An uphill climb? Netflix film aims to reduce stigma on seeking therapy


Alan Zeitlin | Special to the JT

Aaron Schneider, who has been a therapist in Baltimore for the past seven years, is pleased that a Hollywood star has made a film that encourages people to seek counseling.

Though he hasn’t yet seen “Stutz,” the Netflix documentary where Jewish actor Jonah Hill explores the life of his therapist and methods to help his own struggles despite being rich and famous, Schneider says that such a film can be helpful if it inspires people to realize that therapy is not something to shy away from.

“People know going to therapy is about self-growth and exploration, whereas before, it was thought of mainly for people with mental illness,” he says. “Many people who are in a shiddach, dating proudly, talk about being in therapy. It’s not a taboo thing.”

He acknowledges, however, that there may be some who remain reluctant, despite changes in attitudes.

Jonah Hill (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Stutz,” which gets its name from Hill’s therapist, Bill Stutz, is a powerful film. Both men speak about the tragic deaths of their brothers — Stutz’s brother died as a child; and Hill’s brother, Jordan Feldstein, the manager of the rock group Maroon 5, died at the age of 40 on Dec. 22, 2017.

Hill explains that he made the film (which also includes his mother, Sharon) to attempt to help people who have issues troubling them.

“I was thinking about how in traditional therapy, you paying this person and you save all your problems for them, and they just listen,” Hill says in the film. “And your friends, who are idiots, give you advice unsolicited. And you want your friends just to listen. And you want your therapist to give you advice.”

But that’s not how therapy works.

‘A New Year’s resolution’

Stutz says that true confidence is the ability to live in uncertainty and move forward, and describes

“Part X” as the villainous negative voice in your mind that tells you that you won’t succeed. He says people need to work on three major aspects in life: individuals’ relationship to their physical bodies, their relationships with others and, as has been often linked to therapy, their relationship with themselves.

Aaron Schneider (Courtesy)

Stutz, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, says he has not explored the possibility of a relationship with a woman he is interested as he would have if he was healthy.

Hill explains that the media has been “brutal about my weight” over the years, and he became depressed when he thought that becoming famous and an actor of note would make him feel totally fulfilled, and that when he reached those goals, he would no longer harbor a negative self-esteem.

Again, not the case.

To that end, Hill says romantic relationships are not easy for him.

Stutz further states that people get blocked by holding grudges or lamenting that they were wronged somehow, and that life isn’t fair. But one must continue to move forward, metaphorically putting a pearl on a string, he advises.

Baltimore psychologist and therapist Ruth Klein, Ph.D., said therapy is becoming more commonplace, and it’s a good thing if the film encourages people to seek help and support.

“I don’t know that we’ve gotten to the point where there is no stigma,” says Klein. “Having an opportunity to do it virtually certainly makes it easier, and people are more willing to send their children now. But we’re not yet to the point where people feel that it’s natural.”

She adds that people have to seek out and find a person who works well with them. “It has to be a good match of the client’s goals and the skill set of the therapist, and then there is a personality factor,” she says.

In fact, right now, at the beginning of a new year, people tend to reflect more deeply on their lives and struggles, and exhibit a desire to set new goals.

“Oftentimes, after family events, be it as part of the Jewish or secular lifecycle, people will call,” says Klein. “It’s often about having a New Year’s resolution to work on a particular issue; it can range from a response to conflict to having a goal of self-improvement.”

Alan Zeitlin is a freelance writer.

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