Are Shows Like Obessed and The OCD Project a Good Thing?

picture of an OCD action figure in plastic

Asserting value judgments on what kind of entertainment is “good” or “bad” can become problematic. It’s unclear who is serving who sometimes — the faceless industry that sedates the public with asinine bullshit or the faceless public that tunes in hungry for more? A&E’s Obsessed and VH1′s The OCD Project are pseudo-documentary reality programs that follow individuals battling addiction and anxiety disorders, much like Intervention. Although the intentions of professionals, family members, and friends within the series’ appear genuine, their undoubtedly voyeuristic quality summon the question, “should the process of recovery be on national television?”

When watching Obsessed and The OCD Project, the stories of the individuals involved are HEARTBREAKING. Both shows put the individuals in stressful situations to help them overcome their worst, and sometimes intensely irrational, fears. For example, The OCD Project‘s Kristen has one of the most severe cases of OCD on the show. She compulsively washes her hands (often scrubbing for 6 hours in one day) and has a deep fear of men’s restrooms. Early on in the show, we learn that Kristen was repeatedly sexually abused as a child. Dr. David Tolin, who leads the intensive recovery program, had the six cast members distribute meal coupons to homeless individuals and insisted that they shake hands.

Kristen had a very difficult time, but she was eventually able to do it.  Personally, I thought the whole interaction was fascinating. (Episode 3 if you wanna check it out.)

And yes, on a train-wrecky side of the house, watching these people struggling with such serious psychological afflictions is fascinating.  However, my inclination is that there is something lost. Addiction is VERY complicated, and the path to recovery depicted in mainstream programming simply does not reflect the long, hard, unpaved road for many people. Aside from the reductive spins on what OCD is, these shows don’t address the numerous economic and social factors that can stand in the way of someone’s recovery. These shows don’t address the broader social patterns that can encourage addiction and inhibit recovery. The OCD Project narrows in on the individuals themselves, literally trying to remove them from the context of their disorder. And here you have, Exhibit A. I am not saying that such measures may or may not be necessary for recovery, but I am saying that the way the story is told on television is not “real.”

What do you think?  Do you think that television and cinema often downplay the seriousness of a psychological matter in order for ratings?  Do you think that such public exposure of said matters often desensitizes people to the real effects of the problem?  Moreover, do you think publicizing such things creates a paranoid society where everyone diagnoses themselves with sometimes-dangerous mental problems?

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7 thoughts on “Are Shows Like Obessed and The OCD Project a Good Thing?

  1. I rarely watch TV and generally don’t care for reality TV, but after this article I am definitely going to find time to watch this stuff.

  2. I think the issue here is exploitation. I admit, I DVR Obsessed and Intervention. As a person who has been affected by an anxiety disorder, I find these shows intriguing. It is nice to know there are others out there struggling and it is great to see them succeed. Yes, sometimes I think, “Wow, my life is in fine perspective. These people got it bad.”

    However, The OCD project is a different animal. This show puts people with OCD together in a house and subjects them to exposure therapy. For may people with OCD, even leaving their house causes severe anxiety. It’s difficult to explain, but I feel the A & E shows really have their hearts in the right place, while VH1 is treating these people like freaks. Maybe it has something to do with VH1′s reality show track record. They have a knack for putting total shit on the air, where A&E doesn’t. Unless you count Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

  3. I like being able to see people overcome their problems and be happy, but I don’t think I would trust vh1 to really be sensitive to the deeper psychological issues that need to dealt with.

  4. This is an issue that fascinates me. I’m a therapist intern working towards licensure and something that we struggle with in the therapy field is the idea of “vending machine therapy” that people get from watching shows like Dr. Phil and the above-mentioned reality shows. People come to therapy and expect it to be quick and/or easy because that’s how it is on T.V. I put my dollar in, I get my answer right away, I walk away cured. “Reality” shows often don’t get across how multi-layered serious pathologies, like OCD, are and how much time it takes to address each layer that contributes to the disorder.

    On the other hand, I like that shows like these get awareness out there and touches people that may be struggling with similar problems and may not know what’s “wrong” with them. If shows like these encourage people to seek treatment that normal wouldn’t, then that’s great. So, I’m split on the issue.

  5. i think that show will be good for people to see for one reason: most people say “i wash my hands all the time. i totally have OCD haha” which is annoying because that is NOT ocd at all. so maybe now people will understand the disorder more.

    on the other hand, the show dramatizes ocd (with creepy music and zoomed in camera angles). while it is dramatic, time consuming and often times overwhelming, most (if not all) people with OCD are functioning members of society. most people would not even guess that they have the disorder. these people aren’t crazy or dumb or insane. they just have a little chemical imbalance in their brains that causes odd behavior and to make an entire reality tv show is just going to overplay and exploit a private problem that millions deal with.

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  7. After I originally commented I appear to have clicked the
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