On 'Ted Lasso' and other shows, the Black Lady Therapist finally gets some depth Ted Lasso, In Treatment and The White Lotus have demonstrated how to subvert this tired stereotype.

'Black Lady Therapists' are still a TV trope. But now they have more depth

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You've probably seen them on TV, maybe on "White Lotus" (ph), maybe on "Mare Of Easttown," "Broad City." We're talking about Black lady therapists.


MARCELLA LOWERY: (As Betty) You must be Ilana Wexler. Come in.

ILANA GLAZER: (As Ilana Wexler) So cozy. Wow. You can keep the plants alive. You're an adult.

LOWERY: (As Betty) Yeah.


KATE WINSLET: (As Mare Sheehan) So I bet you see a lot of cops.

EISA DAVIS: (As Gayle Graham) I've seen a few over the years, yes.

WINSLET: (As Mare Sheehan) Hard cases, right? Like, they don't want to be here. They didn't think they need the help.

DAVIS: (As Gayle Graham) Some. But most are...

WINSLET: (As Mare Sheehan) You know, I just want to say, you don't have to worry about that with me. I'll be here on time, every time.

DAVIS: (As Gayle Graham) Wonderful.

WINSLET: (As Mare Sheehan) Awesome.

DAVIS: (As Gayle Graham) You're actually a little bit early.


NATASHA ROTHWELL: (As Belinda) Feeling better?

JENNIFER COOLIDGE: (As Tanya McQuoid) Oh, my God. Was that really 90 minutes? 'Cause, oh, my God, it felt like 10.

ROTHWELL: (As Belinda) I think you fell asleep.

MARTIN: Black lady therapists - or BLT for short - is a term NPR's Aisha Harris has been using to talk about what she sees as a TV trope. But Aisha says something about it is changing, and she's with us now to tell us more. Aisha, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So you came up with this phrase, Black lady therapists. Explain what you're talking about here.

HARRIS: So a few years ago, when I was still at Slate magazine, I noticed this trend popping up in TV shows and even some movies, where there's a side character, a small character, a therapist. The protagonist, who is usually white, has to go seek out this therapist for whatever reason or a counselor of some sort, whether it's couples counseling or just personal therapy. And I noticed that these characters, these therapists were often turning out to be Black women. These were usually older, established character actors who were playing these roles. And you saw it on everything from "Grace And Frankie" to "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."

And at the time, I kind of saw it as a sort of subset of the Black best friend trope, which is where you have, you know, the side character, the Black best friend who pops up in lots of movies and they tend to be just kind of there on the side to be the cheerleader and to be the coach for the white protagonist. And I think the Black lady therapist is an outshoot of that. But instead of, you know, just being the best friend, she actually gets paid. So I guess that's...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

HARRIS: That's kind of a plus side.

MARTIN: Maybe this is before your time, but there was also the Black lady judge.

HARRIS: Yes, yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: So - but you're saying that you're seeing something new about these characters?

HARRIS: Yeah. So especially over the past summer and into the fall, there have been a few examples of this trope that I think finally seem like they're becoming aware and trying to subvert it. So you have the Natasha Rothwell character in HBO's "White Lotus" and then you also have Uzo Aduba playing a therapist in "In Treatment" season four. But the one that I was most interested in and I think a lot of viewers are probably even more familiar with is Sarah Niles, who plays Dr. Sharon Fieldstone on "Ted Lasso." And if you haven't seen the show yet, it's basically...

MARTIN: The three people who haven't, come on now. OK?

HARRIS: Yeah, I know.


HARRIS: But for those who haven't, the three who haven't, Jason Sudeikis plays an American football coach who is hired to go to the U.K. and coach a soccer team, U.K. football. And Sarah Niles is brought in - her character's brought in this season, season two - to help treat the rest of the team. But she actually winds up treating Ted.

And so it's really interesting to watch their relationship grow because it's not just about her being sort of this sounding board and way for Ted to reach his epiphanies of what's going on with him emotionally and mentally, but she also gets a little bit of an arc. And she has a little bit of a spice to her, a kick to her.

Here's actually a great scene that will show you kind of their dynamic and the way in which she kind of subverts the trope of the Black lady therapist.


JASON SUDEIKIS: (As Ted Lasso) So you think I'm scared.

SARAH NILES: (As Dr. Sharon Fieldstone) Yes, I do.

SUDEIKIS: (As Ted Lasso) Yeah. Maybe I don't want to learn the truth.

NILES: (As Dr. Sharon Fieldstone) Ted, the truth will set you free. But first, it'll piss you off.

HARRIS: Yeah, she's attentive, she's a patient but she also is ready to go toe-to-toe. And even though Ted is not initially open to it and even judges her profession and at one point says, like, you're only paid to listen to me, she's like, look...


NILES: (As Dr. Sharon Fieldstone) I was quite offended about what you said about my profession, that just 'cause a therapist is being paid, they don't actually care. Let me ask you something, would you coach for free?

SUDEIKIS: (As Ted Lasso) Yeah, I would.

NILES: (As Dr. Sharon Fieldstone) But do you?

SUDEIKIS: (As Ted Lasso) No, ma'am.

NILES: (As Dr. Sharon Fieldstone) And yet you care about your players, right?

SUDEIKIS: (As Ted Lasso) Yes, ma'am.

NILES: (As Dr. Sharon Fieldstone) Then why would you assume it's not the same for me? I don't assume that all coaches are macho ****heads.

SUDEIKIS: (As Ted Lasso) That's a good point.

HARRIS: I love seeing that sort of back and forth between the two of them. And between this and those other two roles I mentioned on "In Treatment" and "White Lotus," we're seeing a little bit more of a dynamic and understanding of what these Black women characters are doing and how good they are at their profession.

MARTIN: And does this tell you something?

HARRIS: Yeah. I mean, to me, I think it's saying that these shows, these writers are at least aware that this has become a thing because even in the last three-plus years since I wrote that initial piece in Slate, there have been so many other examples to pop up on, things like "American Horror Story" and "Mare Of Easttown." But these three rules, I think they're getting to the nitty-gritty, and they're also understanding the dynamics of being a Black woman and a Black therapist whose patients are mostly white. And there's a lot of little interactions there that I think we weren't seeing in those earlier examples of the trope that we get to hear.

And in part, it also just comes down to screen time. They have way more screen time, and they have more time to develop those characters beyond just being stuck in a room, talking to their white patients and having the white patients unload all of that tension onto those characters.

MARTIN: Well, what I think I hear you saying and I certainly remember from the piece that you wrote initially about this is this all still seems rooted in this historical responsibility that Black people have been tasked with for taking care of white people and that that kind of still...

HARRIS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...Locates them in that role. But what do you see as - really, as the new depth? Is that what? They - do they ever take care of themselves, too?

HARRIS: Yeah, especially in the sense of Belinda on "White Lotus," her character - towards the end of it, there's a moment where after she spent all of this time dealing with a very, very needy person, she finds another one who wants to do the same thing and kind of leech onto her and be like, hey, help me out with this personal problem I have. And she's like, I'm not going to do this anymore. I can't. I'm tapped out.


ALEXANDRA DADDARIO: (As Rachel) I don't know. I'm sorry. I don't want to burden you with this. I'm just having a moment. I don't know. I just - what do you think?

ROTHWELL: (As Belinda) You want my advice? I'm all out.

HARRIS: And so being able to see a character like that sort of take back her time and take back her energy from giving this sort of advice that she didn't want to give in the first place, I think we are seeing a little bit more pushback against the trope. It's still a trope. And it's still - you know, there are still limitations to it. These are side characters, at least in the case of Belinda and the Dr. Sharon Fieldstone character. So they aren't quite the center of the story, like Uzo Aduba's character in "In Treatment." But I think there is room to explore it even more. And hopefully, we get more Uzo Adubas, where we see these therapists at the center of the narrative.

MARTIN: That is Aisha Harris, one of the hosts of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Aisha, thank you so much for being with us.

HARRIS: Thank you, Michel.


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