What Kind of Doctor is Harley Quinn? | CBR

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Today, we look at how the comic books can’t seem to keep straight whether Harley Quinn is a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

This is “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” a feature spotlighting notable examples of retcons that don’t fit into the framework of Abandoned an’ Forsaked, which is specifically about stories that outright “overturn” older stories. There are many examples of “retroactive continuity” that do not actively abandon the works of the past (especially cases where the overall continuity was rebooted). Some of them are minor, some of them are major, all of them are interesting enough to me that I figure that they are worth writing about.

Recently, Lauryn Ipsum had a viral tweet taking comic books to task for how Harley Quinn is depicted in the comics. She wrote…

From Psychology.org, here is a quick bit explaining the differences, as well:

People often use the terms “psychiatrist” and “psychologist” interchangeably — an easy mistake to make if you are not familiar with the field. Both professionals treat patients struggling with mental health on a one-on-one basis. However, there is quite a bit of difference between the two professions when it comes to their education, training, and scope of practice.

So, what is the difference between psychology and psychiatry? Read on to explore the similarities and differences between the two disciplines and determine which career path is right for you.

What is Psychology?The study of the mind, emotions, and behavior, psychology was considered a branch of philosophy before becoming an independent discipline in the mid-1800s. Psychology students examine the cognitive and social factors that influence people’s actions and reactions. Psychologists employ a variety of therapeutic techniques to help patients heal from trauma and improve their mental health.

What is Psychiatry?Psychiatry is a branch of medicine focused on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. The term literally means the “medical treatment of the soul.” Like psychologists, psychiatrists use psychotherapy to help clients. However, they also understand how biology factors into a person’s mental health and how to treat mental illness with medication.

Now, I won’t front, I was originally going to do this as a “How Can I Explain?”, which is a feature spotlighting inexplicable comic book plots, but you know what, with the way that DC changes continuity all of the time, how can I possibly begrudge anyone being inconsistent on this point, especially when you’ll see how Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti made a clever decision in the New 52 to basically evade the point, making it even murkier than it ever was before.

Then again, that makes some sense, considering it was quite murky right from the start!

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The original origin of Harley, from the cartoon continuity, occurred in Batman Adventures: Mad Love by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, and in this origin, Harley is both studying to be a psychologist…

but also went through medical school, in which case she’d be a psychiatrist…

So right from the get go, it was a confusing situation.

Harley was brought to the DC Universe at the end of the 1990s, making her official debut in Batman: Harley Quinn (by Paul Dini, Yvel Guichet and Aaron Sowd), where we learn that she was doing her residency at Arkham Asylum, so she was clearly a psychiatrist…

She also mentions going to medical school in the issue.

That origin is confirmed in Harley Quinn #5 (by Karl Kesel, Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson), where we see that she was a first-year intern at Arkham Asylum…

When having her origin recounted, we learn that she had her medical license revoked, which, again, would only occur if she was a psychiatrist

But then, suddenly, in Harley Quinn #8, Kesel and artists Pete Woods and Mark Lipka, are recounting the PSYCHOLOGY bit from Mad Love, just adapted to the DC Universe….

By the way, I don’t get the reasoning behind making it that she faked her way through her schooling. Wouldn’t it be better if she really WAS brilliant and just twisted rather than a dummy who cheated her way through school?

With Harley Quinn #26, A. J. Lieberman, Mike Huddleston and Troy Nixey did a new, super-serious take on Harley Quinn, and here they were VERY explicit in noting that she was, in fact, a psychiatrist…

Nothing really outright conflicted this over the years, although obviously not everyone literally referenced stuff one way or the other.

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With the New 52 upon us, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti came up with a new origin for Harley in, appropriately enough, Secret Origin #4 (with art by Stephane Roux and Brett Smith). Here, they cleverly just sort of glossed over her education, while still making it pretty clear that she was, in fact, a psychiatrist

However, they don’t OUTRIGHT say it, and they leave open the room that, hey, maybe she’s a psychologist after all.

When DC Rebirth happened, Conner and Palmiotti relaunched Harley Quinn’s comic book series and they repeated their earlier new origin in Harley Quinn #1 (art by Chad Hardin and Alex Sinclair)…

Again, though, while it is PRETTY clear that she is a psychiatrist, it is not EXPLICIT.

So therefore, when Stephanie Phillips revealed that Harley was a psychologist in the recent Harley Quinn #2 (art by Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia)…

It is not really fair to say that it was a mistake, because really, Conner and Palmiotti left open a lot of room for where you could read Harley as being a psychologist (even if it pretty clear that she is not).

I assume some industrial fan can come up with a theory where Harley graduates college early, gets her psychology PhD and THEN goes to medical school. It’s theoretically possible, I guess, but doesn’t really fit into her timeline well.

Okay, folks, feel free to suggest more examples of this sort of thing! Obscure ones, famous ones, whatever! Send your suggestions to brianc@cbr.com!

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