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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

Who Killed Robin Williams?

I did a presentation the other day to a group of professionals -- financial, therapy and research professionals. The title was some innocent, boring sounding thing like “The Brain and Intrinsic Motivation.” Every professional talk has a title and then a subtitle. The subtitle that I slipped in at the last minute was “Who Killed Robin Williams?”

I know it was shocking to some of this group and I can’t say that everyone got the message I was trying to deliver, but I will share the message with you:

Little known or talked about in the massive media coverage of Robin Williams’ death was the fact that he had entered a treatment center two weeks before his death. And while I don’t doubt that he got the best treatment that money could buy and available, I do have serious doubts about whether he got the best “evidence-based” treatment that everyone deserves. I know the treatment field pretty well. I know that we now know many things about how the brain works (and doesn’t) to help people change. Much, far too much, of the latest scientific evidence hasn’t been integrated into the treatment field. What we know is not being applied. Perhaps that is why the treatment industry has such abysmal results in treating people

If our car started 20-25% of the time, there would be a recall. Simple things have not been incorporated, like the research that shows that the part of the brain that is responsible for behavior changes doesn’t understand abstract words, that confrontation makes things worse in the long run, not better, and that the sensory system has to be engaged for internal motivation to be generated. Science is very clear about these and many other factors, but this clarity has yet to be universally and effectively integrated into the treatment process. There are many reasons for the slow adoption of this evidence. Some are innocent and some, not so much. AND I could be totally wrong. It could be that the treatment center he went to was using only the latest of evidence-based tools to facilitate his treatment outcome.

But the most appalling of all is that the question, “Was his treatment a part of the problem?” was not asked publicly. In all the media hype around Robin’s death I never saw one word about the efficacy of his treatment. Not one question. I heard his depression was the cause, the early onset of Parkinson’s, his failing career, his relationship with his wife, his childhood, his lack of courage and on and on. At the end of it all, blaming it all on him. Whether or not he got appropriate, evidence-based treatment was never mentioned. By ANYONE. What is that all about? If an airplane crashes, they look at everything from the beginning of that airplane’s life, the pilot’s, the air traffic controller, the weather, the airport, the servicing of the plane, etc. They don’t blame the plane. The idea is to have it not happen again. Why don’t we do the same thing in cases like this? If you ever go to get help, whether it be personal mental health or financial advice, I encourage you to ask if you are getting the best evidence- based treatment and what that means to the treatment providers. If they have no idea what you are talking about, or can’t give you specific examples of how they are applying it, you have an excellent clue. You deserve more.

That’s what Robin deserved. I hope he got it.

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