Dr. Jenn Berman On Episode 1 Of Couples Therapy: Cutting Through The Bulls—

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Couples Therapy
Couples Therapy seeks to repair the relationships of couples who have spent significant time in the spotlight, and season two is going to bring the drama in ways that season one never dreamed. Already in the first episode, the focus is on Courtney Stodden, age 17, and Doug Hutchison, age 52, whose thirty-five year age gap has the rest of the new cast pretty much disgusted and distracted. I spoke to Dr. Jenn Berman about her own reservations in bringing Courtney on the show and potentially contributing to the exploitation of a minor while also making sure that the rest of the group received proper care. Here’s the first in our weekly chats with Dr. Jenn.

I feel like my line of questioning for episode one might skew a little Courtney and Doug-heavy, but I have to ask about them first because they definitely held a lot of focus this episode. Were you concerned that they would steal focus throughout the process?

Their influence in the house was very much felt in the first episode, so it makes sense that they’re especially on your mind.

Just seeing the way they interacted with the rest of the cast almost felt disruptive to start, because everyone seemed to get off on the wrong foot with them.

Well, just to back up, initially I was very concerned about the dynamics of them, but I felt very uneasy and uncomfortable working with them given that she was 16 when they married and he was 50, I was really concerned about potentially exploiting her and contributing to that. It’s something I talk about a lot with them just in terms of my own struggles with them, and at one point, you’ll see this coming up, I said to them that my greatest reservation in working with you two is that I don’t want to contribute to the exploitation of a minor and if I feel at any point that I am, I’m going to ask you to leave. Ultimately, the conclusion that I came to was that this is a legally married couple that genuinely has marital issues and that those issues have to be addressed for the sake of their future and tier marriage, and I felt that I could do it in good conscience. It took me a while to get there and you’ll me struggling with that throughout the season.

I feel like a lot of viewers may never get there with you, when people see their relationship, they pretty much have a set opinion.

And I think that there are some people who will stay in that mindset, and other people who actually may come around when they see the work that Courtney and Doug do, especially Doug. He dug really deep about some childhood stuff and it helped me as a therapist make sense of his choices as an adult.

Regarding the way that they speak about each other, when he jokes “I’m raising my wife” and her joking that she sometimes calls him dad instead of Doug, those statements definitely invite criticism and they seem to know that. They’re just trying to provoke their critics with that.

Yeah, sure. When I hear him say that, I hear that this is very much the reality. That actually came up a lot in therapy, that she is very young and this is part of their process which is atypical to most couples. I think when she says what she says, she’s being a little cheeky and I think she’s being playful, but underneath that, there’s this significant age gap that affects their marriage on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute basis.

Like I said, I don’t want to focus all our energy on Courtney and Doug, so let’s talk about Alex and Simon. They’s said that the sought your help because they were at each others’ throats, what was your impression of them?

I had many first impressions of them. First, I saw two people who were very savvy to the reality world and had been burned by the reality world, they had trouble trusting me, trusting the producers, trusting the process, and I thought they were initially too savvy for their own good. In terms of the dynamic of their relationship, this is a couple who was very mean-spirited with each other, very quick to anger, very aggressive with one another, and yet at the same time, you could see a strong connection and that these two had been through a war together being on their other show, and that was something that both bonded them and created tension in the relationship.

Do you think their problems arose because of their participation on reality TV?

I think a portion of their problems arose because of that. I think the fallout from the show created stress and difficulty in their lives that they didn’t have the tools to cope with in their relationship, and that created a domino affect.

And they’ve also said that their fame was a result of reality TV, so why not use reality TV as the way to repair their relationship.

Yeah, to me that made a lot of sense. I think ultimately, they had a truly reparative experience on reality TV on every level. It was reparative for their relationship and reparative for their experience on television.

When you hear you’ll be working with a couple like Nik and Shayne, who were married after knowing each other eight hours and had a whirlwind romance, do you worry they’re going to be a harder case to keep together?

What jumps out at me right away is “Wow, that’s a very impulsive decision to make, these must be impulsive people.” I think that you see a lot of situations over the course of the season where they are impulsive with each other, when you saw him pour the juice on the bed or when you see the way she talks to him, there’s a lot of impulsiveness and intensity and passion between the two that has led to things both good and bad. When they walked in the house, it was mostly bad, when they left the house it was mostly good.

The thing that stuck out to me even more than their only knowing each other for eight hours was her distaste for his line of work.

And that’s a big issue that we talk about a lot.

It’s surprising that his website focuses on these crazy, sensational stories, but he’s chosen to put himself out there now.

And I think it’s a very brave move on his part, and he was remarkably brave with his willingness to dig deep and do really significant work and open his heart and bare his soul, it surprised and impressed me, given his reputation and persona in the media.

Were you worried about the contentiousness between him and Doug?

I had concerns. Obviously when you walk into the house and a fight broke out, that’s never happened before. In two seasons there had never been anything remotely close to that. So the level of animosity and aggression concerned me and I was concerned how it would affect everyone’s process, but at the same time, as a therapist I believe that everything that happens in the house is fodder for therapy. I can use whatever happens to help people look at their stuff and to grow, and that’s a great thing about the inpatient model and the group therapy dynamic.

The last couple we met was JoJo and Tiny. Was JoJo’s alcohol use the big wedge that was driving him and Tiny apart or was there more to it?

It was his alcohol and her enabling. That became a very big therapeutic issue. And then as time goes on, there were some family dynamics that really affected their relationship a lot.

Overall, was the biggest difference between last season and this group?

The group dynamic even just in the room was incredibly different. Last season, everyone always sat in the same seats, this group, they would mix up their seats all the time, it was a group that really mixed it up. This group also liked to challenge me as a therapist, which I actually really enjoyed, they would be like “How come you were so tough on her and not on me?” or “I thought you were TOO tough on me” and they really challenged a lot of my choices as a therapist, which I enjoyed that they challenged me in that way and they spoke up about what they were thinking and feeling, which I really liked.