From Sheen to Aguilera, Dr. Holly discussed what makes celebrities snap

Mar 04, 2011

Celebrity therapist Dr. Holly Hein answered questions about the stress celebrities face and what finally pushes them over the edge.

When a celebrity enters drug and alcohol rehabilitation, there not only is the public pressure placed on the celebrity on kicking the addiction, but there is also the reality that the odds of anyone relapsing are high. The success rate of rehab from relapsing is only about 5%, yet most people do not relapse with the paparazzi following them. Might this be a good time for the public to focus on the reality that rehab often is a long process that often does involve extensive efforts and often either several short term rehab services or a few long term services?

Most certainly. Addiction is a body, mind and spirit that is off balance and it requires time, and effort, to really treat.  There are no easy answers but I can assure you that it takes lots of personal work to overcome to you can flourish in your life

The intense spotlight placed on celebrities seems to play a complex role. Clearly, paparazzi, the 24-hour news cycle and invasiveness of tabloids and traditional media alike are an added stressor today. In the past, newspapers may have sanitized or overlooked exploits of some of the stars. But in a way, media scrutiny can actually have a positive outcome -- Brittney Spears got help for her demons, Elvis did not (not that the ends justify the means). Also, it seems that some stars avoid the limelight and have relatively normal home lives (e.g., Matt Damon); however, some who have avoided the media instrusions, eventually get caught (Tiger Woods). Like I said, it's complex. What role do you think the media play in all this? Is it something that's always been there?

The intense spotlight placed on celebrities only romanticizes the personal emotional problems many of us have as we try to live our lives.  Those who are able to live as well adjusted people in their families would do so whether they were celebrities or not.  It is difficult to want celebrity and then hide personal problems that are acted out.  The media seeks viewers if the viewers want sensational news then the media gives them that.  Which comes first, the chicken or the egg ?

Why after becoming a Father did Charlie not get it? Does he not realize the importance of his actions now? and I know that right now he is not a rational person. But most people after parenthood get it, they know they must be responsible for the children's sake.

What would a person get after he or she becomes a father or mother?  If you have psychological problems having a child is not the cure unless it serves as a motivator to grow and change. 

So what is it with these people? Sheen, Lohan, Gibson, to name but a few of the recent implosions. Brain chemistry anomalies plus being surrounded by sycophants plus too much money plus....??

These people come to the table with serious personality difficulties.  Their success and money protected them and raised them to grand status but they have little connection to those around them and those that disagree with them are rejected so that they are surrounded by people who are yes men which add to their already grandiose selves.

Do celebrities really face THAT much more pressure than every-day people? We have jobs, money issues, kids, troubles just like they do...right?

No.  They are raised to hero status. Celebrity is what everyone seems to seek. Instant gratification has replaced the hard work of living a meaningful life. Hard work.  How many inventors, researchers, creative originators get to be celebrated in our culture?

Why do you think there are so many jokes circulating about Charlie Sheen? His life is in shambles, he's clearly in crisis, yet most people find humor in his predicament.

I don't find humor or any interest in watching or hearing about his serious illness. It is tragic that people have a need to take solace in this.  His problems have been around for years, yet he has been applauded. Monetary success or fame does not shield his children from trauma and pain.

There seems to be tension between enjoying some measure of entertainment value from a seemingly public display of psychosis, and understanding that there may be untreated mental illness. What are your feelings about media outlets continuing to engage with Charlie Sheen? Should they be doing something differently? Should the consumers of celeb news be thinking twice about enjoying this?

Yes. Indeed. But here we are commenting on this. There must be far more interesting news that we could all be learning about than watching and applauding him by having him on shows displaying his illness.  These interviews are not attempts to educate and help but rather indulge our basest interests as we further his grandiosity and his illness.

I think Charlie Sheen has a point - AA doesn't work. If alcoholism and addiction is truly a disease, and AA is the way to treat it, they have a stunningly low success rate. What are people with addictions supposed to do?

I don't agree.  I have seen many people be treated for their addictions and benefit from the 12 step programs.  But treatment requires that those seeking it can really get it.  Our healthcare system does not address the real issues that need care.  It really is a world of the survival of the fittest.  The media looks to the failures not the successes.

Is it at all significant that Martin Sheen seems to be absent from the picture as Charlie Sheen invites the media in to witness his mix of ego, braggadocio, extremism, grandiosity, lack of accountability and disparagement of everyone but himself in the world he's built around him? Charlie is 42 and Dad is probably worn out by this guy. But is the lack of apparant interaction between the two -- in fact the seeming lack of anyone to stop this guy -- at all telling here? I infer that he's surrounded himself with nothing but sycophants and porn stars who won't say No. Is this part of the addict's M.O.?

You don't have to be an addict to surround yourself with sycophants.  All you need is tremendous wealth cause cash is king.  It is sad that his has never been able to hold onto a healthy connection with another so that he might benefit from serious psychiatric help, family, and friends. 

(Wish I were in Berkeley today, too!) Isn't the problem with at least some cases of substances abuse and addiction that they accompany genuine mental illness, e.g, bipolar disorder? Is it realistic to expect a rehab facility to have to deal with both? When an addict is also mentally ill (as I suspect Charlie Sheen is), shouldn't the person be hospitalized? Finally, isn't the problem exacerbated by the fact that lenient laws make it hard to commit someone for treatment involuntarily until they cross a threshhold into the area of threatening their own or another person's life, by which time it may be too late (e.g., if they've cycled down into the depressive phase of bipolar disorder to the point of committing suicide)?

The answer to this is complicated. But many addicts do have mental disorders and there are many treatment centers that do work with dual disorders. Treatment requires time, money and more time. It requires a healthcare system that understands that the brain-body connection is all one.  Mental illness is in the body but we still stigmatize it. This needs to be changed if we are going to help those who have a mind-body in disregulation.

This was really enjoyable . I would be happy to do more anytime you need it. Dr. Holly

In This Chat
Dr. Holly Hein
Dr. Holly Hein received her doctorate from the Institute of Clinical Social Work in Berkeley, California. She also has post-graduate degrees from the Institute of Ego-Psychology in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Psychology in Los Angeles. Dr. Holly’s commentary has appeared in a broad range of media outlets including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Us Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Oprah, Strictly Sex with Dr. Drew, FOX News, iVillage and is a regular guest on KPFK public radio in Los Angeles. She most recently made appearances on KNBC as an expert on the Tiger Woods infidelity scandal and spoke about celebrity addiction on Good Morning America.
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