Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Beverly Hills psychoanalyst, writes about your favorite film, TV, and book characters
and their real human problems.

What Happened, Miss Simone, Liz Garbus’ documentary of the brilliant and troubled Nina Simone’s life, ends by diagnosing Miss Simone with bipolar disorder. Does that explain her outrageous behavior? I don’t think so. Those with bipolar disorder are taken over by extremes of moods. But, in my experience, there’s much more to being bipolar than that. Each person has an individual history and reasons for their extremes. A diagnostic category just doesn’t cut it as a method for understanding anyone. How do you explain it then? What could possibly make Nina Simone destroy her career and treat her fans (and her...

Steve Jobs, the recently released film, beautifully written and conceived by Aaron Sorkin, and directed by the gifted Danny Boyle, is brilliant and unexpected. A MUST SEE. I saw a screening at the Director’s Guild on Saturday, October 10th. It is without question Best Picture worthy. I can’t give enough accolades to the director and actors who made the film come to life on the screen. But, I really have to say that Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is the piece de resistance. In the panel afterwards - with Aaron Sorkin, Danny Boyle, Kate Winslett, Seth Rogan, and Jeff Daniels - each gave...

I’m not shocked by much – but UnREAL’S Episode 3, Mother, disturbed me. Rachel’s mother is clearly trouble. And, she’s a psychiatrist. Bad combination. I was left thinking about how deeply mothers affect their children. How mothers can make or break a child’s confidence and psychological stability. We don’t have to wander very far to discover the origins of Rachel’s capacity to use, manipulate, turn against, and tear down the women on UnREAl’s Everlasting; and, just as tragically, herself. Yet, in spite of what seems obvious, there are complicated psychological reasons for why Rachel (Shiri Appleby) does what she does. I’ll...

Ashley Judd is speaking out. Good, because sexual harassment is damaging. You feel powerless. You end up with a lot of unwarranted shame. You even blame yourself. But, when someone has power over you, of one kind or another, it’s hard to say, “No” - to report it, or to stand up for yourself. You might feel too scared. Maybe you change the reality around in your mind as if it’s not really happening. Or tell yourself it’s not as bad as you think. Perhaps you even feel you have way too much to lose. That’s the problem with sexual harassment...

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary film, He Named Me Malala, on the life of 18-year-old Pakistani Nobel Prize laureate and activist for the education of girls, has opened in theaters to mixed reviews. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will. I’ve been thinking about the part a father plays in whether a daughter loves or hates herself as a woman. Whether she has the courage to speak her mind. Some reviewers ask the rather provocative question: why did Ziauddin Yousafzai name his daughter, Malala? After all, her namesake the Afghan Malalai of Maiwand was killed in war before her wedding day. Malalai...

Listen. It is 1941 in Bergen-Belson concentration camp, a non-extermination camp where many prisoners died nonetheless of starvation. Francine Christophe is 8 years old, bearing a large Star of David (Juif) on her chest, imprisoned there with her mother, the barracks head. A strong and reassuring mother, keeping chocolate for the moment her daughter needed it the most. Listen. As now-83-year-old Francine Christophe - holocaust survivor, writer, and poet - tells you how her mother and she and her piece of chocolate saved an emaciated woman giving birth in the camp. Not only that – how years later, she was given that chocolate back. Hers...

M. Night Shyamalan’s new psychological horror film, The Visit, has twists and turns and unexpected surprises that I wouldn’t think of revealing. Of course, this film has one of Shyamalan’s shock endings – it wouldn’t be a Shyamalan film without it. But for me as a psychoanalyst, there’s something else of more interest. What this film’s characters tell us about the ability or inability to work out the sometimes very scary feelings of loss and guilt. In The Visit, we have a family – a Mom (Kathryn Hahn), a 15-year-old daughter, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), and a 13-year-old son, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould)...

I’ve been rooting for Jon Hamm. As a Mad Men enthusiast and psychoanalyst, I’ve written a number of pieces on the effects of Don Draper’s early trauma. Not only that, I’ve long-admired the way Hamm brings Don’s very real struggles to life. Little did I know that his own early history, in some critical ways, mirrors Don’s.  At least as far as losing a mother at a young age goes, and then being orphaned at 20.  Jon, too, was hit with difficult early losses. Working with actors in my practice, I know how hard it is to enter into and come...

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s kooky and touching new film, Mistress America, gives us Brooke Cardenas (Greta Gerwig), a 30-year-old autodidact, full of life and ideas, but stuck. She can’t get her life off the ground. She needs help, but help makes her feel small: “There’s nothing I don’t know about myself. That’s why I can’t go to therapy. ”What do you do when you have to cover up your shame for not being able to figure things out for yourself? You either keep running from one thing to the next, or … how about a psychic? You can just drop in...

I just watched the trailer for Jake Gyllenhaal's upcoming 2016 film, Demolition, about the aftermath of his character, Davis’s, sudden loss of his wife, Julia. Loss can take many forms. As the trailer shows, Davis unravels. He can’t pull himself together. His father-in-law tries to encourage him to rebuild his life. To do so, he demolishes the house he lived in with his wife – in an attempt to move past his old life and go on.  Grieving really doesn’t work well that way. It’s an interesting premise. Yet, as a psychologist who works with grief, I can’t agree that dealing...