Terrifying teens by making them lie in coffins, forcing them to spend a night on a frigid street or a bare prison cell— these harsh measures are used in reality shows in an attempt to put delinquents back on the straight and narrow. But the strategies may make for better TV than treatment.
“Time and time again, research finds these approaches to be innocuous at best and traumatizing at worst,” says John Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton who studies the effectiveness of psychological treatments.
A 2007 review of the literature on tough-love or confrontational strategies to deal with drug problems concluded “Four decades of research have failed to yield a single clinical trial showing efficacy of confrontational counseling, whereas a number have documented harmful effects, particularly for more vulnerable populations.” Teens are one such susceptible group.
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