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Social Work Meets Reality TV

Aracely Neeley

Aracely Neeley

Aracely Neeley has a new job some actors would kill to get. She will get to use her social work skills on camera in “Keeping up with the Joneses,” an upcoming reality television show on Centric that follows entrepreneur Tracey Ferguson.

According to the Centric Web site, Ferguson is an “attractive fashionista” trying to build a magazine that serves affluent African American women in Houston.

“I’m still thinking it’s a joke,” Neeley, LCSW, said. “Did it really happen? Is it really real?”

Neeley is a licensed clinical social worker with a thriving practice in Houston. Producers of the show, which is scheduled to air on the Centric network in early 2010, found her through her Web site.

Show producers needed a professional to provide real-life grief counseling for Ferguson. They filmed several counseling sessions with Neeley and Ferguson. 

“We did actual taping in our office — there was no script,” Neeley said. “They said this is what we need for you guys to cover and we want it to happen organically.”

“And I said ‘I’m just going to do therapy like I do everybody else and they said that’s exactly what we want.'”

Neeley is of Mexican descent and offers bilingual counseling service. She said being a minority was a plus in landing the role. She hopes her work with “Keeping up with the Joneses” will make more African Americans willing to try therapy to ease depression, family strife and other social issues.

“I think this show will depict therapy in a very down-to-earth way, and as a reality TV series has a good chance of (letting minorities know) therapy is an okay and acceptable treatment,” she said.

To find out more about how social workers help clients deal with grief visit the National Association of Social Workers “Help Starts Here” Death and Dying Web page.

Q: Reality shows have sometimes been criticized as exploitative. But do you think such programming  could be useful tools to show the benefits of social work?

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  1. Wow this is such an awesome opportunity for the profession. Way to Go!

  2. I think some of the more human service shows are beneficial to the profession. I recently started watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I know there are no social workers on the show but it really emphasize community building/empowerment (I am an aspiring community social worker/community organizer). I guess you really have to look outside of the box for some of the other reality shows, maybe “Sex House” with Dr. Drew on VH1. I guess you would have to really have to look at the human dynamics/relationships to really think about these reality shows in a human service type way.

  3. In response to the question, reality shows only show the worst of human kind. Unless she has control over her quasi-script, social worker myths and stereotypes will abound. Got to keep the folks coming back for a train wreck waiting to happen, and it is on BET/CENTRIC. BET left stable black folk out of programming a LONG time ago.

    Hope that the LCSW will advocate for how she is portrayed, as well as how social works have dignity,value, and worth.

  4. Yes, I did “advocate” in how I would be portrayed in the episodes. There was no “drama”, had it not been for the cameras and lighting etc. it was just a ‘regular’ therapy session. I know they will extract what they want out of it, but I can tell you I would have quit if I even had an doubt that this would be portrayed as ‘trashy tv’. The producers and other film crew were very professional and I was impressed with how the content was presented. I think it was an exciting part of my professional life to have had such an opportunity and I took it. We had initially taped for one show and about 4 days later I had received a called from the producer saying that Centric had “loved my work” and wanted to use me for an additional 7 episodes. I was impressed with the ‘main characters’ perspective on life and how she had felt ‘stuck’ in her grief, and we processed a lot of that– we also processed her previous relationship (with a former popular R&B performer).
    I love what I do and I would never ever do anything intentionally to denigrate our profession. I think it was a wonderful opportunity to present the therapeutic process and in a positive light and to ‘demystify’ it to those minorities who may think you are ‘crazy’ to need or to get counseling. If I can do that, I’ve done a lot!

  5. I am glad that Ms. Neeley, LCSW has accepted the role to portray LCSWs’ doing “Counseling”, because a lot of people love to label social workers as only case managers. There is nothing wrong with case management, but in essence portraying various roles of social workers in the media, I believe is a good way to educate others about the social work profession.

    When I tell people that I’m a clinical social worker, they readily assume “you work at social services.” Again, there is nothing wrong with social workers who are employed with social services, but people apparently are not aware that Clinical Social Workers can provide counseling services!!

  6. Hi I am a currently a senior, at John Jay College (CUNY). I am trying to gather as much information as possible, showing race, pay, opprotunities to advance, etc. of male vs. female social workers If possible, can you send me whatever information that you have on this topic. Thank You.


  1. TV To Watch: Keeping Up With the Joneses | Social Workers Speak

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