'I WONDERED IF I WAS DOING THE RIGHT THING'COLEMAN: Psychologist has HIS OWN therapist during tough RTE show on troubled youngsters
TV guru David Coleman has insisted dragging teenagers into the wilderness was "never intended it to be a bootcamp".
The clinical psychologist takes a group of six troubled girls on a 21-day activities and therapy course in the second series of Teens In The Wild, which began on RTE last night.
It's such a tough job that he has revealed that he turns to a therapist -- to help him during the traumatic show.
"I didn't try to break the girls down in order to build them back up again," he said.
"It was more an opportunity to give them real chances to do things, to build on any strengths or skills they already had and to work on their self-confidence."
Far from reality television formats that artificially create conflict to ratchet up the ratings, Coleman insists that the shenanigans on Teens In The Wild are not a set-up.
"For a lot of teenagers the reality is that their lives are interspersed with areas of conflict, even with other teenagers," he said. "It's not going to be a big happy family. It was a very real experience, from beginning to end."
Aged between 14 and 17, the girls involved were briefed before filming began about what displaying their private lives on television could mean.
But did Coleman take into account that their behaviour would be displayed on the internet for eternity and might affect their adult lives?
"I think it's about trying to balance the potential for harmful impact with the potential for positive benefit," he said.
"I would guess the families involved weighed the fact that their personal lives would be broadcast against the help they would potentially get, help they really needed.
"There were over 100 families who contacted us for this particular show and they came from a huge cross-section of socio economic groups and family types in both urban and rural areas.
"What the families who take part in the show are experiencing is probably very representative of what a lot of families watching the show are also going through," he added.
"By seeing other teenagers or parents struggle with similar issues and finding a resolution or some way forward, that can be of help to the wider population. That's a fantastic opportunity that you only get with a medium like television.
"For my part there's a lot of investment of time and energy, but it's worthwhile because I really get a sense that what I'm doing is making a difference.
"Doing it is very rewarding, but for me it becomes about maintaining and supporting the continuation of the change that happens for the teenagers involved.
"It's all very well for them to make breakthroughs while they're away but then they've got to come back home and try to hold on to whatever glimmer of hope they might have found during the process.
"I have been in contact with all of the families on a very regular basis over the five months since we filmed in Donegal, providing further support," he added.
"There were times during the process when I wondered if I was doing the right thing. In any process there's always a period of the dark before the dawn.
I experience that as much as other people do, when things seem hopeless or change isn't happening as quickly as I would hope or expect. I have my own therapist, who I was in contact with throughout the process, simply to try to keep my own head straight.
"I think it's important to mind yourself emotionally when you are trying to mind other people emotionally. It was about trying not to get overwhelmed by the six different stories of the girls."
During filming, Coleman also worked closely with the parents. "I got all the parents to come up to Donegal at the weekends, to meet them separately to the girls. I did workshops with them about communication and also did one-to-one sessions, trying to give them insight into what I understood from spending time with their children.
"I also looked at how they reacted and responded to their teenagers," he added. "For example some girls were learning how to deal with their anger, how not to respond in the heat of the moment.
"I had to work with their parents, helping them understand how to walk away instead of provoking arguments at home. I did as much as I could do for both the girls and their parents before they all came together at the end of the process." So, if both the parents and the children involved in Teens In The Wild learned new ways of communicating throughout the filming of the show and beyond, what did Coleman take away from the experience himself?
"I really enjoyed the process," he said. "I got to go surfing, sailing, rock climbing, kayaking, and lots of different activities, which was great fun. But it also reaffirmed to me how much of a system the family unit is and if you focus on only one part of it, it can be really hard to effect a long term change.
"The more involvement I can have with parents and their teenagers together, the more fruitful it will be."
Teens In The Wild: RTE 1 on Monday nights