Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Erasing the distance with "Braxton Family Values"

Here’s a confession: I am OBSESSED with Braxton Family Values. For those of you who are not addicted to television like me, “Braxton Family Values” is a reality show starring singer Toni Braxton, her five sisters, and mother Miss Evelyn. I love this show and watch it religiously. In fact, my Thursday nights are dedicated to watching the show (ironically, as I write this I realize that today is Thursday and I am already excited about it! It’s like I’m a part of the family. Please don’t judge me. :)) Although I’m aware that all reality shows have scripted elements to them, there is a level of authenticity to this family that keeps me watching every week. I also appreciate that they are very candid about everything in their lives, including their mental health. Last season viewers were introduced to Dr. Sheri, the family therapist. The family set up an “intervention” with Dr. Sheri for Trina, the second-to-youngest Braxton sister. According to the show, Trina was coping with alcoholism, emotional eating, and possibly depression at the time of this intervention. Worried about Trina, the sisters called in Dr. Sheri to help.

Now, I will say that when Dr. Sheri was introduced to the show, I was quite skeptical. I thought, “Oh…the producers CAST a lady to be a therapist, let’s see how this goes.” But as the show has progressed and more has been revealed about the family, I see the addition of Dr. Sheri as a unique way to erase stigma about mental health in the African American community. Hear me out.

Since Trina’s intervention, Dr. Sheri has been visited several times for both group and individual therapy by many of the family members. Dr. Sheri has provided couple’s therapy for Trina and her husband, group therapy for the sisters, and also individual therapy for Mama Evelyn.

Why does this matter? If you read my previous blog entries about this issue in July and September of 2011, I discussed the stigma towards mental health amongst African Americans. Since then, I’ve been seeking to discover ways to eliminate that stigma. It took me almost a year of watching my favorite reality show to realize that the Braxton family has been doing just that. Whether scripted or not, Dr. Sheri and the Braxton family are showing its viewers that African Americans can and do go to therapy. Not only do mental health issues affect African Americans as well, but we do not have to be ashamed to get help. Furthermore, the ladies have also seen other mental health professionals besides Dr. Sheri, which provide other examples of pursuing mental health support. For instance, sisters Trina and Tamar sought therapy to address animosity and pain between them. Tamar also sought treatment after learning she had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following her husband’s near-death health crisis.

I’ve observed that mental health has been the theme of several recent reality shows/docu-series, such as Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab, Intervention, Obsessed, and Hoarders. When viewers watch those shows, it is clear that mental health, regardless of the nature, is the theme. However, the central theme of "Braxton Family Values" is simply a talented family experiencing daily life. Thus, airing a family-based reality show showing its cast members seeking professional help for mental health is a subtle yet powerful way to show people that 1) everyone encounters mental health issues, and 2) it’s okay (and often a great idea) to seek professional help. Especially to those in my community. :)

Tonight is the season finale…and I’m sad about it as if my siblings are moving away for a while. (Remember - don’t judge me!) Yet I will have an extra smile on my face, appreciating the impact the show has had on me, as well as all of its viewers.

Until next time,

Rhonda Marie

Rhonda Marie Bynum is a member of ETD's Ambassador Council as well as an ensemble member who has appeared onstage with ETD numerous times. Her posts often focus on mental health topics in relationship to communities of color. Click here to check out Rhonda's posts.

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