Psychology Does Messed Up Celebrities No Favors

Dr. Hurd wrote the following in an article entitled, “Charlie Sheen: Madness Manifest”:

“[Charlie] Sheen is obviously some kind of nihilistic playboy who for whatever reasons now feels free to be his true self, to rant and rage as he has never done before, but has probably always wanted to do. He’s no longer encumbered by the need to distinguish between theater and actor, fantasy and reality.

People like Charlie Sheen and Brittany Spears (and don’t forget Lindsay Lohan) are professional performers. They’re much more likely to be psychological exhibitionists than nonperformers. Although being irrational does not go with the territory of being a professional performer, a certain level of exhibitionism probably does. Exhibitionism refers to the need to display or play out issues in a public domain that would normally be personal. When done rationally, performance by a talented actor can be one of the greatest human talents to behold. In an unhealthy performer, such as Charlie Sheen, the individual loses touch with the difference between theatre and reality. A rational performer gets into the mindset required to be the person he’s portraying, but he can also make the switch back to reality because the mental connection was never broken. For whatever personal reasons, some performers lose sight of that and all hell breaks loose.”


A Hostile Reader’s Response: ‘I’m a Clinical Psychologist in NYC and find your comments disturbing and unprofessional. I don’t know the man, but his behavior is not that of a ‘fool’.’ He appears to be an unmedicated person with bipolar disorder. One can theorize that he and others are exhibitionists … and to be a performer one would want to be watched, but the key ingredient is his illness … the substance abuse is self-medicating — a way to treat the bipolar — and of course, that is not a successful route in this disorder. Again, I’m disturbed that people would come to you as any kind of therapist. It seems fun for some to dismiss the celebs, but he is untreated and that’s the way a bipolar person can act. He is ill — you do not have to feel sorry for him, but you don’t have to call him names and dismiss his behavior by characterizing him as an exhibitionistic jerk.’
Dr. Hurd’s reply: Exhibitionism is a term used in the official psychiatric literature and diagnostic manuals. While it’s your opinion that this term is ‘mean’ and unprofessional while ‘bipolar disorder’ is not, you have no right to pick and choose which terms are proper and improper. If the psychiatric manual is the only basis for forming opinions about anyone, you have to at least be consistent. You cannot say, ‘Use of that psychiatric term is unprofessional, while another term is not.’

From what I have read, Charlie Sheen has been ‘treated’ many times by many different mental health and medical professionals. He hired the best ones money can buy, over and over again, like so many other Hollywood celebrities who blow their fortune on alcohol, drugs and partying. There is no basis for calling Sheen ‘untreated.’ Even if he were, would this make him a total victim? Do other people with his kinds of emotional problems act like he does, in every respect? No, they don’t. It’s insulting to imply that anyone who struggles with problems acts exactly as Charlie Sheen has acted.

You’re chastising me for calling a spade a spade, and simply stating the obvious about Charlie Sheen’s ridiculous and embarrassing behavior. If he ever becomes healthy and rational, he will look back on his behavior and call it ridiculous and embarrassing, too. I bet you’d never stop to consider how insulting you are being to the people who have Charlie Sheen’s addiction (and/or mood) problems, but don’t act the way he does. If he’s to get none of the blame for his behavior, are they to get none of the credit for their success? And what if Sheen becomes stable and reasonable some day? What if he’s interviewed by Oprah in five years and says, ‘I was just an idiot back then.’ Will he not get the credit then, since he’s to get none of the blame for his idiocy now?

It’s downright patronizing to those you deem ‘mentally ill’ to speak and act as if they have no minds, no free will, or no capacity for doing anything about their problems. Most likely, Sheen has fallen into the trap of thinking, ‘I have enough money, so I can do anything I want.’ He can hire an army of therapists, yourself included, who will be more than happy to back him up in his pretensions.

While it’s true that you can do a lot more with millions of dollars, you still have to answer to objective reality. Sheen publicly insulted his boss, lost his job over it, and has paid a price for it. If it’s all worth it to him, then maybe he’s not as irrational and bipolar as you think; maybe he had enough of his television career and he wants a break. If he does regret all that he’s lost by shooting off his mouth, you can’t blame it on lack of ‘treatment’ when he has had access to unlimited treatment, anywhere, any time, and with any provider he desires. If treatment is all that someone acting foolishly requires, then Charlie Sheen, with all his money and participation in treatment, should be a very well man by now.

I’m frankly sick of therapists like you who are never held accountable for the damage you do to individuals and society via your unproven claims. Trained seals and other animal performers are adept at mirroring back what they have been conditioned to do. When an animal does this, we applaud it as skill demonstrated by both the animal and the trainer. When a trained human professional does this, it’s less appealing and less impressive.

You, my dear therapist, are taking the lexicon and conceptualization — all of it to date theoretical, and much of it highly questionable — of the psychiatric profession and deemed selective portions of it the final word on the subject of all things behavioral, psychological and even ethical. Who died and left you the Excuse-Maker-in-Chief?

There are other ways to conceptualize behaviors than the way the psychological establishment has so far done. The mental health establishment has done a far better job of impressing itself than it has in getting actual results. Charlie Sheen is the perfect example of someone who should have benefited more than he did from the tens of thousands of dollars he has spent on repeated rehab and other snake oil you tout as self-evidently curative and useful.

Much of the time I spend providing people help is spent undoing the damage of people such as yourself, who have uncritically accepted ideas which are largely contradictory, usually do not help and often make things worse. Charlie Sheen is excellent proof of this fact. Maybe that’s why you come off as so snobby, snippy and defensive in your little diatribe.