dr david bull

My intimate night with Oprah!

In Opinion Pieces on November 4, 2011 at 11:40 am

Yes it’s true!  On Wednesday I spent an intimate evening with the Queen of Television.

Well sort of intimate. It was just me, Oprah and a hundred or so of my closest friends! And no we weren’t in Chicago!  Oprah came to Los Angeles! And I have to say it was quite a surprise as I had gone to this event not having the faintest clue that America’s version of royalty would be attending!

For those of you that don’t know (Martians amongst us), Oprah has had the most extraordinary broadcasting career. Starting out in her local area, she rose to fame with her eponymous talk show which ran until this year, exploring all aspects of human nature and emotion.

And if that wasn’t enough Oprah now has her own TV network. Yes that’s right. Her own. And as any self-respecting celebrity would do, she has named it after herself. So the TV channel is called quite simply OWN. (Oprah Winfrey Network). Despite her enormous celebrity presence and the cast of people she has made stars in their own right (Dr Phil, Dr Oz, Suzy Orman etc), OWN has had a difficult start. It’s very hard for any network to break through over here, quite simply because they have more TV channels that I’ve had gin and tonics! And that means the audience is extremely fragmented and you have to fight for every eyeball!

That being said, OWN seems to have turned a corner and it is now making some really good ground-breaking shows.

And that brings me back to Wednesday. We had gathered in Beverly Hills to watch an advance private screening of Lisa Ling’s documentary on PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It followed US war veterans who having returned from active service, were unable to reintegrate back into family life and had become shadows of their former selves.

PTSD is an extremely debilitating anxiety disorder which causes enormous psychological trauma. The Veterans featured showed all the classic signs of flashbacks, nightmares, withdrawal from society and overwhelming anger – which many of them took out on their children and partners. They were human shells devoid of their pre-morbid personalities, literally in a state of emotional lock-down.

After years of suffering, they were taken to a camp run by native Americans where they were exposed to many different things. One of the activities was incredibly symbolic as it showed the ranchers breaking in a new horse, learning to gain its trust so that it could be eventually saddled. And that was a great metaphor for what happened to these men and women. They were gradually broken, by kind people offering little more than listening, understanding and the warmth of human touch.

You could see the emotion which so many of them had suppressed for so long, bubbling up to the surface until they finally exploded with uncontrollable shaking and sobbing; their tears washing away all the repressed memories of horrific events seen in the theatre of war. They learnt to re-love themselves and to realise that the events they had witnessed were not their fault.

The transformation in them was truly miraculous. Where conventional medicines had failed, love and support had conquered. These brave servicemen and women and their long-suffering partners were re-born to start life anew.

The real concern is that tens of thousands of servicemen and women are about to return home from foreign countries scarred by the emotional events of war. And yet, Governments of all countries are ill-equipped to deal with the long-term emotional impact. There is little or no counselling and there are no cogent policies for reintegration. In my eyes, if Governments can send you to war, they should also provide for you when you return.

You can see the extraordinary emotional journey on Sunday night on OWN on Lisa Ling’s “Our America”.

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