A therapist asked Henry Winkler to read their script: A discussion of an ethics violation

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I recently read Henry Winkler’s memoir, Being Henry: The Fonz… and Beyond. Having grown up with Happy Days (first aired 1974-1984), I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Fonz… and Henry Winkler. People who are more closely in tune with today’s culture than I am—and that’s just about everybody—will know Henry Winkler for his role as the acting teacher Gene Cousineau in the HBO series Barry (aired 2018-2023).

In Winkler’s memoir, he opens chapter 11 with this: “I had a shrink for two years. Every week I'd go in and talk about my parents, Stacey [his wife], our children, my troubles getting acting work, and—when I did get work—my continuing problems getting out of my own way” (Winkler & Kaplan, 2023, p. 198) Good for him, I thought. After having read the first 10 chapters, I could see where he could benefit from psychotherapy.

Question 1 for your students. When Winkler uses the term “shrink,” what kind of therapist might he be referring to?

He doesn’t tell us, but the top three options are psychologist, counselor, and psychiatrist. Although, a life coach is certainly a possibility.

After revealing he is seeing a therapist of some kind, Winkler writes, “Then one day my shrink asked me to look at a script he'd written” (Winkler & Kaplan, 2023, p. 198)  <Screeching record noise>. I reread the sentence. No, I did not read it wrong.

I immediately began mentally flipping through the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) ethics code and the American Counseling Association’s ethics code. And then, because I’m not familiar with the American Psychiatric Association’s ethics code, I looked it up. Unsurprisingly, they follow the ethics code of the American Medical Association, although the psychiatrists have a sort of annotated edition for themselves. With a bit of research, I discovered the International Coaching Federation (life and business coaches, not sports coaches) and their ethics code.

Question 2 for your students. Review the ethics codes for the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the International Coaching Federation. Do any of them permit a provider to use a client to advance their side gig? If not, which part of each ethics code has been violated?

Question 3 for your students. If Winkler wanted to pursue a complaint against this provider, what should he do? [The answer differs depending on the type of provider, the professional association(s) the provider belongs to, and how and where they are licensed.]

Winkler seems to have solved the problem to his satisfaction. He writes, “And so I spent a number of years shrink-less” (Winkler & Kaplan, 2023, p. 198)  While I applaud him for walking away, I am reminded of how one bad experience can color a person’s view of an entire profession. We see it in higher ed all the time. I loved chemistry in high school, so when I got to college, I considered majoring in chemistry. I took a chemistry class, and I hated it. More specifically, I hated how it was taught. And that resulted in a full stop to my chemistry exploration.

Winkler did see another therapist. While the timeline is unclear, I perceived this therapist as coming after the read-my-script therapist. Winkler’s wife writes, “[H]e asked her at the beginning if she had children, and she said, ‘How will knowing that help you? What would that add to why we’re here?’” (Winkler & Kaplan, 2023, p. 237). What a beautiful way of saying, “We’re here to talk about you, not me.”

In this blog post, while I suggest prompting students to look at ethics codes in the context of Henry Winkler’s experience, it is important that students have some familiarity with those codes. Everyone should know that therapists should follow a code of ethics, and if a person is seeing a therapist who violates that code of ethics, what they should do. Even if it is, at minimum, simply walking away.  

 

Reference

Winkler, H., & Kaplan, J. (2023). Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and beyond (First edition). Celadon Books.

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.