Exposure Therapy in the Media: Does "The OCD Project" Promote Negative Beliefs About Exposure Therapy?

Miller, Lindsay Mae
Exposure therapy, an empirically-supported technique that is commonly employed in psychological treatments for anxiety disorders, is a relatively recent media phenomenon and was featured in the reality television show "The OCD Project," in which a group of OCD patients lived together and received exposure therapy from a prominent psychologist. In programs such as this, the therapy depicted is sensationalistic and extreme, forcing participants to emotional breakdowns and to quit therapy. While this makes for entertaining reality television, the effects are largely unknown. In this study, one group of participants watched "The OCD Project" and another watched "Big Brother". Both groups then completed questionnaires which assessed how much they endorsed negative beliefs about exposure therapy in general and about the therapy if they were diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and were to receive it. Both groups endorsed comparable beliefs about Exposure Therapy in general. However, those who watched "The OCD Project" reported fewer negative self-related beliefs about exposure therapy. These results show that, despite the melodramatic presentation, reality programs about exposure discourage negative beliefs about exposure therapy. This knowledge is an important foundation for the dissemination of exposure therapy to the public, making reality television an aid rather than a hindrance.
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