Therapist and client is one of the most intimate relationships known to man. This relationship is depicted realistically by the late James Gandolfini in his role as tender yet tortured mobster Tony Soprano. James Gandolfini was also a native of the Garden State and fellow Rutgers University alumnus who was always ready to give back to his home state and school that he loved so much.
An earthy and relatable actor, James Gandolfini was a father, husband and New Jersey hero to the core. Something about "The Sopranos" struck a chord in Jersey culture allowing us all to see inside the closeted world of the "The Mafia" and putting gritty dimension to "The Boss".
On another note, many got to see inside the very private world of the therapist. As a therapist I was pulled in and loved seeing Dr. Melfi struggle with how to best work with Tony. The Sopranos is arguably one of the best portrayals of the therapist client relationship. Typically we try to leave our clients in the office but my therapists friends and I often speak about "walking around with our clients". Which means we walk around with them inside our heads and hearts; we plan what to say, we plan which technique to use, we wonder if our reframes will be effective. We encourage our clients to be their best selves despite how they may feel about themselves in the moment. We remind them that change is real and possible and can be accomplished with skill and support.
Sometimes the client wants change with their kids, sometimes in their relationship, sometimes at work or sometimes to make peace with the past and parents. Tony Soprano needed help in all these areas and even though he denied feeling that tough guys need therapy, he found himself getting better over time with fewer anxiety attacks and more sense of direction. Tony was able to gain insight into his behaviors and although he was trapped in a life of crime, violence and sex. Dr. Melfi helped him redirect some of his energies back to family, friends and a sense of purpose which helped him to feel better about himself.
In the wake of his death, it makes us wonder how much of James Gandolfini lived inside Tony Soprano and if there was a real live Dr. Melfi. If Mr. Gandolfini had a real Dr. Melfi how would she remember him? How would she depict him? Would he be a "Tony Soprano" or would he be seen as a father of two whose career and passion as an actor put him in view of the world. As the light of another great star dims, we remember James Gandolfini and how much he gave and we can only say a sweet thank you.