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Novel-adaptation ‘Psychologist’ focuses on healthy mind-set in China

Social anxiety

2021/11/25 17:33:23   source:Global Times

New Chinese TV series Psychologist debuted on China's streaming site Youku on Tuesday. The show is adapted from the 2007 novel of the same name by well-known Chinese writer Bi Shumin, who has been very active in observing mental health problems for decades. But can this story written 14 years ago cure people's anxiety today?

The story of Psychologist revolves around female psychologist He Dun. One can get a glimpse of the intricate emotional relationship between her and her love life and work, and deeply explore the deep psychological struggle of each of her patients and the road to their own salvation.

In the process of trying to save the hearts of others, the heroine finally saves her own soul.

In chief producer Guo Feng's own words, the adaptation of Bi's novel, published in 2007, actually started a long time ago. The adaptation rights for the novel were bought by different film and television companies at least three times before, but none of them had ever succeeded in adapting it into a TV series. It wasn't until 10 years ago that Guo met Bi by chance and the two began to talk about cooperating together.

Featuring Chinese actress Yang Zi and actor Jing Boran as leads, the adaptation is one of the few domestic dramas to tackle mental health issues.

"We want the audience to know that we are not trying to create anxiety, but to heal souls," said Guo.

Reflecting the times

"I'd admit that there are concerns since we are drawing on cases from a 14-year-old novel, given that the current reality can be somewhat detached from then due to today's rapidly developing society," said Guo.

The big gap is easily revealed by a survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 2008 that showed after experiencing unstable mood swings during adolescence, the mental health index of 18 to 30 years old rises rapidly, reaching a relatively stable and healthy level at the age of 30.

However, the situation seemingly has made a U-turn over the past 12 years. A CAS survey data in 2020 found that the mental health index of this age group has fallen significantly, lower than that of other age groups. This contrast also implies that mental health issues are more prominent among this young group.

For this reason, the various cases He must deal with have been changed to fit the screenwriter's observations of today's society, while retaining the characters in the original work and the rough relationship between the two protagonists.

Guo also talked about the difficulty in adapting this type of material and the toll it had on one screenwriter Zhu Li, who had a whole team of psychologists working in support of her.

"She had to do psychological counseling from time to time, and she broke down and cried when she wrote about a few cases. She called us and said she wanted to quit," recalled Guo.

Apart from the new cases, Guo admitted that some content such as He's infidelity and dishonesty have been removed since the show is aimed at younger audience.

Yet "we cannot deny that He Dun as the main character in the show is in fact very complicated given her past decades of experience, and we'll probably expand this background in the following series," said Guo.

What to expect

Bi never thought she would end up as a writer as she worked as a physiologist instead of a psychologist for 20 years. Born in Yining, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 1952, the writer has lived a rich life. At the age of 17, Bi chose to serve in the army. It was not until 1980 that she ended her 11-year career as a soldier and journeyed to Beijing. She worked as a doctor for nearly 20 years before she started to study psychology.

She went to Beijing Normal University to study psychology, after which she went to The Chinese University of Hong Kong to study the major for three years, and then headed her own clinic for another three years. By the time Bi wrote Psychologist, it was already 2007.

"I hope that the story of a psychologist can awaken concern for our own mental health in today's rapidly changing society. And I hope the story is good," said Bi. 

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