Most people who write about adoption blogged about the television series Find My Family back in November when the show first aired. Obviously, I'm late to the party. But it's taken me time to sort through my reaction to the series, which returns this year: I am officially ambivalent.
My ambivalence has nothing to do with adoption. It has to do with reality shows. Admittedly, I felt less ambivalent about WEtv's reality series, Adoption Diaries, after interviewing Dr. Jennifer Bliss of the Independent Adoption Center who worked to match the birth mothers with the right families for the shows. "Whatever was caught on camera, great, but it was never to be at the expense of the birthmother or threaten the integrity of the process," she said, much to my relief. You can read my interview with Dr. Bliss here. For the record, I would have liked to have interviewed someone from Find My Family, but no one responded to my request.
According to ABC's website: "Each episode is full of moving moments and tears of joy, when mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who lost touch for decades are reunited. First we learn the emotional back stories of each family in search of lost relatives. Then with minimal information, the Find My Family team begins the difficult and often frustrating process of sifting through archives and tracking down records until they uncover the missing links."
When I was in graduate school one of the first concepts I learned was of the client driving the clinical session. In other words, although the client seeks therapy it doesn't necessarily mean he or she is ready for what may come up—immediately or latently—as the work in therapy begins. A therapist is trained never to push a client to go to an emotional depth beyond the client's emotional readiness-or capability. The discovery—recovery—of family is only the beginning of a journey. Do the television producers understand this, too?
I wondered what someone who examines the media thought about shows like this, so I asked Rachel Weingarten, a pop culture and trends expert.
"In general I have tremendous issues with the plethora of so called reality TV series," Weingarten said. "This industry that feeds off of this need and creates programs that don't protect or nurture these individual's potentially fragile mental or emotional states but rather exploit them for ratings and then cut them loose.
"I'm troubled by human suffering as entertainment, so the promise or premise of a show providing an orchestrated (usually) joyous family reunion, for me at least is tempered by the knowledge that there are producers and an entire behind-the-scenes network of individuals manipulating every element," Weingarten added. "The shows have the budget and the power to bring families together but once the cameras stop rolling lose interest in the result-unless a reunion or results show is on the schedule."
Bottom line: The individual's needs—not only to reconcile but that arise from the reconciliation—should be, always, the priority. I'm not so sure the reality format is the right venue to protect that interest.