I have a confession to make. I love watching Dr. Drew. (If there’s anyone left out there who doesn’t know, Dr. Drew is Drew Pinsky, MD, a noted addiction medicine specialist and faculty member at USC’s medical school. Whether he’s being interviewed on CNN or appearing on his VH1 shows Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew or its spinoffs Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew or Sober House, it seems like the ubiquitous Dr. Drew has become America’s favorite doctor.
And I think that’s great.
Of course, I’m aware that plenty of my colleagues in the mental health field may disagree with me. They’re concerned about the exploitation of addicts and conflicts of interest, and I understand those concerns. I’m not saying they aren’t valid, but I think the value that he brings to millions of American households far outweighs them.
A big problem remains
Let’s face it: Despite years of medical and psychiatric advances, as Dr. Oldham pointed out in a previous post, a considerable amount of stigma remains. That’s a big problem because we know stigma often prevents many people who need help from getting it and we all feel its effects whether we recognize them or not.
Thanks to Dr. Drew and others like him–think Dr. Phil and the good folks at Intervention among them–millions of people, especially young people, get to see what treatment and therapy and rehab are all about. It may not always be pretty, but it’s definitely a trip. On display on just about any episode: tears, anger, fear, destructive behavior, gut-wrenching confessions, isolation and loneliness, shame, aggression and other not-quite-so-pleasant experiences.
You know what else makes for great television drama? All those other things viewers get to see as well: hope newly discovered, the recognition and acknowledgement that sobriety feels good, honesty, joy, contentment and peace, self-acceptance, forgiveness–not just of others but of oneself, too–strength, the power of relationships, along with other wonderful and wondrous emotions and discoveries.
A public service
Each episode amounts to what I consider a public service. Showcasing real people, even if they are celebrities (yes, even B-list celebrities), with very real and significant problems demonstrates that that lots of other people have to deal with similarly tough issues that viewers at home may be facing. Demystifying the process that gets addicts and others with mental illness from A to Z opens the door for people to feel free to seek help. There’s no doubt in my mind that stigma related to addiction and mental illness is reduced as a result.
You’ve probably heard the saying “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” Isn’t it time we applied the same concept to stigma? By coming clean about mental illness and addiction, whether in the privacy of our homes or on national television, we have the chance, like the celebrities on Dr. Drew’s shows, to prove to ourselves and to others that healing and wholeness are indeed possible.
I ♥ Dr. Drew for showing us the way.
(For those who might be interested in learning more about Dr. Drew, I recommend this recent article from the New York Times Magazine.)
Editor’s note: For more on why Dr. Oxford ♥ Dr. Drew, see part 2 of her post.