Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Radio Psychiatry

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Radio Psychiatry

Article excerpt

Many of our patients put stock in call-in radio shows featuring mental health professionals who help callers talk through their problems. Is any kind of meaningful treatment possible in such forums? Do these shows have any value for patients?

Psychoeducation, Not Therapy

It is nearly impossible to do any kind of meaningful treatment on a radio talk show, but there certainly is room to provide meaningful psychoeducation and to steer people in the direction of appropriate treatment while guarding them from harmful or ineffective treatments.

Radio show hosts who try to do what seems like therapy are fooling themselves, their callers, and their listeners if they think they have sufficient information to say anything of specific therapeutic value. People who call in looking for therapy often overidentify themselves as victims. They discuss how poorly they've been treated and seek pity from hosts and listeners. Many radio therapists reinforce this vision, which can prove harmful.

During the 6 years I spent as a radio talk show host, I marveled at the very idiosyncratic treatments that people seemed to be getting for problems such as mood and anxiety disorders. People with chronic depression or bipolar disorder would call in and say that their doctors were treating them with high doses of psychostimulants in the morning and high doses of anxiolytics such as benzodiazepines at night; other doctors were inappropriately prescribing opioid medicines to improve the patient's moods. A knowledgeable talk show host can identify such treatment as unusual, suboptimal, and potentially dangerous.

When I was on the radio, people would call about their own problems or those of friends or family members. My standard mantra would be to acknowledge the person's concerns and say that I could not comment specifically on his case without having more history than was possible to get over the phone. What I could do was address the general approach to the issue. I might mention which medications are better or worse for the condition they had mentioned, or steer callers to resources for treatment in their communities. I also could address advocacy issues if it appeared that the caller or his friend or relative was not receiving adequate care. Good radio therapists can take the general issue that the caller is talking about, discuss it intelligibly, and be a voice against the misinformation generated in society about psychiatry and psychiatric disorders and treatments.

Joseph Deltito, M.D.

Greenwich, Conn.

Putting a Finger on Adolescent Issues

My own show runs weekly on a local station with a hip-hop format. My cohost, Damian Montez (a disc jockey), and I take live calls on Sunday nights. Typically, we field calls from adolescents and young adults.

Questions and concerns generally focus on dating, sex, family discord, and substance abuse. In exploring the caller's concerns and difficulties, I am very conscious of the tension between my own desire to make a difference to the individual caller and my hope that the exploration of the caller's concerns will provide insight and stimulate others who are listening to a creative response to their own problems.

Psychiatry needs to pay more attention to the public sources on human suffering. Live radio is an excellent format to make the relationships among social development, power, and gender roles more explicit. For the adolescent listener, I believe that the show can be therapeutic by helping to build a sense of community and putting its finger on the experiences that can prove so alienating and discouraging for those without strong healing rituals and structures available to them.

James Sorrell, M.D.

Omaha, Neb.

Dr. Fink replies:

I'm always amazed at how easy it seems for people to tell their deepest secrets to an unseen anonymous voice at the other end of the phone line with the knowledge that thousands, sometimes millions, of radio listeners are tuned in to the expose. …

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