TV News Makes Lousy Counselor

Anyone over 60 will remember the saturation TV coverage of the Kennedy assassination in 1963. For four days, the networks covered nothing else, and there were no commercial breaks. Thirty-eight years later, September 11, 2001, another shocking event produced saturation TV coverage. Most Americans found these events to be quite disturbing and even traumatic.

In a psychological study, analysis of college students’ dreams before and after 9/11 showed that post-9/11 dreams were different than pre-9/11 dreams. After 9/11, dreams contained more threat and danger themes and images, and more negative emotions. More interesting, these qualities increased as the amount of time watching TV coverage increased. Thus, to the extent that dreaming can reflect efforts to process and resolve trauma and conflict, we can conclude that extensive viewing of TV coverage of the 9/11 events served to increase that trauma and conflict. It is also interesting to note that the students who spent more time talking with friends and relatives about the events of 9/11 did not have the threatening themes and negative emotions in their dreams.

Reporting an event is one thing; saturating coverage with repeated replays over an extended period of time is quite another. Furthermore, if that coverage makes talking with friends and relatives less likely, then the negative effects of the saturation coverage are greatly compounded. This makes sense because it is well-known that when faced with stress and challenges, talking it over with a good friend or trusted members of a support group is really helpful.

The next time someone says, “I got so sick and tired of watching the news stories about [whatever], I had to turn it off before I went crazy,” you can explain to them why they were wise to do so. Emotional stability is unlikely to be found by excessive watching of traumatic news on TV.


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