Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Should Psychologists Be on Reality Shows?

Perhaps psychologists should just say no to reality TV.

Dr. Drew, Dr. Phil, among others, started a fast growing tread of mental health professionals working with actual clinical patients on TV. Now Bravo is about to launch a new reality show entitled, LA Shrinks that places two psychologists and a marriage and family therapist into the reality television world. The show not only provides a view into the professional clinical practices of three Beverly Hills psychotherapists but also highlights the often highly dysfunctional personal lives of these professionals. After watching the trailer for the new show (see it for yourself at www.brovotv.com/la-shrinks) one has to wonder if the therapists have more severe mental health, behavioral, and relationship troubles than their clients. The show begs the question, should psychologists be on reality TV?

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From an ethical point of view psychologists (and other mental health professionals) must be sure that their patients are never exploited or deceived. Patients must have full and informed consent and must be provided with both state-of-the-art and evidenced-based professional practice. They also have a responsibility to follow five critical virtues that include respect, responsibility, integrity, competence, and concern for others that is well highlighted in the ethics codes among the various mental health professionals.

Since effective psychotherapy depends upon confidentiality, privacy, and the trust of and belief in the professional provider, it seems hard to justify psychologists participating in reality show therapy. The risks of exploitation seem just too high. Additionally, there are many negative unintended consequences that are likely to unfold with reality TV therapy as well. Finally, many of the professionals who participate in these shows are not licensed mental health professionals at all and are thus being deceptive about their credentials. For example, in the new Bravo show, only two of the three featured therapists currently have a license to practice as mental health professionals in California. Dr. Phil is not licensed in California where he lives and works and Dr. Drew is an internal medicine doctor ... neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. 

Sadly, too often the lure of fame, fortune, and publicity can quickly trump good ethical decision making and behavior. While reasonable and thoughtful people may disagree about the participation of mental health professionals on reality TV I for one suggest that they should avoid these programs. Sometimes it is in the best interest of both clients and therapists to keep therapy and the personal lives of both clients and providers confidential. While reality TV might be entertaining for some it likely makes for very poor therapy and with both clients and their therapists being exploited.

So, what do you think? Should psychologists be on reality TV?

 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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