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Reality TV Is a Good Thing

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Dr. Michelle Golland: With all the talk about how "bad" reality TV is -- some say it is the demise of television and our culture in general -- I wanted to share my thoughts on why I believe it can be a good thing.

woman watching tv

If reality TV is, as some say, bad for both the people on it and the people who watch it, I'd like to posit that there are some reality shows currently on that I think can be helpful in many ways.

I can still remember when Phil Donahue was on TV. When I was in high school, I was also addicted to "Oprah." These were the original "reality" shows in my mind, because what made them interesting to me was watching real people struggle with real problems, and in many cases, receive treatment for whatever issue they were facing -- whether it was an eating disorder, date rape, or drug addiction.

In fact, the first time I wanted to volunteer for a "cause" was after watching one of
Oprah's shows on the elderly and how they were so lonely while living in convalescent hospitals. I even think it was these shows that pointed me in the direction of becoming a psychologist. In viewing other people's hardships and pain, I realized my deep desire to help others who are experiencing challenging times in their lives.

Then there is the "Jerry Springer" effect. As we all know, many of us feel better about ourselves after we witness the horribly screwed-up lives of those who are on Jerry Springer's show. No matter how angry you are at your husband, at least he didn't father a child with your sister!

Some of the reality shows currently being aired that I believe are helpful to our larger consciousness as a culture include: ABC's "Supernanny," A&E's "Intervention" and their new show "Obsessed," and NBC's "Biggest Loser."

The "Supernanny" show is extremely beneficial for the families she visits and whose kids' behavioral problems she addresses. Any parent can relate in part to what these parents and children are going through. Having a child expert on national TV teaching parents how to use effective behavioral techniques is a benefit to all of those viewers as well.

"Supernanny" also confronts the parents on how inconsistency and lack of cooperation and teamwork by both parents contributes to the behavioral problems these families experience. We can all use a reminder of that in our marriage.

The shows "Intervention" and "Obsessed" bring us directly into the lives of people experiencing some of the most challenging mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. "Intervention" helps treat the people who seek help on the show and also pays for their treatment, which many of them would maybe otherwise not be able to afford. It also allows us to witness the damage inflicted on every person in an addict's life and the devastating impact on them. This show can help those who view it to realize they need help, or encourage a family member to stage their own intervention with the help of a professional, which they may never have had the courage to do until watching it on TV.

"Obsessed" is a painful display of people who have severe anxieties and are seeking treatment for them. We watch one woman as she obsessively checks in with her children about their seat belts and eventually has to pull the car over to stop a panic attack. To the viewer, the psychological pain she is causing her kids is clear. If she gets help and is successfully treated for her disorder, many lives could be saved from the imprisonment of her OCD. Again, viewing these disorders helps people identify problems in themselves and their loved ones and hopefully motivates them to seek treatment. These shows also offer a website viewers can access to get more information about treatment centers.

I admit that while watching the "Biggest Loser" I have decided not to get up and get that bowl of chocolate ice cream! Hey, that is a benefit to my bottom line, literally. But seriously, this show has inspired thousands if not millions of viewers to look at their own diet and exercise regimens in a whole new way. The show's interactive website for those also losing weight is of great benefit to people who log on and connect every day. How could that be bad?

As a mental health professional, I believe bringing these challenges and clinical disorders into the light of day -- or onto the light of our television screens -- can help a number of people suffering from similar issues and save countless individuals and families from future damage.

next: Denise Richards: Everyone Is Judgmental!
4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Monica June 12, 2009, 3:06 AM

At first when I read the title I thought what would make her think that reality shows are good? But you are right. Most people these day equate reality TV with the negative side of things. Wild, immoral, alcoholic young people looking for attention and fame on television. Many people don’t realize that on channels other than MTV, BET and VH1 that there are good reality shows that help many people understand what might be going on in their lives. We learn so much from seeing that. And with shows like Biggest Loser it nice to see good things achieved by people who needed a breaking point in their lives. Even though I didn’t watch that many episodes of the last season when I found out who won I was so happy and felt so good for what she had done. I rooted for all of them. And really no one lost in that competition.

Good article.

susan jones December 10, 2009, 11:50 AM

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Mother of Three April 7, 2010, 10:43 AM

It’s nice to see the reality of reality tv is… we get to learn a lot about problems and the solutions that are available. I agree: How can this be bad?
Now if we could just get a 24/7 Reality News Investigative Channel which tells us where the hell all the bailout money went, and what Congress does each day, talking to the Corporate Lobbyists, and tracks and updates by the Minute… the US Budget, where does all the money go?

I hope we can use the Internet and Reality TV to advance Democracy, government by all the people, not just a super wealthy minority.
Peace Out!

Fallon April 7, 2011, 9:41 AM

Thank you for your post. I am in school now for my BA in Psychology. In one of our classes we are asked to do a research paper on different topics. I chose reality tv, I want to do the good values portrayed in this type of programming; It has not been easy to find creadible sources for my point of veiw. This helps alot. Thanks.

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