Therapy is scary. Yes, it’s incredibly useful and can make life better in immeasurable ways. But it requires you to open up and expose your secrets, fears, and insecurities. It's a dynamic that's perfect for horror.
Let’s face it, these intimate moments allow us to see a character’s interiority and how they respond to the push-pull intrusion of a therapist. And the idea that someone would prey on our vulnerabilities is a chilling thought easily amplified and brought to life. We’ve been through all the files and diagnosed nine terrifying therapists we’d never book an appointment with.
Hannibal Lecter — Hannibal
Dr. Lecter is probably one of the most terrifying psychiatrists on the list. He’s well-dressed, soft-spoken, and in complete control of every situation at all times. On the surface, these seem like quality traits in a therapist, but he also likes to use his patients for his own experimental ends and uses his clinical expertise to redirect FBI investigations away from his own murderous deeds. But even more terrifying, is that the more interesting he finds you, the more likely you’ll end up caught up in his web. And that is not a place many escape.
Dr. Brodsky — A Clockwork Orange
While his calm demeanor and scientific approach may give the illusion of an experienced clinician, Dr. Brodsky is just as cold and psychopathic as the patients he claims he wants to cure. As overseer of the Ludovico’s Technique, he sees nothing wrong with strapping them to a chair, clamping their eyes open, drugging them, and having them endure hours of violent images. It’s behavioral conditioning, after all, and the ends justify the means. All that is horrifying enough, but the fact that he revels in the pain and discomfort each session brings makes him a therapist we’d go to extreme lengths to avoid.
Ben Harmon — American Horror Story: Murder House
Ben Harmon doesn’t mean to be a bad therapist, and maybe he’s on the milder side of this list, but he does sleep with one of his students. A student who he ends up killing and burying in his backyard after he impregnates her. Not exactly therapist of the year. But when his wife starts going through emotionally distressing events—thanks to their house being haunted—he ignores her, gaslights her, and has her committed. Maybe he gets what he deserves in the end, but we would not recommend taking any therapeutic advice from someone who can’t take care of the emotional needs of his family first.
Dr. Malcolm Crowe — The Sixth Sense
Maybe Dr. Malcolm Crowe was a great therapist when he was alive. But he’s not, and that’s a huge problem, because that means Cole Sears isn’t actually his client. Just because Dr. Crowe tries to help young Cole doesn’t take away from the fact that technically, he’s haunting the poor kid. True, in the end he does help more than hurt Cole, but still. Therapy can be difficult enough without literally being haunted into healing.
Dr. Isaac Herschkopf — The Shrink Next Door
Being in therapy is a vulnerable experience, and nothing is more terrifying than the thought of your therapist taking advantage of that vulnerability. That’s exactly what Dr. Ike does to Marty Markowitz. He inserts himself into Marty’s life, alienating him from his sister and slowly giving himself access to Marty’s assets. It’s one thing to participate in extreme techniques in the name of healing, but it’s something completely different when it turns out you’re just being manipulated thanks to someone’s greed.
Dr. Jean Holloway — Gypsy
It’s common enough for a therapist to want to know more about a patient’s life so that they can help them through whatever difficulty they’re facing. But creating an alias so that you can create false relationships with the people close to your patient is taking this approach to the extreme. Dr. Holloway does this and more when she manipulates, lies to, and generally interferes with her patients and their loved ones. The show was canceled after one season, so we’ll never know for sure if her actions were meant to be for the greater good. But we know that the countless ethics violations and breaches of trust are never good for a healthy doctor-patient relationship.
Dr. Spivey — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
While Nurse Mildred Ratched is the more ominous presence in the film, Dr. Spivey isn’t exactly what we’d consider an advocate for his patients. He allows Nurse Ratched to punish the patients on her ward using humiliation, threats, and outright physical violence through several orderlies. It doesn’t matter whether he agrees with her approach or simply is oblivious to it, his cold, clinical presence indicates that he’s far more interested in control rather than healing. We give him—and the entire hospital staff—zero stars.
Dr. Victoria Siebert — Side Effects
Most of the psychiatrists on our list are there because of their dubious practices when it comes to patients. But Dr. Victoria Siebert didn’t exactly manipulate—or eat—any of her patients. She plotted with her patient to destroy another psychiatrist. Of course, this was after she helped her patient murder her husband, manipulate a pharmaceutical company’s stock price, and become her lover. If she’s willing to do all that, we’d bet there isn’t a line she wouldn’t cross. And that’s not something that bodes well for creating a trusted safe space.
“He” — Antichrist
You’d think a psychologist would understand that removing your grieving wife from psychiatric care to take over treatment yourself would be inadvisable. But that’s exactly what the unnamed “He” does. Not only that, he decides the best course of action would be to go to an isolated cabin in an extreme version of exposure therapy. As you’d expect, things escalate in horrific ways. It’s a terrifying reminder that office visits and HIPPA laws are there for a reason, and we should probably never let our husband take over our therapeutic care.