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Doing the Work is More than Lip-Service


In recent weeks I’ve watched two different “therapy-like” interviews featuring celebrities. One with Jay “Jeezy” Jenkins and Nia Long and another with Jidenna. On the surface, both interviews offer an opportunity to these men to be vulnerable and honest about their hang ups and short comings—things both society and feminism deem as a sign of progress for men, especially those who’ve cultivated hyper-masculine personas.

Jenkins speaks at length about the challenges he’s faced and briefly about his upcoming divorce from television host, Jeannie Mai Jenkins. While Jidenna talked about several things, his most notable comments were about being a manipulative womanizer who gained satisfaction from gaslighting the women he dated.

Both interviews, seemingly designed to allow space for the subjects to reveal their truths, received vastly different receptions from the public. Based on the comments, people really believe something deep and transcendent took place between Jenkins and Long. Comments on Jidenna’s interview are mixed. Some people, many of them women, found his admitted actions in intimate relationships triggering and noted his demeanor didn't inspire trust that he’d changed, while others found his honesty refreshing. What I find interesting about both interviews is how each of them is designed to play into the idea of “doing the work.”

It's at the core of much educational entertainment that sits on the axis of doing the work and mental health—think “Red Table Talk,” “Super Soul Sunday,” “Iyanala Fix My Life,” etc. This term, doing the work seems to come up a lot in the faux self-care or therapy-adjacent industry that’s permeated pop culture in the last few years. These kinds of public therapy conversations are showing up more and more as a subtle way to, usually, sell you something or the idea of something.

By structuring these interviews with Jidenna and Jenkins as intimate conversations (or public therapy), producers give the audience the impression the subjects have already “done the work.” But neither conversation talks about how they did the work, which I’d argue is much more valuable than exposing salacious details—Jidenna’s revelations of emotional abuse—or exalting empty platitudes about how much brothers need their sisters when they’re at their lowest (e.g., Jenkins’ baffling try at a connection to Black women as he seeks a divorce from a non-Black woman).


How you process the need to change is an important aspect of changing your life. It’s just as important as unpacking trauma and figuring out who you are and what you believe. Both things are difficult to do and look different for everyone. For these kinds of public conversations to have true value, those discussing these topics should share the process of how they are changing their lives. Otherwise, how can the audience understand what’s involved?

“Our cultural tendency to want a quick and easy fix is cropping up in mental health stuff right now,” Trina Bolfing, MA, LMFT Associate, says about doing the work and how mental health entertainment impacts us all.

“We want an easy, simplified way to understand the very complex experience of being human. In some ways, I guess it's good that it's [coming] up everywhere, because that's making it normal to talk about. But also, we're in a place where everyone's just pathologizing everyone. They're either villainizing people who have hurt them, or pathologizing themselves by being like, ‘Well, I have a bipolar diagnosis, so you'll have to pardon [this behavior]’ or ‘I self-diagnosed my ADHD, so pardon [that behavior].’ Instead of people perceiving these things as tools, they're using them as weapons.”

It can be enticing to explain away bad behaviors, whether someone gives you an official diagnosis or not. However, part of doing the work is not just being able to explain a diagnosis but get to the bottom of your stuff.

“To me [doing the work] looks like offering ourselves and everyone an abundance of grace," Bolfing says. “That is a good starting point. [Then] I tend to look for the patterns that are operating all around us. We usually don't even see those things. [It’s] taking a moment, stepping back and saying ‘OK, what is the cycle I'm living in? Why am I behaving this way? I just yelled at someone because earlier in the day, someone asked me to do something and I said, yes, [even though] I didn't want to, and I did it anyway. How do I break that cycle? How do I back [away] from the thing that's bothering me and understand how I got here?’”

“Being curious is helpful, as opposed to slamming down judgment on yourself, or anybody [else]. That's what you're doing,” Bolfing says. “That's the journey.”


Perdita Patrice is a Texas-based writer and documentary filmmaker. She enjoys live music, reading, and watching TV. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @perditapatrice


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