There Once Was a Psychiatrist in a Hedge Fund

The Major Flaw in Showtime’s Billions

I’ve been watching Billions since it premiered and I enjoy the show very much. The premise is engaging and the acting performances even more so. There is one aspect of the series, however, which bothers me exceedingly. Call it my pet peeve, if you will. What vexes me is the implausible educational background of Wendy Rhoades.

Wendy Rhoades, Accidental Performance Coach

Wendy works as a therapist/performance coach at the highly successful hedge fund of Axe Capital. The specific job tasks which she performs (e.g., motivating employees, resolving interpersonal conflicts in the workplace) would typically be classified as facets of Industrial/Organizational Psychology. An I-O psychologist would be expected to fill the position at Axe Capital which Wendy currently holds. Assuming that Wendy is an I-O psychologist becomes problematic, however, given her educational background.

Wendy has been presented as a psychiatrist on the show, which means that she is a medical doctor and not a psychologist. Being a medical doctor means that she went to medical school to obtain her professional degree. The training which psychiatrists receive in medical school differs widely from the training which psychologists receive in graduate school. For example, psychiatric training focuses on the medical aspect of mental illness, such as learning which drugs treat which disorders and what dose of a drug to give to each patient. Psychological training, on the other hand, involves learning a broad range of topics that wouldn’t be included in a typical psychiatry training program. Furthermore, I-O psychologists often take specialized courses in order to qualify for work in the field of I-O Psychology, courses which wouldn’t likely be offered in a medical school setting.

Considering the training that most psychiatrists receive, Wendy wouldn’t have been exposed to the subject matter that would make her fit for a job in the field of I-O Psychology. A job as a performance coach wouldn’t even be a plausible interest for her; otherwise, she would have gone to graduate school in Psychology rather than to medical school to obtain her professional degree. Wendy being a psychiatrist makes her both overqualified and underqualified for her job at Axe Capital at the same time. First, she is overqualified in that she has acquired medical knowledge that is irrelevant to her current employment position. Second, she is underqualified in that it is highly unlikely that she would have learned the psychological principles that would be necessary for her job as a performance coach.

For most viewers, the distinction between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is probably unimportant and does not impact their enjoyment of the show in any way. Unfortunately, being a Psychology graduate student who is specializing in I-O Psychology makes this distinction highly salient to me. It is hard for me to accept the implausible scenario of a psychiatrist filling an I-O Psychology position; this occurrence would be rare at best in real life. This “flaw” in the series could have easily been avoided by simply making Wendy a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist, but I guess the writers didn’t think the issue was that important. Despite the fact that it has gotten to the point where I can barely tolerate watching Wendy on screen, I will continue to watch Billions and will try to enjoy the other aspects of the series.

For more on the problematic nature of Wendy Rhoades, visit Fiction Digest and read the following blog posts:

There Once Was a Psychiatrist in a Hedge Fund

The Wendy Rhoades Violation