A psychotherapist diagnoses Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab, Season 3

Does the Vh1 reality series do anything for un-famous addicts, or is it just voyeurism?

The cast of Celeb Rehab 3

The cast of Celeb Rehab 3

BY DAVID RICKEY — One only has to watch the intake interviews for Celebrity Rehab, the reality show on the VH1 cable channel hosted by Pasadena-based Dr. Drew Pinsky, to see that cast members like Dennis Rodman, Tom Sizemore and Heidi Fleiss have more issues going on than just addiction, either to drugs and alcohol, or certain patterns of behavior. (Exhibit: country singer Cindy McCready, who was addicted to an abusive boyfriend).

This points, then, to the major drawback of Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab — and rehab in general.

A short-term stay can really only accomplish one thing: getting the patient past the withdrawal stage, and allowing him or her to attempt some rational choices for their life beyond chemical dependency.

Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Drew himself displays genuine compassion for his patients. He is a cognitive and behavioral expert. And unlike Dr. Phil, the denizen of prime-time TV therapy, the VH1 psychiatrist is utterly devoid of sensationalism and show-boating. In fact, Dr. Phil makes our Dr. Drew look like Albert Schweitzer.

what-the-bleepBut if drugs such as heroin and meth create chemical dependence, actions and experiences can, too —  as was so graphically demonstrated in the 2004 documentary about physics and spirituality, “What the #$*! Do We Know? (at least in the “Quantum Edition” that I own). Behaviors themselves trigger chemical reactions in our brains. For example, anger produces adrenalin. We can actually become addicted to the adrenalin rush, and therefore continually re-create anger-producing situations.


So, the first step in recovery is to get past the dependency that has so taken over someone’s life that their thinking is severly distorted. We witness these distortions in almost every episode of Celebrity Rehab‘s season 3. Denial, blaming, aggressive behavior, isolation and over-dependency. Exhibit: crystal-meth addict Heidi Fleiss, who lives alone with dozens of tropical birds on a remote Nevada ranch.


If this is as far as the “recovery” process reaches, I’ll bet that when some of these reality stars leave Dr. Drew’s Pasadena Recovery Center and the real, real world they occupy envelopes them again, they will again use and abuse.

Take the former MTV The Real World “star”, Joey Kovar. His only motivation to enter Dr. Drew’s televised treatment program is not wanting his soon-to-be-born child to be raised by a junkie father. This motivation lacks a center, especially when that new child starts to act out. The hope that is held out to Kovar is that by going through rehab, he will be a changed man. But there is no inner change beyond an attenuation in his addiction to cocaine, alcohol, ecstasy and steroids.

The psychology of addiction: object constancy

While the producers of Celebrity Rehab milk personality clashes between cast members like recovering heroin addict and Black Hawk Down movie star, Tom Sizemore, and his ex-lover, Fleiss, what they fail to show in detail is the long thread of experiences and resulting choices that each person made to get into drugs, alcohol or abusive behavior in the first place.

tom-sizemore-and-heidi-fleissWe don’t hear Fleiss, for example, describe much about what lead her down the road of prostitution, except that she can’t stand to be alone.  Doesn’t this point to a major deficit in the childhood development, what psychologists call object constancy? We don’t hear much about how Kari Ann, who was abused, equated love and abuse as a child.

Without these understandings, real growth beyond old, conditioned patterns is not possible.

We are the addicts for watching Celebrity Rehab

And let’s, we the audience, face this fact: Our consumption of this series is voyeuristic, and perhaps a form of addiction itself. Here are celebrities, in gorgeous surroundings, hitting levels of “bottom”. We watch them and say, “I’m not that bad.”

The underlying message, reinforced by the media’s fascination, is that the cure for addiction is rehab, pure and simple. The false consciousness that it sets up: “I can go down the road of addiciton because, in a few weeks or months, I can be cured by a treatment center”.

weedsOne client I worked with in New York was addicited to marijuana and sex. As our sessions progressed, what emerged was that he believed he had no future, nothing to live and work for. He’d dropped out of high-school, and couldn’t see any job future beyond working at a 7 Eleven. He tried to quit drugs but always returned. When, however, he discovered real possibilities for meaning — in his case, cross-country travel as a trucker — he found a reason to kick his habits, and got his GED and trucker’s license.

What is required for real recovery is a radical change in your world view, and the thinking that accompanies it. The four questions that spiritual teacher Byron Katie asks in her technique, called “The Work,” are an excellent example of the fundamentals of making such a “turnaround.”

By completely questioning the thoughts that arise in your head, you can actually change what life presents to you. You cease re-creating a world based on habitually-conditioned beliefs — what AA calls “Stinking Thinking.”

Addicted to the belief, “I am an addict”

I know of two methods for creating this radical change. One is long-term, in-depth psychotherapy, where the events and subsequent world-view choices can be reconsidered, re-thought and re-decided — choices made from a more limited level of development, for example, childhood dependency versus adult autonomy.

The other is meditation, which actually re-programs the brain by teaching it to withdraw your energy from the neural networks that feed addiction. They actually “die,” and new patterns that are more conscious are ‘re-wired’.

The best-selling author of Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss, brilliantly coined the term, “woundology.” In the context of addiction, it means that even someone who has successfully completed a treatment program and remained sober can become ‘addicted’ to the self-image of being a recovering addict. So rehab may be necessary to get you through the initial withdrawal phase, but without the building of a whole new understanding of the world and your place in it, the addiction or addictive energy will remain.

David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.

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8 Responses to “A psychotherapist diagnoses Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab, Season 3”

  1. I do not watch tv, in fact I do not have one…This was a good article and very true. It is the issues inside that bring upon the chemical addictions as a way of dealing with them…The “vices” and vica versa, vicious circle…Thank you for sharing…♥

  2. Dawn Dancing Otter Reply 01. Mar, 2010 at 6:25 am

    I don’t watch tv at all, but I do feel that sometimes these stories are necessary narratives – the more human we see others as being, the more we expose ourselves to the vulnerability of others, the more opportunities we have to expand our compassionate hearts.

    Big Love,ddo

  3. I feel it’s a bit of both.. voyeurism and entertainment, and perhaps some healing on both sides. I know programs on child abuse help so it’s good to publicize these issues…however they’re done.

  4. Me too. No TV for over 30 years. Still I was asked last week to be filmed doing my self-healing work for a new Reality Show! I have said yes, because I too am re-viewing the possible sociological value of consciousness-raising from a reality show vs. voyeuristic entertainment/diversion.

    I think it is a bit of both as Claire Elek has said. Everyone starts somewhere in their inner self realization. I hope these programs offer seeds. Thank you for your continued shared introspection and quest!

  5. I agree with some of this with the following exception. Dr. Drew is somewhat like Dr. Phil in as much as he is into sensationalism. Why put Tom Sizemore and Heidi Fleiss in the same rehab facility? This is for ratings only, it had to explode as we all know that it was Heidi Fleiss who without a future or a penny destroyed the career of one of our greatest actors Tom Sizemore. Why would Dr. Drew continue the downward spiral of Sizemore without ratings in mind?

  6. Dear David,
    Good article! I believe that the roots of addiction must be uncovered, healed and transformed. Addictions and compulsions are defenses and symptoms of a false belief that we lack wholeness and unity. As long as we continue to chase an outside fix and express entitlement or passivity, we are living in a child dependent state and refusing to grow. Thank you David for your reflections.

  7. I’m not sure about the voyeurism, but I heard an interesting talk at a local conference. The man speaking was August Turak, an entrepreneur devoted to spiritual matters. He believes celebrities self-destruct because they realize how they’ve been fooling themselves. They believed that fame would change them, transform them into different people, but it doesn’t. They’re still the same and they can’t keep up the pretense. Seems to me that the celebrities that have it together are the ones that don’t fall for the trap of fame and admit that they stay true to themselves.

  8. I think it’s a great necessity for the lost celebrity struggling with addiction and we call all learn from it. It’s reported that Cory Haim was invited to join the show and he refused. Look what happened to him.