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

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...

Loss can be a dead place. If you move forward, you’ll know the person you love is gone. As I sat spell bound in the Majestic Theater watching the brilliant performances of James Barbour as Phantom and Julia Udine as Christine Daad, I knew that The Phantom Of The Opera isn’t only the story of a bitter, jealous, love-starved freak that believes he can only get love by possession and threat. At a much deeper level, it’s the story of an orphaned girl in the grips of a phantom father. A father she can’t grieve. When a loved one dies, mourning...

  Alert: Possible Spoilers How can someone do exactly to other people what’s been done to him? That’s the big psychological question in Ramin Bahrani’s new film, 99 Homes. How can Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) become right hand man to the very real estate developer (Michael Shannon) who callously uses the housing market collapse to repossess and evict him (and countless others) from his foreclosed home? In these men, we find two disparate answers to how someone becomes exactly what he starts out hating. As the film begins, there’s a bloody bathroom and dead body – a man who couldn’t face losing his home. To developer...