Licensed marriage and family therapist Jill Vermeire was on hand during the filming of Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew, bringing her clinical expertise to the world of reality TV. She’s agreed to lend us her perspective on the show’s shoot, as well as the rehabilitation of the cast. Below, Jill talks about the show’s sixth episode: the confrontation between Kari Ann and Selma the tech, the resulting dismissal of Selma, the visit from Phil’s father and Kendra’s relapse.
Any thoughts on the Kari Ann/Selma confrontation?
Drew and I were finishing up group, and one of the producers told us that Kari Ann threw something at Selma, or hit her or something. So Drew and I were like, “Well then she has to go. Violence is not accepted.” We were ready to go in and kick Kari Ann out, and one of the other producers was like, “You know, you might really want to watch the tape first, because it didn’t happen the way it’s being presented to you.” So we watched the tape, and my whole body froze and I was so shocked by what I saw. From what I saw, Selma was sort of antagonizing Kari Ann. When Kari Ann moved passed her, grabbed her notebook, and was walking back, she sort of flipped her arm, which hit the vase, which fell on the floor. She didn’t pick it up and throw it. And that’s when Selma grabbed the back of Kari Ann’s hair. As frustrating as Kari Ann’s behavior can be, when you are a professional working in a treatment facility, you never ever put your hands on a patient. You just don’t. There is a three point restraint that you can get training in if you’re being threatened, and you need to contain somebody physically. But it’s rare that that happens, and Selma does not have that training. Selma, unfortunately, let her feelings get the better of her, and overtake her for that moment. There were two hard things about that. Number One is that we had to let Selma go, because it’s unacceptable. And it’s unfortunate for Selma, because she’s not really an experienced tech. She was brought on as somebody who was familiar with recovery and is a strong woman, as far as holding boundaries. But that’s really not her everyday job. So she didn’t have the training that would have been helpful. The second hard thing about it is there was a lot of trauma for Kari Ann in her childhood where her mother would literally pull her hair and drag her in an abusive way. So to see the re-traumatization, and to see Selma replay that trauma, without even knowing she was doing that, without knowing Kari Ann’s history of abuse by being grabbed at her hair, I saw it in that moment, and Kari Ann’s face had a quick trauma reaction. It was very shocking for her. But because Kari Ann is such a survivor, and has learned to live with that kind of experience or abuse or behavior, she quickly regrouped and put on her defenses and it didn’t phase her. When I saw the tape, it was very clear that, unfortunately, it was Selma who was going to have to be let go. And the whole situation was really difficult and unfortunate. It was upsetting for all of us, because we all really liked Selma. I really liked her, but also Kari Ann is so wounded and has so much trauma that it was really upsetting for me. I’m even kind of shaking still when I talk about it, because Kari Ann really came around. She really did come around, and after some of the work that we did that you’re probably never going to see, I had a real appreciation and affinity to Kari Ann. The whole thing basically sucked.
[Edited: Just in case you missed it, Jill left this statement in the comments section of this post:
For the record: The video we were shown was from a different angle and you could not see that she had picked up the vase. From the angle we saw it really did look as though she knocked it over. The blog interviewer talks to me before the episode airs, so I haven’t seen the episode yet when I do the interview (plus, I have to recall events that happened back in April when we filmed the show). Now, after seeing the episode and the new camera angle, it is clear she did throw the vase, and for that mistake I sincerely apologize. However, it is still unacceptable for a staff member to antagonize or put their hands on a patient, no matter how argumentative and frustrating they are. To watch Selma go was very very difficult. She was well liked by all of us. To assuage any concerns: Selma and I are good. We’ve mended any rifts that existed. I hope this clears things up about erroneous statements made.]
Of course, this is not only another chapter of drama at the facility, but it leads to Kari Ann being even more alienated from the group, when they blame her for Selma’s firing.
They go on for the attack when they find out, but then Drew and I went out and talked to the group. People are so quick to jump to conclusions, and you can’t assume that you have the entire story. You always have to remember that there are many sides to every story, and for me as a therapist, that’s how I always work. I’m working with the person in front of me, but I’m aware that there are many other people that have different opinions or different experiences of how something happened. That’s just part of being a human being. It happens all the time in real rehab settings, it happens all the time. You put a bunch of addicts together and they have to live together in this super contained environment with their own personal demons, and their withdrawals, and their propensity for drama and chaos. You can’t escape rehab without experiencing the drama.
When Shelly’s brought in as Selma’s replacement, everyone’s concerned that she’s not a sex or love addict, and that she doesn’t have a background in that sort of treatment. Was that a concern for you?
No, because the role that a tech has is to contain, to have boundaries, to run a tight ship, to make sure they’re up and at ‘em, to make sure they’re following the rules, to make sure their meds are in compliance, to monitor their behaviors in between therapy and group and activities. They’re not there to be the therapist. That’s my job. So it does not matter that she doesn’t have the experience. Shelly has experience with recovery and with addiction in general, and the umbrella of addiction, no matter what it is, involves obsession, and intensity, and instant gratification, and a spiritual malady, a physical allergy. So she speaks the language, and Shelly runs a tight ship. And, the great thing about Shelly is that this really is what she does for a living. She knows how to conduct a treatment floor. She knows how to run one, because that’s what she does. So I was thrilled that she was available to come in. Shelly’s awesome. She came in literally within an hour or two of seeing the tape and making the decision to let Selma go. We couldn’t just let her go without having someone come in to run the floor. By law, you have to have somebody there. So it was a really quick turn over. We saw the tape, called Shelly, Shelly came right over and within an hour or two, the transition had been made.
Any thoughts on Phil and the session with his father?
It was so powerful! Phil’s another one that I really bonded with, and you’re not going to see it. There’s a lot of stuff that Phil would only talk to me about off camera. He and I really had a good rapport, and he really trusted me, and he really opened up to me about so many things. But about the stuff that you did see with his dad and his childhood and the grief letter: it takes a lot of courage to write a grief letter because it’s really painful and it’s really sad. The stuff with his mom was still so raw and close to his heart. He kind of fought us on having his dad come out for a while because it just makes things so real for him. But I can’t tell you, his dad is the coolest guy ever. It’s so great when you can bring family members in, because like I said earlier, there are so many sides to the story, and so many different perspectives. So when you have the chance to bring in a family member, not only is it helpful for us as a treatment team, but it’s also helpful for the patient, because in his mind, that really was the truth: it was too painful to talk about with his dad, and his dad just needed to move on, and it wasn’t a subject that could ever be broached. And then you bring dad in, and he contradicts all of it, “No! I’ve always wanted to talk to you about it, but I didn’t know how!” Or, “I was too afraid to, or I thought you didn’t want to.” It was so powerful and so healing to start that process. And the courage Phil had in letting us bring his dad out, and then the intense amount of courage he had to write the letter, and then read the letter…Phil did some amazing, amazing work.
And then the last big point is that Kendra admits that she relapsed.
She masturbated, and it was really cool that she admitted it. The thing is, we’re not there to make people feel bad if they relapse. It’s part of the process. It’s the willingness to be honest about it and be accountable for it. That’s the idea. Kendra admitting it was a huge step in her recovery. That’s when you know treatment’s working, because she had bonded with her peers, she sees other people working on their program, and a big part of the program is honesty. They say, “How do you stay sober? H.O.W: Honesty, openness and willingness.” And she was all of those things. And all I can do in those situations is give them a high five. That’s a success in my book if you can admit it. I have really high hopes for Kendra. I’m still working with her, and she’s trying real hard. It makes me happy. I’m very proud of my kids. [Laughs]
Any thoughts on your experience with the show in general, at this point in airing?
I read the message boards sometimes, and one of the things that’s really frustrating is that people don’t understand editing. There’s so much you don’t see. I mean, we were there 15 hours a day for 21 days straight. Every time you see a therapy session or a group session, like the session about the rape situation, two episodes ago, that was a two-hour group and it was really intense. Also in that episode, during the session with Kari Ann, that was the one hundredth billionth session we had, and we finally were connecting. I wanted desperately to connect with her, and her smile is such a defense. Asking someone to hold down her mouth instead of smiling is actually a technique I learned at the Meadows, which is a very high-end treatment facility. It is a therapeutic technique that has been proven to work, and in no way was Kari Ann shamed or dismissed. In fact, that session was a really long session. What people see is so so so sooooo brief, compared to what we were really doing. To comments saying “No one’s asking Kari Ann if she’s really a sex addict,” it’s just like, “We were asking her that 20 times a day!” People think that we weren’t doing these things, but we did. You’re just not seeing it. You’re only seeing a very, very quick little clip of it. You’re not seeing the entire session, and these are all techniques that I’ve learned from some of the biggest names in the field of treatment. I’ve had some mentors that are really celebrities in my world, the therapeutic world. And part of me wants to go on the boards and sort of defend myself, but then I realize that it’s not their fault. They’re not seeing everything. They just need to understand that there’s a lot of editing!
Check out screen shots from this episode in the gallery below: