--Original published at Bailey PSY 105 Blog
Mental illness is a controversial and often tabooed subject which has recently come to light in several popular TV shows such as Hoarding:Buried Alive. Though these shows can offer the general public an insight into how these mental illness effect the personal and professional relationships of the individuals dealing with them, I believe these shows are inherently disrespectful and unethical. In addition to this, the shows provoke unnecessary stereotypes and beliefs which exploit the people struggling with these mental illnesses and do not help them to get any better.
Regardless of whether or not the shows are ethical, there have been success stories of people who have gotten better and overcame their mental illness because of the show Hoarding: Buried Alive. Chris, a 46 year old Navy veteran was unable to have others enter his home, including his longtime girlfriend Annie. Chris felt he was unable to de-clutter his house or throw out anything he did not need because of the slight chance he may desperately need it in the future. Chris began meeting one-on-one with a cognitive-behavioral therapist in his home (funded by the show), in which the therapists worked with him to examine his thoughts and feelings about his possessions in order to help him distinguish whether he should save or discard them. By the end of the episode, Chris had made strides in decluttering his house and was able to begin to confront the idea of entertaining guests in his townhouse. Because of the attention and resources Chris received through the show, he was able to reform connections with those in his life he had lost touch with (such as his brother). In this sense, the show plays an imperative role in the future success of individuals suffering from mental disorders and compulsions leading to things such as hoarding. This source is credible because it is unbiased, and simply recounts one of the episodes of the show.
While the show does face much controversy, hoarding expert Marilyn Tomfohrde thinks the show gives, “an honest reputation of the condition.” Tomfohrde believes hoarders with less severe issues can view the show and be inspired to begin a de-cluttering project in their own home. She also believes the show gives an insight as to how frustrating a hoarding situation can be for all involved, and how desperate people become to solve it. She believes the TV show documents how desperate people are for help, and how the general public as a community need to realize how prevalent the issue of hoarding is for so many people. I believe this source is credible, but it does not explicitly state the TV show being either explicitly bad or explicitly good. It was difficult to find evidence of the show being ethical, so this website is more of a pro/con list which evaluates both sides of the argument.
Though some view the show in a positive light and it does help some people to overcome their emotional and psychological issues, there are far more who believe the show is exploitive and has a negative impact on the community as a whole. Licensed professional counselor Debbie Stanley believes the show over dramatizes the condition, and represents the victims of compulsive hoarding disorder as having little to no insight into their condition. She also believes it is a disservice to the condition and to those suffering from it to publicize it being cured simply by cleaning out the clutter. Stanley states stripping away a person’s coping mechanism (their clutter) before giving the appropriate therapeutic treatment is cruel and usually results in more severe degree of hoarding. I believe this source is accurate and reliable because it is written through testimonials given by licensed and highly educated psychologists and therapists, and they are able to give a professional insight into the show and the condition itself.
In the Huffington Post article on the ethical merits of the show, Anna Almendrala states her opinion of the show doing more harm than good. She provides a quote from author Randy Frost who says, “The shows promote the idea of arriving at a house with a cleaning crew and pressuring people to discard possessions is the way to solve the problem.” As stated previously by Debbie Stanley, this forced clean-out without the supplemental therapy can be detrimental to the psychological health of the parties involved. Because people who suffer from a hoarding disorder are likely to have experienced a traumatic event in their past, many critics of the show also believe it discourages seeking the root of the problem, and instead provides a temporary fix or a band aid to cover it from the view of the public. This means the individual suffering from the condition is still struggling from the consequences of their disorder and is not given help or resources for the underlying trauma they experienced. I believe this source is accurate because it provides testimony from both the positive and negative views of the show in an attempt to eliminate bias.