Last month I wrote on my Facebook wall "that hoarding show on TLC is both horrifying and fascinating". From the quick responses to my post, it is clear that I am not the only one feeling this way. Therefore, I was really interested in stories recently posted on the TIME website discussing how these types of shows can be harmful for the individuals that are featured.
There have been a slew of reality TV shows focused on staging interventions with individuals with a variety of mental illnesses/addictive behaviors. Some examples are "Hoarding: Buried Alive" (TLC), "Hoarders" (A & E), "Intervention" (A & E), and "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" (VH1). In one TIME article called "For Hoarders and Addicts, Drama is Trauma- Not Therapy", the author presents the argument that the needs of the mentally ill and addicts are the exact opposite of the formula of successful reality TV shows. Recovery for these individuals takes time and empathy and reality TV shows are looking for conflict and quick fixes within the hour allotted.
In all fairness (since I haven't seen all the reality shows in this category), I must say they are not all created equal. For example, A & E "Hoarders" seems to be much more of quick fix with cleaning crews clearing out houses over a two day period (which is very traumatic for the owners). In contrast, TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive" cleans out over a longer period and the individuals are more active participants/leaders in their own clean out. With the TIME article noting that effective clean outs for hoarding are a year on average, you have to wonder about the trauma of being confronted on camera about your "abnormal" behavior and then forced through a quick clear out. Also, the behavior of hoarding (or drinking or drug use) is usually just the tip of the ice berg, as it is a symptom of a larger problem. For example, I recently watched one episode of "Hoarders" where the woman shared that she began hoarding after surviving childhood sexual abuse. The therapist assigned to her clean out said "let's not talk about that right now". Therefore, I wonder about the long term repercussions of bringing out these emotions and not providing individuals with the support they need.
On the other hand, there could be potential positive outcomes from these individuals being featured on such a reality show. The primary outcome that I think of is access to resources. Many of the families/individuals featured are in great financial peril (often as a result of the money needed to continue with their addictions). The show is able to link them up with leading experts in their condition, offer ongoing care, assist them with legal concerns, etc. It remains to be seen whether these positives outweigh potential dangers.