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The New Face of Celebrity Rehab?

Dr. Drew's rumored replacement is a Harvard-educated shrink who complains he isn't being paid enough by VH1, admits his colleagues are appalled by his turn on reality TV and thinks that Michael Lohan is a pretty good dad.

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Dr. John: Sharp enough to Fill Drew's Shoes? Photo via

By Ruth Fowler

06/30/11

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The alarmingly addictive addiction show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew has received its fair share of criticism over the years, from people complaining of exploitation, bad therapy and simple bad taste.  This season, after a series of depressing deaths, Dr. Drew announced he was dropping out of the hit show, which still is one of VH1's most popular programs. While the network has announced that the show will be going on hiatus after it's fifth season, the recent addition of a highly respected Harvard-trained doctor and author to the staff, has many T.V insiders wondering if he's being groomed as Pinsky's replacement. Dr. John Sharp, who specializes in integrated psychotherapy has practiced in both Boston and Los Angeles and is a faculty member of the Harvard Medical School and the David Geffen School of Medicine. In other words: he's a serious heavy hitter. He also happens to be pretty cool with a sense of humor to boot. So how did a nice guy like him end up on a show like this?

So how the the hell did a highly respected psychiatrist from the hallowed halls of Harvard end up starring on Celebrity Rehab?

To be honest, I was really reluctant when they first approached me a couple years ago, since I didn’t want to do anything that wouldn’t be the right thing in terms of treatment. I was afraid the show might be forced, or exploitative, or trying to take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities. I talked to the executive producers for a long time, and in the end I wasn’t comfortable being part of the show. But two years later, in February of 2011, the producers paged me. Usually I only get pages from patients in crisis and this one said “Please call Celebrity Rehab regarding season five” and that led to another set of discussions, and this time I decided, “You know what, I’m gonna do this.”

Why?

I really wanted to educate the public about what good psychiatric treatment is and isn’t. I think I took a bit of a gamble risking my reputation to join up with reality TV, but Celeb Rehab was a good place to start, given the fact that what the patients experience there every day is very similar to a really good treatment center.

Is there a lot of professional jealousy among TV doctors? Like, does Dr. Drew secretly loathe Dr. Oz? And how do you feel about your own impending celebrity?

I’m a long way from becoming anything like a celebrity, but it’s true there are a lot of people in Los Angeles who want to be in the entertainment business and there are doctors who want to be on TV too. I think maybe one of the things that Celebrity Rehab liked about me was that I wasn’t the biggest eager beaver of the bunch. I kind of played hard to get in the sense that I wasn't concerned, and wanted to give it time and really think about it. I wasn’t playing a game by doing that but I guess it underscored the fact that I wasn’t in it for the wrong reasons.

Did you reconsider your decision to be part of the show after the tragic deaths of [former patients] Mike Starr and Jeff Conaway?

I was very worried, but I quickly noticed how much Drew and all the other professional staff cared for those guys. Everyone really cared and felt very badly. It’s a testament to how bad the disease is, how bad addiction is. It sounds like a cliche, but this really is about life and death.

Why did they decide to ax Sober House?

The first few seasons of Celebrity Rehab were very close to what Drew had originally wanted: they really showed what was going on in terms of rehabilitation. After that, the show was kind of amplified a bit to make it more dramatic—not that they were showing anything that wasn’t true, but it was more entertaining. I guess they then thought, “Well, we can show what happens when people leave their initial 30 days and go live in a sober environment and continue with their outpatient treatment needs.” But in the end, it was too chaotic. In a real sober living house, there isn’t any treatment, there aren’t any licensed professionals—so what are you really showing? A bunch of people trying to get along. I think a lot of people who look at Celebrity Rehab and go “Wait a minute, isn’t that exploitative, or over the top, or too much?” are thinking of Sober House. This year, Drew and the producers wanted to bring the show back to its roots to try and focus the attention back on the excellent care that’s happening. I think that’s why it made sense to have me, with my emphasis on dual diagnosis, there. Of the eight cast members, I was thinking all the time, “Could there be an element of bipolar disorder? Anxiety? Depression?”

Can you explain dual diagnosis and how that plays a role in addiction, What is your role in the show supposed to be?

Dual diagnosis is the presence of active psychiatric illness in addition to addiction—like bipolar disorder and addiction or depression and addiction or social anxiety and addiction or Attention Deficit Disorder and addiction. This is all actually quite common. Psychiatric illnesses are best treated by a psychiatrist in association with an addiction medicine doctor—hence myself together with Dr. Drew. My role on the show was as the treating psychiatrist. I evaluated all the cast for psychiatric illness, made my diagnoses, discussed the implications of this with Dr. Drew and the rest of the clinical staff, made a plan for treatment, and provided the recommended psychiatric care and management—psychoeducation, psychotherapy, and medication as indicated. And I was in charge of all aftercare arrangements and provided direct care and coordination with the clinical staff.

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