A Mass General Psychiatrist Is A Medical Consultant for Arthur

Dr. Paula Rauch helps the show address mental health issues accurately and sensitively.

Shelter From The Storm

Shelter From The Storm. Image provided to Bostonmagazine.com

Stress? Anxiety? Times of crisis?

No topic is too heavy for Arthur, the beloved 18-year-old PBS series known for tackling real issues that kids today grapple with.

“We talk a lot about resilience,” says Carol Greenwald, senior executive producer of children’s programming at WBGH and the co-creator of Arthur. “It’s about supporting kids through issues that aren’t quantifiable.”

That’s why Arthur enlisted Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist Paula Rauch to add emotional gravitas to an educational program that aspires to be more than a cartoon.

Arthur has this incredible impact and reach—millions watch it,” says Rauch, who helps brainstorm topical mental health issues to address on the show. “It’s a rare opportunity to deliver positive messages in a format that young children can appreciate.”

Rauch’s most recent contribution involved helping the families of Elwood City recover from an emotionally ravaging hurricane in “Shelter From The Storm.” In the episode, which aired earlier this month, Arthur’s friends must cope with the loss, anxiety, and confusion that accompany a natural disaster. Rauch helped rework the script to make a therapy session included in the episode appear more genuine.

While “Shelter From The Storm” is Rauch’s latest episode, she’s worked with the Arthur team for nearly 18 years, also serving as a key advisor to Arthur Family Health, an online resource for kids to learn more about asthma, allergies, nutrition, and fitness. Since Arthur‘s inception, Rauch has worked with scripts covering everything from bed-wetting to divorce to cognitive decline.

“We think, ‘What are the sorts of challenges that children really shouldn’t be alone with?’” she says. “[The latest episode] emphasizes the importance of healthy adult-child relationships. We hope it will help kids recognize what a positive interaction looks like.”

WGBH’s Greenwald says Rauch is integral to helping the show handle the tough topics it has become known for. “We get so much positive feedback from parents and kids who see these challenges presented on TV,” Greenwald says, explaining that this level of care means each episode takes about a year to make. “Dr. Rauch really helps us approach them sensitively and carefully.”

Greenwald says she firmly believes that all children’s programming shares a responsibility to consult experts in medicine and child development, but that “public television does [it] better than anybody else.”

The creators of Arthur already have a handful of future episode ideas that require collaboration with Rauch. Next up: the nomadic nature of military families. “I’m excited about this concept that an initially stressful situation will also help kids learn to make new friends and adapt,” Rauch says.

And while Rauch is a key member of the Arthur team, she admits that the line between television and medicine is one she has to keep in mind.

“Sometimes, they have to rein me in,” she laughs. “I have to remember that the show is engaging and funny. It’s not a PSA.”