September 4th, 2007
Yesterday I had over 25 emails and phone messages from journalists wanting me to comment on the mental state of several celebrities currently in the press with various drug/relationships problems.
And I’ve said no to all of them.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record here’s why psychologists (and other experts working with the media) can’t talk about celebrities.
If we know the celeb in person (for example as their therapist or healthcare provider) we are breaking their confidence if we speak about them in public. If we do not know them personally we’re simply speculating about them if we were to comment.
The same applies to case studies based on people who are not famous.
It is acceptable for us to talk about related issues – for example if a celebrity is supposedly jealous, has anorexia, or is violent you could talk about jealousy, eating disorders or aggression – but in a general way, not specifically relating to an individual, couple or family.
These restrictions are there to protect the public (including famous folk) from speculation and intrusion, and to ensure practitioners act in a professional and ethical manner. If people are experiencing problems with their mental or physical wellbeing or their interpersonal relationships the last thing they need is someone speculating on their lives and generating more media attention when they need privacy and possibly additional health care.
Unfortunately journalists don’t often know this is the case – and even when they do they don’t really care. This is made worse by the fact that many people who are psychologists or other health professionals simply don’t pay attention to these guidelines (because they also don’t know or don’t care about them). And of course all the self appointed ‘experts’ we see in the media with no real skills or qualifications are more than happy to join in celeb watching.
It’s a sad situation when people are experiencing physical or psychological problems, and it’s made even more upsetting when you consider there are plenty of folk out there who are happy to publicly speculate on other people’s distress simply so they can promote themselves.
But it does mean when you try and tell journalists you won’t talk about celebrities or any other case study their view is that you’re being difficult, you don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re obviously not as well qualified as your peers who will speak at length about a celebrity’s latest shenanigans.
Although the British Psychological Society and other professional organisations do say they try and inform journalists that we can’t talk about celebrities or cases the impression I get from journalists is this message either isn’t being given at all, or it’s not being heard by editors. It would be helpful if this message could be made more forcefully to journalists simply to save the time of those who’re trying to work ethically.
So if you do see someone commenting on a celebrity in the media remember they’re benefitting from someone else’s misery. And there’s a name for what they’re doing. It’s not psychology, it’s gossipology.Tweet