I almost forgot how nuts US TV got. Then I watched “The OCD project”. When I stumbled across a clip I thought it was just a charlie brookeresque satirical skit on quackery but on closer inspection it’s actually real. This program is different however, it’s so bad it’s good. In the show MTV’s Dr. David Tolin takes a group of individuals with OCD and has them “face their fears” complete with a pounding heartbeat sound track and enough “24” style video editing to convince you the show is pure fiction. On first appearances it would be fair to assume the method of treating OCD presented in the show would quite easily turn the most cool-headed of people into raving lunatics. Interestingly however it appears the methods used by Tolin are relatively effective.
Tolin begins by taking a woman with an irrational fear of running over children with her car (admittedly that’s a bit of an understatement) and has her drive around in a carpark while he runs around with handfuls of toy babies throwing them at her wind-shield.
Next our friendly doctor decides to confront a fellow patient’s fear of murdering people by having the man clutch a knife to his (Tolin’s) throat before a bizarre scene where they are introduced to a man with HIV. In the following scene Tolin takes one of the women out to french kiss petrol pumps to desensitise her to her fear of contamination.
After this a pair of the patients are arrested, have their hand prints and DNA taken and are thrown in jail in a scene that would make even Stanley Milgram wince. In the meantime the remaining members of the group take a bath together in a jacuzzi infused with urine. The show closes with the doctor organising a mock funeral for the son of a woman who has an obsessive fear that she will kill her son.
The wonderful thing about this show is how blissfully unaware it’s participant’s seem of it’s truly monumental irony. It successfully parodies every single US stereotype. Beginning with the US hockey mum with questionable driving ability riding her kids to school in a borderline monster truck 4X4, swiftly moving on to oil addiction and finishing with the prison industrial complex and stockholm syndrome. The cherry on the cake is the perfect demonstration of the ambulance chasing, wallet raiding image we have of the US medical profession, apparently confirmed under 20,000 volts of Hollywood stage lights. This is a perfectly stage managed festival of irony that will leave you thinking about far more wider issues than OCD. On the other hand I’m sure this show has trailers rocking up and down across America with rednecks howling with laughter at the “*insert curse interspersed sequence of pejorative terms here*” but personally that’s not what I got out of it, though there’s no denying it makes for amusing TV. So either this is a masterpiece of stupidity, a masterpiece of genius or the producers are just trolling.
I’m aware I haven’t given any kind of critical review of the therapy here, that can be for another day (or someone else, any psychotherapist bloggers up for a challenge?). Tolin’s therapy itself actually seems vaguely reasonable, it’s just the cringeworthy nightmarish delivery that will have you squirming in your seat. In fairness to Tolin, I’m fairly sure that’s far more MTV’s fault than Tolin’s; but hey, I doubt any one ever expected Jerry Springer to solve their relationship. On first appearances it at least seems that he’s achieved far more than that. It will be interesting to see how well supported the initial open-trial findings are supported in the long term.
Gilliam CM, Diefenbach GJ, Whiting SE, & Tolin DF (2010). Stepped care for obsessive-compulsive disorder: An open trial. Behaviour research and therapy, 48 (11), 1144-9 PMID: 20728075
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