--Original published at Melissa's Blog
Filming people with mental illnesses has become a growing trend on reality TV networks. Very few networks accurately portray mental disorders, while most expose the world to false information. Another controversy regards how people with mental health disorders are treated on the shows. The people with the mental disorder should be the priority, however, some TV shows treat them unethically and cause additional stress, just to please the audience. Two highly debatable shows are Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive, which aim to improve hoarders living conditions and relationships.
One supporter of the hoarding shows is Terrence Shulman, an attorney for 22 years and a licensed certified social worker and addictions therapist. Additionally, Shulman is credible because he is the founder and director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding, is the author of several books about shoplifting, theft, and hoarding, created the support group C.A.S.A. (Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous), and is in recovery for addictive-compulsive shoplifting and stealing. In a Huffington Post interview, Shulman stated the hoarding TV shows are overall positive and effective. He thinks the shows are accurate representations of this mental health disorder because real people are being filmed. He mentions the shows have raised awareness for hoarding disorders. He also said the TV series informs the public of the causes of hoarding and how it should be treated.
Furthermore, many followers argue the shows are ethical because a practicing psychologist and professional organizer help the person with the compulsive-hoarding disorder. Dorothy Breininger, also known as Dorothy the Organizer, appeared on several hoarding episodes with psychologist Dr. Michael A. Tompkins. According to Dorothy’s website, Dr. Tompkins believes hoarders excessively buy and collect, are extremely attached to their items, have unhealthy, cluttered living conditions, and are significantly distressed or have an ailment. Dorothy supports the HARM Reduction Technique Dr. Tompkins uses on the show, which focuses on reducing the risks associated with hoarding and improving quality of life. Tompkins prefers the HARM Reduction method, rather than treatment, which has the goal of completely stopping the hoarding behaviors, because most hoarders rarely seek help and often refuse treatment. Although hoarders frequently resent treatment, they still need assistance because they are living in dangerous environments. Additionally, Tompkins argues HARM reduction is more effective than treatment because it involves hoarders’ families and communities, who are also at risk. Lastly, Tompkins emphasizes forcing treatment on resistant hoarders can lead to dislike and mistrust.
Dorothy is credible because she is the best-selling author of five books, appears in several TV shows and magazines, owns three companies, is a former national board member and Los Angeles President of the National Association of Professional Organizers, is actively involved in the Institute of Challenging Disorganization, and is a renowned international organization speaker. Dr. Tompkins has impressive credentials: he is a behavioral and cognitive psychologist, the co-director of the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, a founding member of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, a trainer and consultant for the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior, and the author or co-author of several scholarly articles, chapters and books. Dr. Tompkins’s credentials and experience strengthens his argument to use HARM Reduction to combat hoarding, rather than treatment.
Contrary, Anna Almendrala’s article, “Hoarding Reality Shows Might Do More Harm Than Good,” disputes televising this mental disorder. Almendrala believes a majority of the audience are uneducated about hoarding disorders and watch the shows to enjoy a home makeover. She is supported by the British Psychological Society’s belief that the purpose of these shows is to entertain the audience, rather than help the person with the compulsive hoarding disorder. Almendrala also cites Randy Frost, the author of the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding And The Meaning Of Things, who emphasizes removing the clutter is only a temporary solution and will eventually lead to relapse. Almendrala argues the hoarding TV shows are ineffective because hoarders need long-term treatment, so they can gradually overcome and cope with their mental illness. Almendrala’s article is credible because she is a senior reporter for the Huffington Post, and references psychologists, psychology organizations, and authors of hoarding books to support her argument against the accuracy of the hoarding TV shows.
Another critic of televised hoarding is Scott Helman, whose article, “Where the TV Shows Get it Wrong on Hoarding,” discusses how non-clinical hoarding organizations are more effective than TV shows at treating hoarding disorders. Helman’s focal reference was Jesse Edsell-Vetter, a man who inspected Boston housing and had to evict residence for hoarding. Edsell-Vetter created a hoarding intervention program, based on cognitive behavioral therapy and intensive case management to help hoarders who are in danger of being evicted. Edsell-Vetter forms relationships with these people and their families, talks about their hoarding behaviors, personally helps clean and organize their homes, and monitors them to prevent relapse. Helman supports Edsell-Vetter’s gradual and realistic method for helping hoarders. Edsell-Vetter finds hoarding shows harmful because someone’s mental health condition should not be used for pleasure and entertainment. He argues it is stressful, violating, and destructive to force a hoarder to immediately dispose of all their valuable possessions. Also, he believes the hoarders on the shows often regress because they received no follow up care.
Helman also cites Randy Frost and Lee Shuer, who created Buried in Treasures, a 16-week program for hoarders, led by hoarders, and is based on cognitive behavioral therapy. Helman explained the workshops are more beneficial and successful than the TV shows because the current hoarders are comforted and motivated by those in recovery. Overall, Helman is against hoarding shows because they disrespect and mistreat the people with the disorder and are only used to make money and amuse the public.
Scott Helman’s article is trustworthy because it was published on the Boston Globe newspaper, he is an author of two books, and his team were finalists for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting for investigating the Massachusetts mental health care system, thus, he is educated in mental health disorders. Additionally, Helman included credible references, Jesse Edsell-Vetter, Lee Shuer, and Randy Frost, who was also cited by Anna Almendrala.
After researching, I am against the controversial shows, Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive, but I agree with some of the supporting arguments. I understand Dr. Tompkins uses the HARM Reduction approach because hoarders are likely to refuse treatment if they are in denial or are skeptical, however, he ignores the need for long-term care. Hoarders need persistent care, not an instantaneous home make-over, which Dr. Tompkins defends. The prompt clean-outs disregard the meaning behind the clutter, thus, causing the hoarders anxiety and distress. This can intimidate hoarders in the audience and make them reluctant to get help for themselves. Additionally, other convincing points are the shows raise awareness for the disorder and accurately represent the dangerous living conditions and relationship struggles hoarders experience. Although this is true, I think most audience members are ignorant of this mental health condition and solely watch the show for enjoyment. Also, the shows only portray extreme cases of hoarding, and ignore less sever stages, to entertain the audience. I think the TV producers and cast are more concerned with their ratings than the hoarders’ well-being, due to a lack of follow-ups or monitoring after the show has aired.
Mental health conditions should not be used for entertainment and pleasure. Often, people with mental health disorders need long-term treatment to make any progress. Thus, barging into a hoarder’s home and forcing them to throw away their meaningful belongings is an inappropriate way to help. Instead, I think it is most beneficial for hoarders to receive care from recovering hoarders who have gone through similar situations. This connection will motivate the current hoarder and give them someone to look up to. If this service is not easily accessible, hoarders need long-term aid from an experienced professional. During recovery, the hoarder and professional should from a relationship, go through the clutter together, slowly and gradually, and discuss the underlining cause of the hoarding, like Jesse Edsell-Vetter in Scott Helman’s article. The TV shows are unethical because they provide the public with inaccurate and inefficient treatment strategies for compulsive-hoarding, dismiss how traumatizing the show is for the person, and misrepresents how they feel.