United States of Tara Controversy

Are you familiar with this relatively new show, the United States of Tara?

When I first heard about it, a comedy centering around an individual with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID),  I was concerned.  The media misrepresentations of this disorder  have long been a pet peeve of mine.  I have specialized in treating this manifestation of complex trauma since it was called Multiple Personality Disorder.  Unfortunately,  mental health issues in general are still so stigmatized in our culture,  resulting in an additional barrier to seeking services for some.  Misunderstandings,  sensationalism and myths abound regarding this disorder.  My fear was that this show would make the person suffering from this disorder the butt of a series-long joke!

Would this program further awareness and understanding?  My hope for this possibility was raised by learning that Dr Richard Kluft,  a respected expert in this field,  served as a consultant.

I recently received the latest edition of the Sidran Traumatic Stress Newsletter.  Clearly others in the field are asking these same questions.

Some concerns raised have to do with the very dramatic and obvious switching between alter personality states that takes place on the show.  It has also been my experience that this sort of presentation is the exception rather than the rule.  DID most often functions to protect the individual by adapting to external settings in order to protect the person ‘s internal world .  For example, very often all parts of a person are able to answer to the same name and  present parts that are able to function in different settings (family, parenting, work).  Many individuals with DID function well in the eyes of others and would never be identified as such.  Another concern of mine is whether enough emphasis will be place on the origins of this disorder.  The roots of this disorder lie in severe and repeated childhood abuse.  Often our culture seems to overlook  such systemic contributions to an individual’s psychological state.

Dr. Steven N. Gold has identified further potential problems for folks with DID as a result of this program:

  • widespread skepticism among the general public and mental health professionals about the reality of DID
  • the risk of hindering detection of clients with DID whose clinical picture is very different from that of Tara’s
  • the creation of confusion and fear in clients with DID that they eventually will display behaviors as dramatic as Tara’s, or concerns that their experience does not really constitute DID because it is so different from Tara’s

I will be interested to see how this plays out and hoping for the best in terms of raised awareness regarding this issue.

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8 Responses to United States of Tara Controversy

  1. I agree- while most will say that it is just entertainment, it is a poor illustration of DID and may further negative opinions (lay and professional) about the disorder.

  2. Kathy Broady says:

    I have worked with multiples in the field of trauma and dissociation for 20+ years. I’ve met all kinds of survivors with DID, more than I can count….. This is my long-term specialty area of expertise.

    I have to say, if the writers of United States of Tara had asked ME what to include in the show, it would have looked a whole lot different than THAT! I truly expected better. I hoped that since they had consulted with Kluft that the show would be more accurate and not so “freaky”.

    It’s a really disappointment that once again, the media has left a negative impression for the viewing public.

    The show is quite an unrealistic picture of multiplicity, and my clients certainly do not do the dramatic and bizarre things that Tara has done. Thank goodness!

    I don’t see the final result of this show as being particularly positive for those that do struggle with this diagnosis. Too many important realities have been left out, and far too much bizarre behavior has been highlighted.

    Kathy Broady, LCSW


  3. Pingback: Understanding Dissociation « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

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  5. realsupergirl says:

    I am a therapist who has worked with people with DID, and also been dismayed by the media portrayal of DID in the past. Yet, I think Tara gets it right, for the most part. Is her version more dramatic than many people’s? Yes. But that’s because it’s a TV show. It’s also very particular to living in Kansas, having a gay son, etc. It can’t ever be a representative example of DID, and it’s not a documentary. But I think it is an honest depiction of what it actually feels like for many people — with a lot of mental illnesses — in terms of coping with stigma and trying to live a “normal” life. I think it actually does the OPPOSITE of what you suggest – I think it normalizes DID as much as DID can be normalizes it, and paints a sympathetic picture. I think Toni Collette does an AMAZING job and the show does a great job showing how her disorder affects her family but also how her family can easily become invested in her being “disordered.”

    • Nice to meet you, realsupergirl. I am always glad to meet other therapists working with this population. 🙂

      More than a year after writing this entry I finally watched the first season of Tara myself. I know, I know! I am often a late tv series adopter! Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the portrayal. (And I hope it doesn’t go horribly wrong in later seasons). Yes, it is more dramatic than many DID folks experience and I still worry about all the points Dr. Gold makes about that above. And yes we can chalk that up to drama making good tv programming in large part.

      I especially enjoy Dr. Kluft’s Commentaries on US Tara Episodes

      He addresses many of the things I still find problematic and sorts out what is tv drama and what might occur in real life.

  6. Pingback: Dissociative Identity Disorder | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

  7. Really interesting article. The Sidran website doesn’t seem to have Steven Gold’s article about the U.S. of Tara on it anymore, but it can be found for anyone interested at http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.sidran.org/pdf/gold.pdf

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