So I’ve finally gotten round to watching a recent programme on ITV* featuring a young woman, Charlotte, suffering from dermatillomania who sought help from the popular English therapist couple, The Speakmans.
I have to confess that until about a few weeks ago I had never heard of The Speakmans. Apparently they are a staples of daytime TV (regular guests on shows like This Morning) and Eva Speakman has a column in Reveal. They also have a huge following on Twitter (1.4million).
They kindly dropped me a line via Twitter inviting me to watch the show featuring Charlotte and I felt rather obliged to. Being that I didn’t know much about them I did a quick internet search to find out a little bit more about their background and expertise.
What I could gather from their website is that they appear to specialise in phobias and anxiety-related disorders.
They certainly seem to divide opinion.
You have some people who tweet rapturously about the Speakmans and others who plainly despise them.
Quite a few of the people who are against the Speakmans make comments about how they look, how they dress and their daytime TV appeal (which is often a euphemism for class snobbery) – I think this is quite unnecessary and frankly mean-spirited. What I’m interested in is whether they demonstrate respect for the people they are treating and whether their therapy does what they claim it to do.
Their way of speaking to people divides opinion. They are quite blunt at times. Whilst I tend to be more appreciative of that style of communication, I could see why other people might find them rude or patronising. For that reason alone I don’t feel that their therapy is for everyone.
A key part of their therapy seems to be family mediation and the Speakmans try to get the family members to resolve their communication difficulties especially around the area of emotions and showing each other that they care. That sounds like a reasonable idea to me, especially as families are the major support group for most people. I believe I read somewhere that if you have a good support group then it improves your chances for recovery. I don’t know though whether this was the particular reason why that was a key part of the therapy though. I had a feeling it might have gone a bit deeper than that.
Their methods can be rather unorthodox at times, and they had Charlotte poking a peach with shears at one point to try to jolt her into understanding the damage she was causing to her own skin. It was that realisation after that activity which was said to be the moment Charlotte was “treated”.
It did make it seem rather unbelievable, as I certainly know (and I’ve read medical books obsessively about skin disorders) exactly how much damage I’m causing my skin by picking yet I still continue to do it.
I have a nectarine in the fridge and I don’t think poking it with my tweezers will make me stop (much as I do have that optimistic streak in me).
The Speakmans were careful to point out to me (before I watched the show) that it was heavily edited. So perhaps there was a bit more to it than what appeared on TV. However, that does then beg the question as to exactly how useful the show was for sufferers of anxiety-related disorders. After all, for various reasons, we are not all going to get to see the Speakmans.
In terms of takeaways the message I got was you need to figure out when you first started exhibiting the picking behaviours and link it to an emotional trauma that you had at the time. You then have to accept that you shouldn’t be re-living the trauma long after the original event. You need to let go and leave it in the past. You need to realise that what you are doing is maladaptive – have that breakthrough and you’re treated. Certainly there is an underlying message that ultimately it is the sufferer who is responsible for her (or his) condition – this could either be seen as offering their clients the responsibility to manage their behaviour, or blaming their clients by insisting that they were the ones who “bully themselves.”
It was good that the first part of the programme shows some the impact that the various disorders have on a person’s life. The fact that the show has got people talking about mental health conditions is a plus point. However it doesn’t give any guidance as to what the viewer who has the same(or similar) condition might do to fix their problem. No mentions of helplines or organisations in the end credits which is a big let down.
If the Speakmans do manage to successfully treat these people then power to them, but in terms of helping me with my dermatillomania, sadly it did not offer me any new and practical solutions. Instead it made me sad thinking about my own fragmented family and wondering if I would always be a fragmented person as a result. There would be no way, barring divine miracle, that I would ever be able to have a normal conversation with my mother, never mind getting to a stage where I could say that I loved her (I don’t and I won’t. )
So I fall back on to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and hope that I won’t have to poke any peaches on the way to recovery.
*Apologies to my international readers, The Speakmans show is only available in UK regions.