on him being creepy. Hannibal did talk Mason Verger, a rich sadistic pedorapist, into cutting off his own penis and feeding it to dogs before paralyzing him, he so can’t be all bad. The same can’t be said for the completely unnecessary prequel Hannibal Rising.