"Queer Eye" Teaches People to Face Their Fears
The Fab Five show viewers that the key to reducing anxiety is ending avoidance.
Posted April 12, 2019
Mental health professionals understand the need to provide the public with compassionate, accurate information that reaches beyond traditional therapy settings. Whether we like it or not, many people get mental health information from TV and movies. When mental health depictions are poorly done, they perpetuate stigma and misconceptions. It’s rare to see a TV show embrace scientifically-consistent therapy principles and deliver them in a compelling manner. Yet, Netflix’s Queer Eye manages to do just that.
Queer Eye is framed as a makeover show where five men (The Fab Five) help people improve their lives through advice on culture, cooking, appearance, self-care, and living spaces. They help a diverse range of people who share the commonality of being stuck in some way. There’s Joey, who hasn’t fully stepped into adulthood following addiction recovery and Jess, who keeps people at a distance after being rejected by her family for being gay. Rob, Jody, and Thomas are all grieving the loss of loved ones, and Tony’s severe procrastination has kept him from preparing for a baby that’s on the way. Queer Eye breaks the makeover show mold by helping people the way competent therapists do—they foster self-acceptance and instill confidence while firmly encouraging people to face their fears and move forward.
In every episode, the Fab Five help people through this formula:
- One of the Fab Five discloses that they've had similar struggles to the person they’re helping, which leads to a frank, empathic discussion about their problems. Then, the Fab Five raise awareness about the way that avoidance has harmed the person's life (this builds motivation for change) while providing tools for fixing it (this builds confidence in the ability to change).
- Next, they point out the person's strengths in an authentic, personalized manner and lovingly embrace them. The Fab Five communicate to the person that their inherent worthiness means they should make their lives better immediately instead of waiting for some unknown future time when things are different or they feel more deserving.
- Then, they encourage the person to start changing with the expectation that the momentum will follow. This is contrary to the commonly-held belief that people must wait to feel motivated before enacting change. Crucially, the Fab Five start the change process with small steps that have a high likelihood of success. For example, they helped Tony assemble a crib to break his procrastination cycle, and this propelled him to do other baby preparation tasks.
- The Fab Five also create behavioral experiments to test fears. A clear example is in the case of Thomas, who was restricting his interpersonal interactions to online gaming. The Fab Five made arrangements for him to socialize in-person with a group who shared his interests. At first, he was nervous that he would make a negative impression. Almost immediately, he walked away from the group and back to the Fab Five to share his fears. They sent him back so that he could experience exposure to the feared situation. With time, his anxiety decreased, and he started enjoying himself. He left with the realization that his fears were exaggerated and an inclination to socialize more in the future.
- When the episodes conclude, the Fab Five set the realistic expectation that the person will have to persist with a proactive approach to maintain their gains. One good week with them isn't curative, but rather, a jump-start to acting skillfully and ending avoidance. One criticism of this otherwise excellent show is that they don't explicitly recommend therapy to every person they help. Many people on the show struggle with mental health issues (e.g., depression) and would benefit from ongoing professional support.
Queer Eye is a sweet, charming show that shares what we know about managing anxiety from a scientifically-informed, therapeutic perspective with the public.