Psychological dramas have rapidly become mainstream TV productions among Turkish audiences, as most relish the opportunity of witnessing characters with psychological disorders for the first time.

Psychological dramas on Turkish television have enjoyed a marked increase over the past year.

Since last autumn, three programs of this genre have been broadcast on separate channels, each achieving some of the highest ratings according to TV audience ratings.

Interestingly, all three have been adapted from Turkish psychiatrist Gulseren Budayicioglu’s books and her clinical experiences and memories. First let's take a look at what the shows are about, and then get into why so many people are glued to their screens.

The Innocents (Masumlar Apartmani)

The Innocents (Masumlar Apartmani) has been airing on TRT 1, Turkey’s national television network. The show is based on a true story inspired by Budayicioglu’s "Inside the Medallion" novel.

Inci, who lives with her protective grandfather and brother, is involved in an accident. After that, she gets to know a handsome and charismatic businessman, Han, whose life is filled with painful memories.

After returning from the US, Han devotes his life to his sisters and father, who suffer from psychological problems due to a family history of tragic traumas.

The picture shows workings behind the scenes of Masumlar Apartmanı(The Innocents), 24 September, 2020.
The picture shows workings behind the scenes of Masumlar Apartmanı(The Innocents), 24 September, 2020. (AA)

Han’s older sister Safiye is the main victim of the family’s traumatic past and suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), an affliction which sees her cleaning everything with soap, as well as her own body, at least four times a day.

The other sister, Gulben, who still wets her bed despite being a young woman, tries to help Safiye ease her pain. Neriman, the youngest sister, harms herself by stretching her skin until it bleeds.

Safiye and Gulben, whose lives are full of obsessions, fear losing their siblings the most.

After Inci falls in love with Han, his family secrets await her. 

The Red Room (Kirmizi Oda)

This series takes us inside a therapist’s office, where many viewers experience the sorts of private conversations that take place between a psychiatrist and their clients, a confidentiality breach forbidden in real life.

In each episode, three clients sit in the so-called “red room” to receive help about their problems. Throughout the series, the effects of psychological violence is candidly discussed.

The Girl in Window (Camdaki Kiz)

Nalan is a beautiful young woman whose warmth attracts love from everyone. She has graduated with honours from the best schools, and begun her working life as an architect in Turkey’s largest hotel chain. Nalan then falls in love with Sedat, who owns the hotel company.

At first, Nalan and Sedat begin to walk hand in hand with hope, thinking that they are moving away from the dark secrets which colour their pasts. But they can’t escape them for long.

Both leading characters have ongoing family problems which they have repressed - especially Nalan’s mom, Feride, who has OCD and always puts pressure on her daughter. 

Feride, while very fond of her family, is extremely controlling. If something happens without her involvement, she reacts harshly. Feride’s behaviour stems from a trauma she experienced in the past, which she keeps secret. 

Nalan suffers the most from this trauma. Feride, who forces Nalan into a corset tight enough to take her breath away, says, "You must protect yourself from the men. You will not let anyone touch you until you appear in front of the registrar of marriages.”

On the other hand, Sedat, who believes he’s failed to live up to his father’s expectations, is also dogged by his own difficult childhood memories.

Increasing popularity

Psychologist Elvan Cevik spoke to TRT World about the dramas being shown on Turkish media channels.

“I am not sure we are talking about if there is an increased interest in psychology dramas or whether a demand that has been met yet,” Cevik says about the various dramas.

Underlining that the subject has always been used as material in cinema and TV, she thinks that psychology itself now drives the plot of these productions for the first time.

In other words, the life stories, traumas, emotional and behavioural transformations of the characters in all the TV programs are taking centre stage.

“However, what was different in recent psychological dramas was seeing these characters' ‘diagnoses’, ‘symptoms’, ‘therapists’, even ‘therapy rooms’,” Cevik said.

Before these candid tv shows, negative life events, mental issues or strange behaviour were considered something an individual could and should cope with themselves rather than becoming a burden on others.

However, Turkish audiences have now been given the opportunity to watch “different cognitions and behavioural patterns” which have not been presented to them in this way before.

When asked why these new dramas hold such appeal, Cevik responded that they resonate with people who have experienced similar events or episodes in their own lives.

For those who haven’t, the dramas are still proving intriguing.

The characters of psychological dramas are “more realistic than the beautiful and clumsy women we watch in the summer series, the rich, and the men who take care of everything,” according to Cevik.

Cevik emphasised that for many audience members, it was a chance to see their own issues reflected on screen for the first time.

“Some of the viewers felt close to these characters as they saw for the first time that their pain could be caused by a real problem and that it was curable.”

Entering a therapy room also generates’ curiosity, especially in the way that secrecy and privacy, for once, is wholly dropped.

“It's like creating a legitimate new source for the pleasure of secretly opening a gift wrap, a locked diary, a letter hidden in a drawer,” she added.

Has the pandemic had an impact? 

As the world suffered from the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated economies and social relations, we asked whether it has had any effect on global audiences and their entertainment choices.

Cevik does not believe the pandemic is having any direct effect on the increasing popularity for these dramas. She gives an example from a previous production, Istanbullu Gelin, which featured therapist and client scenes shot before the pandemic, which also attracted considerable attention.

However, she also thinks that the prolonged time that all of us have spent within our homes, more than any other time in modern history, has certainly increased the duration households will watch television. This may in turn be reflected in the ratings.

Ethical debates

Although these programs that deal with psychological issues which are adapted from real stories can be appealing, they have also raised ethical considerations.

According to the Turkish Psychological Association’s Ethics Code, “psychologists are obliged to get consent from those whom they provide services before recording their voice and/or image.”

Furthermore, psychologists do not disclose confidential information obtained through professional activities to the media. They are supposed to protect those for whom they provide psychotherapy services from being publicly exposed.

“Psychologists may disclose confidential information to third parties given they get consent from the individual, institution, or the legal guardian,” according to the ethics code.

Cevik emphasises that we actually witness a serious ethical violation when we sit to watch real life stories in most of these series.

"Psychiatrists should not reveal information about their patients in line with their political, administrative, media or financial interests, academic, professional or personal benefits," Cevik added.

“Even assuming that the characters' demographic information has been changed, many of the stories point to such specific events that at some point viewers begin to research with a sense of curiosity to find out who the real person is,” she said, underlining another risk.

Together with raising ethical concerns, Cevik also believes these dramatic productions can be useful in the context of normalising therapy.

Source: TRT World