When I was a child, I was already in therapy. More regularly than I am now, in fact. I saw my first therapist in elementary school. Oh, I hated him, and honestly he wasn’t prepared for a kid with my problems—abused kids, kids whose parents were getting divorced, probably even kids with substance abuse problems, but not kids with mental illness. But still, mental health treatment has been a part of my life most of my life. And ever since I was a kid, my ideal mental health professional has been Dr. Sidney Freedman.
You see, another thing I grew up on was M*A*S*H reruns. I was six when the show ended, a few weeks after my dad’s death, so a lot of my childhood emotion is tied up in the show anyway, because I know my dad loved it and would have been furious if he’d known he’d miss the ending. My mom loved it, too, still does, and maybe that’s partially tied up in Dad, too; I don’t know and we don’t talk about him. But it was the only show I can think of from that era where they routinely called in a psychiatrist—who was a good guy. Even the main characters got check-ups from him and came away better. He was normalized, and he normalized mental health care for me.
Also, Sidney was always extremely good at his job. He downplayed what he did to a certain extent. He said what he did when he came up to the 4077 was the psychiatric equivalent of meatball surgery, and he was always very clear that proper psychiatric treatment took time. He wasn’t going to fix anyone overnight. He also told Hawkeye that the issues of childhood might well get downplayed but were very real and could cause lifelong issues, and as a child, I could definitely agree with that!
Now, the show never really dealt with mental illness like mine. One of the reasons I laughed as hard as I did when the first mail I got from a college was West Point was that they’d never let me in. I would’ve gotten Klinger’s longed-for Section 8, because there’s no place for bipolar people in the military. I don’t know a lot about induction physicals, but I do know that there was a certain amount of psychiatric testing, and I never would’ve gotten past that. At least, you’d hope. Though I suppose they could’ve done an episode about a person whose illness manifested after they got there; they saw young patients, and some of these illnesses tend to first show themselves in young adulthood.
But I did still feel that Sidney was better equipped to deal with it than some people I’ve had who were supposed to be handling my long-term problem. And that’s without getting into the fact that my only option for mental health care in the area is basically doing what Sidney does for most of the series and getting people through short crises. At the very least, I felt as though Sidney would’ve understood that I needed more than he was permitted to give me and would’ve made it clear that I deserved to have a system that was equipped to deal with me.
One of the most important things was that Sidney listened. It didn’t matter what you had to say. His job was to listen, and he did it. He also listened to what you didn’t say, to what you deliberately weren’t saying, to what you couldn’t say. He never told you that you were lying—though it’s interesting to note that my initial familiarity with Gaslight and the idea of gaslighting comes from Hawkeye’s referencing it to Sidney in the finale—in part because he knew you were probably lying to yourself first. And if his treatment could be a little unorthodox, well, he was providing treatment in an unorthodox time and place.
He never hid his personality from his patients. True, we the audience probably knew more about him than most of the guys he saw most of the time, but still. Even they likely would’ve known something about his sense of humour. He would’ve been dry and funny and compassionate, and that’s exactly the kind of therapist I’ve always needed. The kind I think most people need. I’d take that old childhood therapist over none at all, I suppose, but my goodness what I wouldn’t give for a therapist like Sidney.