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Robert David Jaffee

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Michelle Golland: The Media Is the Message for the Mentally Ill

Posted: 05/11/10 01:50 PM ET

Behind the comfortable chair in Dr. Michelle Golland's Hancock Park office is a print of a white rose, evocative of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, which echoes the black rose corsage on Golland's black dress.

Dr. Golland is not headed to a high school prom, but if she were, it would be with her husband of 17 years, the man she refers to as "so much more emotionally mature than me" and the "healthiest of the bunch." She used to act out with her "crazy antics" in which she thought that everyone "should think the same" and "do the same" as her.

This "controlling" behavior, she says, comes from her "enmeshed family," whom she loves dearly. A number of her biological family members have endured some serious diagnosis, whether it be her father who has diabetes due to what she calls a food addiction, a sister who had anorexia and bulimia, and Dr. Golland herself, who suffered from post-partum depression and took Effexor, which she says was "enormously effective" in curing her.

A vivacious blonde, she has always been the "elephant hunter," the one who is not afraid to discuss the elephant in the room in her own family and in others' families.

Dr. Golland, who is a clinical psychologist with a practice in Los Angeles, will be the keynote speaker at NAMI Westside L.A.'s annual community conference, to be held this year on Sunday, June 13, at American Jewish University.

Golland has appeared on Campbell Brown, The O'Reilly Factor and Larry King Live, among other television programs. (A convert to Judaism, Golland chuckles that Larry King Hebraizes her surname by pronouncing it like Golan, as in the Golan Heights.)

Her appearances on TV have given the onetime USC communications major, who later got a Psy.D., a balanced perspective on the value of the medium for conveying what it means to be mentally ill. She gives credit to Phil Donahue and Oprah for being the first to devote segments to people with anorexia, Tourette's syndrome, battered wife syndrome and other diagnoses. She says that TV is improving in its coverage of and depiction of the mentally ill, even if many broadcasters still do not know the difference between psychopathy, an extreme form of anti-social and violent behavior, and psychosis, which simply means "divorced from reality."

She cites A&E for its shows, Intervention and Hoarders, which shed light on disorders of the mind. Intervention is particularly helpful because it "changes the paradigm, so we don't have shame and failure" associated with relapse.

Golland was always the one calling the intervention in her own family; she was the one who "was scared" and paid attention when her sister was throwing up. She was the one who wanted her father to do something about his "emotional eating."

Early in her career, when she was director of a day treatment center, Golland became aware of NAMI, an organization that provides resources for families with members suffering from mental illness.

Although she began by treating older adults, who were chronically mentally ill, she has become best known for her expertise on couples, including domestic violence among gay and lesbian partners, a subject she wrote about in Psychology Today and discussed on Tyra Banks' show some years ago. "A good marriage requires three people," she says. And the third person is "not the mistress or a lover." It's the therapist.

Some of her family members are still embarrassed to discuss going to therapy, but for Golland it's a strength to admit that "we really may not have all the answers, and our bodies may not produce everything we need."

Golland, who herself has been in therapy, makes the comparison to one suffering from diabetes. Just as we would never judge someone who needs to take insulin, she tells people that they should not judge themselves or others for needing, for instance, anti-depressants.

Golland, who also writes a column for momlogic.com, believes that cinema is still ahead of TV as far as presenting mental illness in a compassionate and thoughtful manner. Films like A Beautiful Mind, Shine and Shutter Island have helped to reduce the stigma associated with disorders of the mind. In the end, Golland says, "It's all about the money," and the good news is the American public is "thirsty for help" and wants shows that teach us how to be healthy in this 24/7, frenetic, technology-crazed age in which we live.