This Emotional Life: A Review
It was good. Not perfect, not fabulously great, but really solidly good. I liked it much more than I didn't.
What I liked:
Dan Gilbert takes on a formidable task condensing tons and tons of information into a two hour segment. For Part II, called Facing Our Fears, he covered Anger, Anxiety and Depression. For each emotional problem Gilbert uses a mix of hard science with colorful graphics, celebrity testimonials and real life people to make it go down easily.
The experts Gilbert interviews are indisputable authorities, pioneers in clinical or research psychology so you can have confidence in what they say. The real life people are engaging, you care about them. Their stories and situations are believable. And there's no question it's edifying to see people like Chevy Chase talk about his depression or Katie Couric her anxiety.
Gilbert provides the basics that I think everyone should know about psychology. He educates the viewer about the neurology of behavior, what psychodynamic psychotherapy is, how it compares to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other treatments, the good side of negative emotions, and debunking myths about conditions like major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and more. All good, important stuff.
What I didn't like as much:
It's two hours long and that's long. I wonder why they didn't make it a six part series of one hour shows? There must have been some kind of marketing survey that demonstrated people were more likely to tune in if they weren't expected to do it as many times. One of Gilbert's scientists could have told him that after 90 minutes the ability to learn drops. The human brain just gets tired and starts to wander or power down.
The format is so packed with info, Gilbert had to edit what went in and what stayed out. No television program targeted to the public at large could contain everything so I've got to cut Gilbert a lot of slack. The only areas where I thought his deletions were concerning was in the explanation of brain cell changes in response to medication treatment and the description of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In both, the scientist and clinician in me protested that there were significant holes in what was reported. There's documented research that supports the hypothesis that learning, without medication, also changes neuronal structure. Also, while it is true that ECT is much more sophisticated today, and potentially effective for chronic, treatment resistant depression, it is not side-effect free.
The real life segments made me squirm a bit. While I like the makeover shows like What Not to Wear, I'm not a huge reality TV fan. Plus I might be too much a clinician to feel good about watching people in genuine, emotional pain expose themselves in such a raw, public manner. There's a point where the gains of bringing the message home with a personal touch tips into the maudlin.
The most important thing:
Despite the show's weaknesses, Gilbert and all the people involved, in front of and behind the camera, are to be commended. The strengths are solid and most importantly, the more exposure mental health issues get the better to combat the stigma of mental illness. That's an enormous service right there. Thank you, Dr. Gilbert. I'll be watching Part III, Rethinking Happiness, tonight.
What did you think? Did you see it? Did you like it? Do you agree, disagree with my assessment?