Jonah Hill’s documentary “Stutz” is an insight into the psychological practice of Dr. Phil Stutz.
It shows the main techniques, called Tools, used by him throughout the years to help patients live healthier, happier lives.
The kicker is that Stutz is Hill’s long-time therapist, and the focus of the documentary quickly shifts from Stutz’s methods to the interaction between the two.
The project, filmed over the span of several years, is partly information-vessel and partly psychotherapy demonstration, but my opinion is that the therapist is not always Stutz.
This last revelation makes the film a controversial display of the issues that can arise in the client-therapist interaction. And I do not think they were handled in the best of ways either. Hence, this article.
|Note: This analysis is not meant as a personal attack on the individuals whose content or craft makes the subject of the series. By no means do I intend to trigger through my content any type of aggressive (re)actions toward them, their collaborators, or supporters. We are all entitled to our own beliefs, however foolish they may be considered by others, and we are also entitled to practice them, the only limit being, in my opinion, causing any type of harm to another being or to our common environment. I believe all of our activities could, in theory, be deconstructed and less-than-perfect characteristics may be revealed in the process, so nitpicking is not my aim. Some of these people and organizations may have good intentions, but may also deliver messages and provide services that can do more harm than good to individuals or social environments. This is what I want to reveal.
• SPOILERS AHEAD •
About “Stutz” (2022)
“Stutz” is a Netflix documentary that portrays the life and practice of psychiatrist Phil Stutz through candid conversations with his long-time client and director of the movie, actor Jonah Hill.
The declared aim of the film is to showcase the various methods utilized by Stutz to aid his patients in managing their anxiety and other psychological issues.
About the Analysis
Promoting psychotherapy, even of the unconventional yet effective kind, is a commendable goal for any project intended for large audiences. However, not all unorthodox methods are beneficial, especially when dealing with sensitive subjects such as one’s psychological wellbeing.
This sentiment is particularly true for Stutz’s approach, as presented in the documentary. In this SKEPTIC’s REVIEW, I will list the main elements that I found concerning in the movie, elements that could potentially result in a misguided understanding of psychotherapy in general.
- From the get-go, we are shown that Hill calls his therapist “Stutz”. Being cordial with a client? Sure. The friendly territory is problematic though. You are this person’s paid psychotherapist, not their friend. The difference must be there at all times or else things get blurry in the interaction.
- Hill and Stutz seem awkward in this new setting – the studio -, which is expected since the dynamic the two are used to from their previous interactions is about to change drastically.
- “OK. Entertain me.” and “You better not come in here and dump all your shit on me.” – These are two things that Stutz tells Hill at the beginning of the movie. I suppose we are to interpret this as the cool side of the unconventional doctor but I see it as unfair and almost demeaning toward the patient.
- When they are talking about Hill’s goal for the documentary, Stutz mentions that maybe this is Hill’s way to exert control over him. He is not wrong; the individual in charge would no longer be him, like in a therapy setting. Nonetheless, this is the kind of analysis that one would not necessarily conduct in the presence of a client unless it makes sense for their overall therapeutic process.
- From the beginning, I see their interactions as inappropriate and almost cringey. Something doesn’t feel right about their dynamic and this movie.
STUTZ presents himself as an atypical psychotherapist but many of his methods are known tools, available to all therapists.
- “I usually ask [at the beginning of therapy] what do you want? Why are you here?” – We all ask that. It is important for us to understand why an individual is seeking help and whether our methods are a good match for their struggles and goals.
STUTZ presents his therapy as unconventional because he tells clients what to do. We have a name for that: directive psychotherapy. There’s nothing unorthodox about it. Just not everyone’s cup of tea.
- Stutz claims that most therapy was neutral when he started. That is valid even today but directive or active approaches to therapy have been documented since the 1950s at least. Stutz was born in 1947, the methods precede his practice.
STUTZ does things that are not just unorthodox but a big no-no in psychotherapy.
- The psychiatrist says that he would sometimes tell someone with depression “I guarantee you’ll feel better. Guarantee 100%. It’s on me”. – Psychotherapists, just like many other professionals, medical doctors included, cannot offer any guarantees regarding a result. We do not know how a person is going to react, even if we’ve seen a method work for hundreds of other clients before. The “It’s on me” part also signals narcissism to me – psychotherapists can guide an individual toward improved well-being, but we do not cure, and we can see the limitations of our actions, influence, and methods.
- Jonah says that when he first entered Stutz’s office, the doctor told him “Here’s what you should do”, and then continues, “You gave me some form of action. You gave me a tool”. Many of us advocate against directive methods because most of the time the goals would change into those of the therapist and the client’s role in his own life would become secondary. Another thing that many of us advocate against is “should” statements. They are seen as the mark of cognitive distortions.
- One has options. The role of the therapist is to show the range of options and allow the client to choose their next move or no move at all. I see a therapist who demands his client do what they are told as controlling and potentially abusive.
- Once again, you cannot guarantee that your methods will work for everyone, so you cannot force clients to adopt your strategy.
- On top of that, people who go through psychotherapy should not only learn how to choose the best tools to use next but also how to build new tools in similar situations. Telling a client what to do takes away that skill from them and creates dependency toward the therapist. And this bit is not unorthodox, it’s unethical.
- Stutz defended his use of directive methods by saying “Yeah, it’s imperative. I wanted speed in this”. Speed may be a goal but you cannot force psychological changes, especially if you want long-term results. Speed may be a common goal – although it is usually mentioned by the client – but there is no way to guarantee that changes are going to occur in a certain period of time. You can hope and plan for a speedy change in your client’s mental state but you cannot trigger it.
- Hill’s perspective is legitimate. He, as the client, felt that he was finally getting something tangible, a tool that he could use to quickly change things in his life. The therapist should’ve known better though. Not every change at the surface signals a meaningful modification of a behavioral or cognitive pattern.
- Later in the movie, Stutz even admits that his supervisor advised against his attempt to “give clients something to feel better soon“. He just thought he was better than other professionals but provided no support for that view.
- We also find out that Stutz’s choice of profession is also the result of directive action: his father told him that there is just one profession, that of being a doctor. So he became that. In this context, it is almost as if Stutz, perhaps unhappy with the treatment he received as a young man, makes his clients feel that same set of emotions by enforcing the same method in therapy.
The Problem with Stutz’s hand-drawn cards.
- In the documentary, we see the therapist making a drawing of each tool. He says these drawings communicate the message better than words, which may be true since imagery is universal, but I understand that he is giving these cards to his clients and I see several issues with that.
- Drawings may infantilize the client. The method itself should be used with caution, making sure that the client does not associate it with being talked down to or with the implication that the therapist does not consider them capable of understanding the method if explained in words.
- The therapist inserts himself into the client’s life by making this person dedicate physical space in his own house to these materials that remind him of the therapist.
- Even if the drawings would’ve been made by the client – which seems a better option in my view – the therapist should still be aware of the fact that this person will attach emotional responses to those pieces of paper. Some may not want them near them at all, others may want to get rid of them as soon as therapy ends, etc. Once again, it’s their life, their choice.
We see Jonah Hill become Phil Stutz’s therapist or caretaker several times in the movie.
- When the alarm announces that it is time for Stutz to take his medicine to help with the effects of Parkinson’s disease, it is Hill who reacts first. Stutz barely reacts. Of course, the visible symptoms of Parkinson’s cannot be hidden from his clients, so it makes sense to share that information with them, but I think he went beyond that. It seems to me that by triggering their compassion for him, Stutz makes clients take care of him to some level. They are forced to.
- And the therapist shares too much about his struggle and personal life. A therapist’s own issues should remain private to start with but even when one is forced by circumstances beyond his control to share that information with clients, his problems should not become the focus of a client’s session. That’s not what they pay you for.
- Whenever Stutz’s personal life is being discussed – his childhood, family life, professional aspects, or even romantic relationships, Hill becomes the therapist.
Hill talks badly about other therapists just to make Stutz look good.
- Traditional therapists just listen, when the client actually wants them to give advice, Hill claims. They just say “How does that make you feel?” or “interesting”, he says.
- Maybe Hill was just unlucky in choosing the right psychotherapists but his claims are reductionist views, to say the least. Truly unfair to the majority of psychologists and psychiatrists out there. It’s not like Stutz is the only competent therapist – if he turns out to be like that at all. From this documentary, many may still have legitimate questions about his methods and reasonable doubts about his skills.
STUTZ makes claims that go against scientific views regarding mental disorders.
- This is a big problem. There is a moment in the documentary when Stutz links depression to being lazy and lacking direction. While these views may be entertained by individuals with no knowledge in the field of mental health, professionals understand more about the mechanisms of depression than to add to the stigma already attached to this debilitating mental disorder.
- This is the first time in the movie that I seriously question his ability to offer any type of meaningful support to anyone in distress.
THE TOOLS aren’t all that new and groundbreaking.
- The Tools, or the methods presented in the documentary are rather well-known to psychotherapists worldwide. Stutz did not discover or invent them. He did tailor some of them to fit his views – but I found no scientific basis for that action.
- Life Force. Derived from Maslow’s pyramid of human needs. Stutz’s pyramid includes three levels: Physical Body, Others, and Yourself. He claims that taking care of the physical part of your being increases someone’s wellbeing by 85% – I have no idea where he got that from. He mentions the role of diet and exercise. In psychotherapy, we may mention that but how the individual reaches physical wellbeing is not our field of action.
- He uses classic methods such as journaling.
- They talk about something that Stutz calls “Part X”, the part that blocks one’s progress. It’s resistance, nothing new.
- Stutz says that there are three aspects of reality that no one can overcome: Pain, Uncertainty, and constant work. Again, nothing new. I would add death.
- The Shadow. Useful concept, not his idea. The strange part was when Hill brought a cardboard version of his Shadow – the inner part of ourselves that holds negative, embarrassing aspects about us, the aspects that we want to hide from the world – and Stutz invited cardboard Shadow Jonah to his house. “You can come home with me”, he says. It may seem irrelevant or just a joke to most viewers but jokes have a deeper meaning in the realm of psychotherapy. To me, this is further proof of control and dependency. He is basically saying that his client’s most vulnerable but also secret part can come home with him. He would keep that part of his clients. Weird.
- The Snapshot. Again, nothing new. It refers to the realm of illusions or the perfect world imagined by a client.
- The Maze. I am still to find a new method in Stutz’s portfolio. This is just rumination. What I find concerning is the fact that Stutz teaches his clients to speak using his terms – these labels for the tools are Stutz’s personal language. It becomes a shared language with his clients.
- Active Love. I fully disagree with the core idea of this method. So many things are wrong with it. One is forced to love everyone, allegedly to their own benefit. People are entitled to entertain negative feelings about others. It’s how we manage those feelings that makes the difference. Stutz’s method is an unreasonable compromise in my opinion but that’s not the only wrong thing about his use of the method.
- “Shut the fuck up. Do what I say. Don’t prejudge it and see what happens”. This is how this psychotherapist introduces the method. And not just any method, one that he calls “Active love”. It’s disrespectful, it’s demeaning, it’s abusive, it’s controlling, it’s bullshit method-wise. This is not an unorthodox method, this is unethical. It’s abuse.
- Radical Acceptance. It refers to extracting the valuable element out of any negative context. Does this approach seem new to you?
- The Grateful Flow. Listing and creating things that you are grateful for. I’ve probably bored you by repeating this – it’s not new.
- Loss Processing. Stutz says that most people are bad at processing loss since they worry about it before it happens. Then he presents an incredibly stupid visualization scenario where a person’s body burns up and turns into a sun similar to the one that destroyed that very body moments before. It’s a world of suns, he wants people to understand. Yeah, where all suns burn others. Happy world, eh? Becoming the thing that destroyed you. Projection much?
- Two additional worrying things happened in this segment as well. Stutz reveals information about Jonah’s deceased brother, information he got in therapy. And then it is also revealed that on the day Hill found out about his brother’s passing and went to see Stutz, the therapist took a photo with Jonah’s phone, to capture the full moment of grief. I’ve never heard of anything like this. This is the first new method and it’s, once again, an abusive one. Why would anyone, let alone your therapist, ask to take your photo in such a personal moment? Or in any other moment, to be honest?
The continuous power struggle.
- I found it both exhausting and embarrassing to watch the continuous battle between Hill and Stutz over maintaining control during the making of the documentary.
- Hill wants to maintain control over the movie – he is the director after all. Stutz wants Hill to put himself in the center of it all as a psychotherapy client who offers his vulnerability and personal struggles as a topic for the filmed demonstration of his Tools. I think that’s when everything went down the hill – no pun intended. No one was in charge because everyone was in charge.
- Hill did a great job blocking most of Stutz’s emotional manipulation attempts. Stutz, insisting that Hill talked about his personal issues in the documentary: “But what if I said the more you elaborate on it, the easier it’s gonna be for me to take some chances. [..] Then do it for my benefit”.
- Frankly, I found Stutz’s insistence problematic and abusive. He basically bullied Hill into making the documentary about his own therapy. And he used information he knew about from the private therapy sessions to convince his client to give in to his demands. Horrible to watch.
- Stutz even punishes Hill for not giving in at some point by asking for a break from filming and then turns passive-aggressive by being late for the next shot.
- I could be wrong, this is mainly my interpretation, but for most of the movie, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Jonah Hill knew something was wrong with Stutz’s methods and maybe thought that the documentary would either confirm or put his doubts to rest.
- He does disclose his difficulties with shooting the documentary though – “Was this a fucking terrible idea for a patient to make a movie about his therapist?” – and my respect for Hill grew after seeing him confront Stutz to some degree, even though not on core matters related to his own therapy.
NOTE: I will not consider what parts of the interaction between Stutz and Hill could’ve been scripted. I will refer to the entire content of this documentary as the intended message coming from both Stutz and Hill. Not going to play Sherlock. If they allowed bits to exist in the movie, they wanted people to react to those bits. That is what I am analyzing.
- In response, Stutz says that he thought the documentary is likely “both the best documentary ever made and the worst ever made”. It’s a way to place all responsibility on Hill and play it safe, no matter where the chips may fall.
- Hill did give in though, and accepted to talk about several personal struggles of his – I saw that as a response to blackmail. Stutz wasn’t going to give Hill the content he needed for the documentary unless Hill agreed to be vulnerable on camera even though that was not the initial plan. “If I’ve trained you properly, you can just see this is not something to avoid”, said Stutz. And continued, “The failure would be not rolling with it and not using it to go deeper. The driving force in this whole thing, to me, is your vulnerability”. Wait, there’s more. “My life doesn’t depend on it [the documentary]. Your life – Okay. Maybe your life depends on it”. It’s a crappy way of saying “You need me, I don’t need you”.
- Stutz seems to hijack Hill’s vision regarding the documentary. He is controlling and gaslights Jonah to get him to do what he wants. It’s manipulation after manipulation. I cannot even keep up with it, I would have to transcribe every sentence for a good part of the documentary.
- Once things go his way, Stutz rewards Hill immediately by telling him that he is touched by Jonah’s invitation to watch parts of the documentary and decide together regarding the rest of the content. “Frankly, I am relieved also” – yes, because that is what he wanted all along, control.
- Hill says that when he started working with Stutz, he did so “out of desperation to get happier” and that he had “no self-esteem”. Both elements would make one vulnerable to predatory behaviors from others.
- When it’s Hill’s turn to ask questions – when they talk about Stutz’s life – he shows everyone that he is way better at asking sensible questions and making reasonable interpretations than his own therapist. Hill as the therapist is the best demonstration in the film. It’s this part that also makes the viewer feel compassion and empathy for Stutz. By the end of the documentary, you end up liking Stutz more because of Hill’s portrayal of him.
- I do believe Hill loves Stutz and wanted to help preserve his legacy, in the way Hill understood it. He also used the documentary to deal with his own fear of potentially losing Stutz to Parkinson’s and maybe even help the doctor come to terms with that possibility.
Jonah Hill is the best part of this documentary.
- Even his takeaway is well-thought and meaningful. “That people who we look up to aren’t exempt from all the problems we ourselves have”.
- That message is a perfect conclusion for the documentary. It gives an understanding that helps both clients and therapists alike – that we all have personal work to do, no matter which part of the psychotherapy methods we find ourselves on.
- “And it doesn’t matter what people think about the movie. It just matters that we finished it. Together.” – Jonah.
The documentary had three parts, as I understand it: The conflict, Hill’s therapy, and Stutz’s therapy. The only valuable part was the last one.
There is not much disagreement to be had with the Tools presented by Stutz because most of them are well-known psychotherapy techniques. What I disagree with is his overall attitude and implementation of these tools.
I am not sure what happened after Hill and Stutz filmed this documentary, but I definitely hope that their professional relationship in terms of therapy ended. I can see no way it could’ve continued after this to Hill’s benefit.
I think “Stutz” the documentary speaks more about Jonah Hill’s legacy in movie-making than about the doctor’s legacy in psychotherapy.
Hill’s intentions regarding the film were pure and positive. He wanted to do something elegant, profound, and beautiful. I just feel that everything was hijacked by Stutz’s narcissism. If I got anything out of this documentary, it’s newfound respect for Hill.
P.S. There is also a moment when Stutz jokes about having had sex with Hill’s mother. Another great example of something that is supposed to make him look cool but only reveals him as an abusive, unethical, narcissistic individual.