Participating in mental health interventions on television
: a multi perspective analysis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study is a multi-perspective investigation of the challenges and rewards of making and appearing in UK factual television series featuring mental health interventions. These interventions could be onscreen therapy sessions or activities such as singing in a choir, exercise, or support decluttering. These kinds of programmes attract large audiences and generate ethical debate across multimedia platforms, however very little is known about their impact on the television contributors (central on-screen participants) involved, or the production practices behind them. This research integrates theoretical frameworks from psychology, media, and cultural studies to analyse 24 interviews with ex-television contributors, programme makers, therapeutic professionals, and on-screen intervention providers involved in making ‘mental health intervention television’. This inter-disciplinary approach and specifically, the application of narrative psychology theory, has not been undertaken in previous research.

The thesis argues that the impact of taking part in mental health intervention television goes beyond whether television contributors believe the interventions to be successful and is intimately linked to their feelings towards, and feedback from, telling their stories on television. Television contributors presented the experience of telling their story as a quest narrative - a challenging but ultimately transformative journey. They depicted themselves as actively seeking to shape their television narratives and with it discourse about mental health. Their perceptions of successfully telling their stories and control were a central part of their evaluation of the experience and outcomes of taking part. The analysis identified the importance of having a receptive audience, feeling heard and having their stories validated.

In addition, the research found that producers and therapists presented a strong commitment to contributor welfare, revolving around collaborative storytelling, and informed consent. However, the analysis identified a fundamental tension between balancing an agenda to produce entertaining television series and meeting the needs of contributors. There were many factors that limited the agency of contributors over their personal stories, from production practices and televisual conventions to cultural discourses and unpredictable audience reception. This thesis makes a key contribution to debate around the ethical treatment of participants within British television shows Hannah Selby 2022 Page iii involving mental health, by reflecting the actual concerns and experiences of the contributors and professionals involved in their making. It provides new evidence of what makes participation successful, and the challenges in establishing principles of good practice when working with contributors experiencing mental distress.

Date of AwardMar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorMatthew Adams (Supervisor), Aristea Fotopoulou (Supervisor) & Zoe Boden-Stuart (Supervisor)

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