As National Mental Health Awareness Month draws to an end, I find myself examining the significant role horror movies play as a source of personal comfort. Firing up my favorites while settling in on the sofa with some popcorn is the best form of self-care I can think of. As a therapist, I find myself examining these same movies from a different lens. Sometimes I’ll come up with new understandings of the characters now upon rewatch. When we were preparing for our podcast’s episodes on the Halloween franchise, I came to a startling conclusion.
Dr. Samuel Loomis is the worst psychiatrist in horror movie history.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Loomis and appreciate the gravitas Donald Pleasance brings to Halloween. I have nothing but respect for how he adds new layers of batshit craziness to each subsequent film. He’s the Ahab to Michael’s great white whale. He’s also a shit therapist. His treatment of Michael should have led to the board stripping him of his license to practice years ago. One has to wonder if Myers had received more competent care whether or not hundreds of lives may have been spared.
When Loomis first meets Sheriff Bracken he relates his history in trying to treat the boy as well as his personal frustration at his inability to connect with him:
“I met him, 15 years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this… six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and… the blackest eyes – the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
While Loomis’ words make for a chilling speech in a horror movie, they demonstrate terrible ethics. The Code of Ethics tells what should occur when a therapist fails to connect or make progress with a client. The practitioner has an ethical responsibility to discontinue therapy and refer the client to another counselor. In the case of Michael Myers, there does not seem to be any attempt on Loomis’ part to end his relationship with Michael, despite the fact that he was not getting anywhere for eight bloody years.
Loomis should have consulted with his team and determined what clinician would be a better fit to work with Michael. The single most important part of any relationship between the patient and the counselor is the rapport between them. You could be a Wonder Twin that takes on the form of Sigmund Freud, but if you can’t build a warm relationship with the person sitting across from you, treatment will go absolutely nowhere.
Part of the problem with Loomis is he never sees Michael as a person. He sees him as the embodiment of evil. As nurse Marion drives the doctor to Smith’s Grove to discharge the patient, Loomis refers to Myers as “it.” Stunned by the psychiatrist’s dismissal of a human being, the nurse gives Loomis a chance to correct himself. She asks, “Don’t you mean him?” The only response Loomis can muster is a dismissive, “If you say so.” In effect he stops trying to treat Michael at all for the last seven years the boy was in Smith’s Grove. Instead, he just lobbies to keep the boy locked away forever. Think about going to counseling, and having the therapist tell you and anyone else that would listen what an awful, evil, and demonic subhuman you are. You and I would tell that therapist to pound sand and find a new one to work with, right? Michael doesn’t have that choice. He spent fifteen years locked up and the person entrusted to care for him and help him get better just wrote him off.
Under Loomis’ care, the only treatment Michael received for the better half of eight years was a steady diet of Thorazine. The doctor meant to keep his client docile and drugged up while he fought with the administration to keep “The Shape” under lock and key for life. Loomis gave up on treating Michael for his presenting condition, and instead told anyone who would listen that the boy was a lost cause.
Add to the mix Michael being non-verbal or having selective mutism and you have further evidence how shit Loomis is. He tells Nurse Marion about his attempts to talk with the boy only led to Michael staring back at him with black, hollow eyes. Guess what? If the kid doesn’t talk the kind of therapy that is guaranteed to have zero percent chance of succeeding is talk therapy. Hell, even if the kid was a regular motor mouth, the chance of getting a six year old that’s super in touch with their feelings and able to process emotions deeper than “I want cookies and Sponge Bob” is a rarity.
Given Michael didn’t talk, Loomis could have tried a number of interventions with him. He could have used play therapy, which allows the child to express his feelings and resolve conflict through creativity, make-believe and play. It can take a while to show results but it’s been proven through clinical trials to be very effective with children. He could have used art therapy as kids often express their thoughts and feelings on a page with crayons and markers. Hell, Halloween II has an adult Michael making doodles on a classroom chalkboard. Almost ANY intervention aside from talk therapy would have yielded more positive results.
We haven’t even touched on the fact that upon coming face to face with Michael, Loomis shoots him in the chest six times. Folks, you don’t need a degree in counseling to know that it violates every ethical principle known to the profession to shoot your clients. I’m not saying in the heat of the moment Loomis should have told Michael to break out the trusty old feelings journal and sing kumbaya. Still, Loomis doesn’t give Michael any warning or try to diffuse the situation at all. He goes straight to Charles Bronson in Death Wish mode and plugs Michael with a hail of bullets. There are many different ways to seek treatment, but none of them involve getting shot. I cannot stress this point enough.
Yes Michael was a monster. Immediately upon escape he retreated to his hometown and picked his killing habits right from where he left off. However, given his mental state and the lack of treatment or support he received, it can be argued that he never had a chance to be anything else.
Mike Snoonian is the co-host of the Pod and the Pendulum podcast, which breaks down horror movie franchises, one film and one episode at a time. He is also one of the cohosts on the upcoming Psycho Analysis podcast, which explores the connections between horror movies and mental health. He works as a therapist and school adjustment counselor.