Psychotherapists are going ballistic over "Sopranos" (search) shrink Jennifer Melfi's harsh criticism of Tony Soprano in last night's show, saying she botched her handling of his amorous advances.
Psychiatrist Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco (search), messed up professionally, some analysts say, when she told Tony that she found him untruthful, disrespectful of women and a brute. He runs out in a fury.
"He's justified in his outrage," said Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, a Manhattan psychiatrist and professor at NYU School of Medicine. "She stepped out of the role of therapist by making moral judgments."
Tony, separated from his wife, tries to start a romantic relationship with Melfi. He has long harbored erotic feelings for her - an infatuation stemming from his childhood craving for love from his married-to-the mob mom, psychologists say.
At first, Melfi politely rebuffs him, although she later dreams she is having sex with her bad-boy patient. She then consults her own therapist about Tony's propositions, but - wrongly, real-life therapists say - does not reveal the steamy dream.
When Tony shows up at her office with two tickets to Bermuda, she first cites professional ethics in turning him down. But when he persists, she tells him what she really thinks.
"This could blow the lid off treatment," said Yvonne Thomas, a Los Angeles psychologist. "The client may never feel safe enough to open up fully with therapists again."
Others say Melfi trashed Tony out of fear of her own mixed feelings.
"She finds some attraction to him, and she's troubled by that," said Gary Schoener, a Minneapolis expert on sexual boundaries between therapists and patients.
But trashing patients can be just as harmful as having sex with them, Schoener said, explaining, "The therapist who allows erotic feelings to develop and then pushes the client away by attacking him can be devastating. It breaches the client's trust."
In Melfi's defense, Glen Gabbard, a Houston psychiatrist who wrote "The Psychology of the Sopranos," (search) said therapists must confront sociopaths like Tony:
"They kill, steal and hurt people. Those things are wrong, so you have to express negative judgments about them to treat them."