Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist, at, and website at, The Character Therapist, at

Finding Nemo: A Therapeutic Analysis

Anyone with a toddler knows that animated movies are now a part of your life. But perhaps only someone like myself looks at these movies through a therapeutic lens. Finding Nemo is one of my daughter’s favorites. As an occupational hazard, I began to point out all the therapeutic issues the characters displayed, especially those in the fish tank. They might as well be representative of an in-patient psychiatric population:

Gurgle: OCD; disgusted by human mouth, ocean is contaminated

Deb: slightly schizo/delusional about her “sister,” Flo, who is really just her reflection in the glass

Bubbles: neurotic about/weirdly possessive of the bubbles that come out of the treasure chest

Gill: the hard-as-nails fish who’s been there, done that, got the scar to prove it; into conspiracy theories

Bloat: anger management issues, which cause him to “inflate”

Crush: thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie

Bruce: shark with abandonment issues from his dad

Chum: the shark who relapsed on fish by eating his “bring a buddy” before support group

Dory: major short-term memory loss

Nemo: guilt over last words spoken to his father

But none come close to Nemo’s father, Marlin. Let’s take a closer look at him. He got married and hopped on the good fin to do the bad thing, resulting in tons of little babies in need of loving care. He then suffers surely the worst kind of pain imaginable when he loses his new wife to a shark attack, as well as all his babies, save one: Nemo.

Marlin has severe PTSD from the attack, as is evident in how he babies Nemo and doesn’t want to let him grow up. He believes the little fin is proof positive of Nemo’s need to be overly smothered. After all, Nemo can’t swim as well with his little fin, which serves as a visual reminder to Marlin of all he lost when the shark ate his wife and other babies. Marlin has a fear of the open ocean now, and does his best to instill that in Nemo. It’s “not safe” to swim there.

Then Nemo comes into his own obstinacy when his dad makes him feel foolish in front of his new school friends, harping on how they could have been killed at the drop-off and that Nemo can’t swim because of the little fin. Most of you probably know what happens: Nemo gets defiant and goes to the boat, touches it with his fin—a part that resonates in the hearts of all parents with children—and gets caught by the Australian deep-sea diver/dentist before he can return.

Then Marlin is on a mission to find Nemo and bring him back safely. He encounters all manner of traumatic problems, any one of which would send a sane fish over the edge. First there’s Dory, who can’t remember anything. Then the sharks and their “Fish are Friends, Not Food” support group—I can only imagine

the true terror Marlin would feel after losing his wife and children to a shark and then to have Bruce chase him down, intent on taking “just a little bite.” Then they have the jellyfish ordeal, and the whole getting-eaten-by-a-whale ordeal, having to jump into the mouth of a pelican to prevent getting eaten by seagulls, and all this to see little Nemo belly-up in a plastic bag, pretending to be dead.

Now Marlin is super depressed. Who wouldn’t be? But to be reunited with his son, who is alive, brings out the fierce protective part of Marlin once again. He doesn’t want Nemo to do anything to endanger himself or put himself out further than Marlin thinks is appropriate.

Then the last upheaval happens. Dory gets caught in a deep-sea fisherman’s net, along with tons of other fish. Nemo, having learned from his time with the Fraternal Bond of Tankhood members that fish can work together, is small enough to swim through the fish net and motivate the entire group to “swim down!” to fight against being taken in the net. Marlin has to make the decision to let Nemo go once again, and this is the deciding moment for him as a father. (I would think writers would get a lot out of watching this movie as it relates to internal motivation and external tensions. Incredible, really.)

It’s a kid’s movie, after all, so all ends well. But Marlin has come to a more healthy decision about how to parent Nemo, which leaves Nemo happier and Marlin happy, as well. He’s beat his mental illness. Realistic? No … not after all Marlin went through. But then again, who are we to try to fight against the willful tenacity of a father with everything to lose? Perhaps it’s a lesson of the power of the mind over mental illness.


The Character Thrapist