When Lifetime’s State of Mind premieres on July 15, viewers will be treated to an unconventional television portrayal of psychotherapists. Bisexual author Amy Bloom (Normal, Love Invents Us) — writer, creator and co-executive producer for the one-hour drama starring Lili Taylor — characterizes it as “backstage with therapists.”
She should know. Besides being a critically acclaimed author (she has won a National Magazine Award and has been nominated for National Book Critics Circle and National Book awards), Bloom is also a licensed clinical social worker. She spent 10 years as a psychotherapist before launching her career as a writer.
But with six books to her name — one nonfiction, two short-story collections and three novels — and the requisite book tours, at this point she maintains only a very limited practice. “I did it as long as I could, until I began to feel that my absences really compromised the quality of people’s therapy,” she said.
Before State of Mind, Bloom had no background in television other than having written a couple of teleplays and occasionally teaching a television writing course at Yale, where she leads a fiction workshop and other undergraduate writing seminars each spring.
She happens to have a background in performance, however; she studied theater (along with political science) in college and worked for a time as an actor. But she regards leaving that field to become a therapist as a wise decision: “I realized that my talent as an actor was very small and basically confined to those parts which were identical to my own personality. And I think we don’t call that acting.”
She noted that she’s brilliant at charades, though, “perhaps the last vestige of my theater training.”
Four years ago, producers Michael Robin and Greer Shephard (Nip/Tuck, The Closer) — fans of Bloom’s fiction — approached her about developing a television series. When they asked if she had any ideas, her first thought was to create a show that portrayed therapists from a therapist’s perspective.
“The one thing that’s always struck me is that whenever you see a therapist on television, it is so obvious that the character has been written from the point of view of a patient,” Bloom said, noting that many writers go into therapy. “And you can always tell that either they’re idealized or they’re demonized, or they’re exceptionally peculiar or Zen-like in their comprehension — whatever they are, they’re not people.”
Bloom had something else in mind for State of Mind when she came up with the concept; she also wrote the screenplays for several of the series’ eight episodes. She describes the therapists on the show as “people who are interested in people’s lives, who have their own issues, who find human beings complex and intriguing, and who have a wish to help but who also are not necessarily reverent about the process in which they’re involved, taking it seriously but not solemnly.”
Referring to the first episode’s closing scene, Bloom said, “If you are someone who might be entertained, and even moved, by the sight of a hamster puppet quoting Henry James, this show is for you.”
The ensemble cast for State of Mind is led by Taylor (Six Feet Under, Julie Johnson) as Dr. Ann Bellowes, a therapist in New Haven, Conn., who walks in on her husband having sex with their couples counselor.
She shares a practice in a Victorian house that’s been converted into office space with a group of colleagues: James (British actor Derek Riddell), the puppet-wielding child psychologist; Cordelia (Theresa Randle of Bad Boys), the tough-but-kind therapist who is having a secret office romance with married psychiatrist Taj (Mido Hamada of The Path to 9/11); Barry (Devon Gummersall, who played Lisa on The L Word), the young attorney who takes over Ann’s husband’s office space; and Fred (Kevin Chamberlin, a two-time Tony-nominated Broadway actor), the sardonic and somewhat nosy receptionist.
Although Bloom’s own psychotherapy practice is in New Haven, she said no single character in State of Mind is based on her own life. “Although all of them emerge from me, none of them are autobiographical,” she explained. As with most of the other fictional characters she writes, there are bits and pieces of her in each one.
She did acknowledge sometimes having her State of Mind characters voice things she could only fantasize about saying to a patient. In the first episode, Ann tells a querulous couple she’s counseling that she’d cut her throat if she had to live with either one of them, then launches into a rapid-fire exposition of why. But she goes on to deliver a tough-love speech — which could describe her own relationship just as much as her clients’ — so spot-on and poignant that it moves the adversarial couple to a tearful embrace.
While State of Mind‘s main characters are the therapists, there are no insignificant characters on the show, according to Bloom. “As far as I’m concerned, even someone who crosses our screen once has a whole life story,” she said. “It’s just that we’re only getting to see a little piece of it. But that little piece should be as full and real as possible.”