How The 1st Episode Is Like The 1st Session of Therapy & How It’s Not

We’re left with more questions than answers at the end of the premiere of John Ridley’s American Crime. Of course – we’ve only just begun. Yet, we start to realize that each main character has complicated secrets that must be uncovered in order to make sense of what’s happened. For me, as not just a viewer but also a psychologist, meeting these characters for the first time is a lot like having the first session with a new patient in therapy.

Relationships Gone Wrong

There are relationships gone wrong in American Crime  – similar to Russ (Timothy Hutton) and Barb (Felicity Huffman). There are things like Carter’s (Elvis Nolasco) desperate measures to keep love. Or, forces that drive someone like Aubry (Caitlin Gerard) into the haze of drugs – for the purpose of running as far from her probably intolerable feelings as possible.

Attempts At Control

There are attempts at rigid control to prevent loss, not unlike what Alonzo Guittierez (Benito Martinez) imposes on his children. There are bad choices and wrong turns and awful consequences, due to anger and oppression. Just as we see in Alonzo’s son, Tony (Johnny Ortiz). And, there is loss and trauma and terrible regret – and the fear that another chance won’t be found.

Desperation in American Crime & Therapy

Desperation is a common reason for coming to therapy. Not knowing what else to do. Sometimes that desperation is directed towards me. What am I doing to help? Is it fast enough? Who’s ever helped before? Isn’t it better not to need anyone at all?

Barb and her feelings about the police in American Crime are a good example. She couldn’t count on Russ 20 years before. She raised her boys alone – in the face of grave difficulties. But, she did it. Why trust the police? Why trust anyone but herself?  And, certainly, don’t show she’s vulnerable.

Trust Is Hard To Come By

Trust is hard to come by – for all the characters in this first episode of American Crime. And for good reasons – there always are. We don’t have the complete back-stories yet. History matters. We need to know the real events, the fantasies, the feelings; all that’s gone into shaping them towards what’s occurring now.

The beginning is an introduction – a cast of characters to get to know. Whether we’re talking about the premiere of American Crime. Or the first session of therapy, with members of a family that now live inside in complex forms. Different parts of a self that barely co-exist – in combat with each other. Enemies.

Questions To Be Asked & Answered

Questions must be asked. Answers mulled over. Connections made. Understandings revised as new information emerges. In these ways, the beginning of therapy is similar to the kind of police investigation barely underway in American Crime.

Yet, No Police In Therapy

Yet, there’s one essential difference. I’m not the police. I don’t assume guilt. I don’t jump to harsh conclusions or judgments – even if patients think I do because that’s what’s been done to them. Or what they now do to themselves. I listen to the hurts, the self-protections, the rage, the fear, the desperation, and the often-mistaken assumptions. And – I open a door for change.

What will the season of American Crime bring for Russ, Barb, Carter, Tony, Alonzo, Aubry – and the others?  What will we find about their pasts, their secrets, and the forces that have catapulted them all together now?

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.