Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

A dose of reality (TV)  


A patient who had severe anxiety and depression told me that watching “The Great British Bake Off” was a helpful relaxation technique. She taught me that shows like this may provide a therapeutic escape.  

Reality TV: The term sparks images of drama, conflict, and extreme social behavior. For many, “trash TV” is an untouchable genre of television, one that is low-quality, unrefined, and lacking educational value. To call shows like “90 Day Fiancé” educational would be a stretch beyond imagination, but let’s be real, none of us are tuning into reality TV for its educational value. 


Reality TV can be a fun escape from daily life. Gone are the worries of work or school, and we can just enjoy the (often) scripted dramatic and silly struggles of a rotating cast of characters.  


The escape can also be very therapeutic. One of the first patients I worked with as a medical student struggled with severe anxiety and depression. When we spoke, I was surprised to learn how watching “The Great British Bake Off” was one of her most helpful relaxation techniques.  


Reality TV doesn’t just provide individual benefits. Many of us can remember fun times watching shows in groups, chatting and cheering on strangers in their quest for love, wilderness survival, baking prowess, ghosts, aliens and more. Just like other shows, reality TV has something for everyone, but it may also satisfy some of our 16 basic motives, which are the desires that guide all our motivations in life. These 16 motives include idealism, romance, physical exercise, and eating, to name a few.  


If you’re looking for a list to convince your friends to tune in to more reality TV, here’s a few:   


1. Entertainment: The main purpose of reality TV is plain old fun, regardless of what some who watch highbrow shows might say. Because of the vast variety of reality shows, most can find something they enjoy.  


2. Bonding: Watching trash TV can be a shared experience with friends, family, and online communities. People have been hosting viewing parties of shows like “The Bachelor” since its inception.  


3. Education: This obviously isn’t the goal of reality TV, but some reality shows educate us on different cultures, skills and careers. Shows like The Amazing Race, Dr. Pimple Popper or Queer Eye are good examples that can be educational, and we’ve all learned a thing or two about home decorating and DIY projects while watching the Home & Garden Television (HGTV) channel.  


4. Inspiration: Viewing potential new hobbies and watching contestants create masterpieces on camera can be quite inspiring! On a personal note, my first exposure to a favorite hobby, cake decorating, was through an older and since-canceled reality baking show, “Amazing Wedding Cakes.”  


5. Empathy: Some shows feature people from around the world facing difficult or emotional situations. This allows us to think about the struggles others who are very different from us may be facing and gives us more grace with others in our day-to-day lives. “America’s Got Talent” is a great example that often tugs at our heartstrings.  


6. Mental escape: Reality TV is a great escape and can be relaxing at the end of a long workday.  


7. Cultural relevance: Reality TV can keep us updated on current events and trends (both good and bad). While they might not be the most objective way to stay informed, they can allow people to be exposed to social issues in a way that’s easy to digest.  


Finally, it’s important to remember that excessive consumption and forgetting to suspend one’s belief in the reality of reality TV can lead to harmful thinking and behaviors. For example, . We must be mindful of the types of reality TV we consume and the potential impact it can have on our perceptions and behaviors.  


Reality TV serves many purposes and can be a fun escape from reality in the worst of times. However, it’s important to balance its consumption with other forms of entertainment, particularly spending time outdoors and/or away from a screen.











This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.