Dr. Jenn On Couples Therapy Episode 3: It’s All Grist For The Mill

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This week on Couples Therapy, another couple joined the cast, so we spoke to Dr. Jenn Berman about the dynamic that was created when Jon Gosselin and Liz Jannetta arrived. We also delved deeper into Taylor Armstrong‘s meltdown and discusses the causes behind her behavior.

When you started to process Taylor’s tantrum this week, she explained that she behaved the way she did because, as she put it, she’s already had reality TV kill one person she loved, and she’s afraid of that happening again. What did you think when she said that?

The bottom line is that Taylor has clearly walked around with a lot of guilt about Russell’s death and that is very, very common when you have a loved one or a spouse that commits suicide. There’s a lot of guilt that the survivor is left with. I think survivors are always left with “How did I contribute?” or “How was I responsible?” and the truth is, when someone takes their life, they are responsible. Reality TV did not kill Russell, Taylor did not kill Russell. Clearly Russell was a disturbed person and had some mental health issues. You don’t commit suicide if you are mentally stable and functional. I think that when you’re in a relationship with someone who tells you repeatedly that things are your fault, there’s even more of a tendency to take on a belief that you’re responsible for things you’re not responsible for. I was thrilled that this came up in therapy because I felt it was a great opportunity for her to understand that that was not the case and to hopefully free her of some of that survivor guilt.

Taylor talked abut how her reactions were an attempt to cater to some of John’s needs, did he know this was how she felt and why she was acting this way, to have control over the situation and make him happy?

John realizes that Taylor is very in tune with him and very sensitive to his moods and any time he gets upset, but I don’t think that he realized how much he contributed because there were so many other valid things that she was upset about. I don’t blame her for being upset that the heat was on, that’s uncomfortable. Every one of the things she brought up, they were valid, but the truth is, her meltdown wasn’t really about those things, it was about feeling out of control and it was about the anxiety that brings up for her. In psychology there’s an expression, “it’s grist for the mill,” if something comes up in therapy, it’s all stuff that can be used to better understand the person and go even deeper into therapy. This is a perfect example. This meltdown ended up being, therapeutically speaking, a blessing. That I got to see that side of her, see her triggers, and see her level of anxiety, and I got to process it.

Kelsey also acknowledged that she tends to want to please the men in her relationships, but things between her and Ghostface are still tense and I get the general sense he doesn’t care for her. The way he says “I bagged her” and that sort of thing, he sounds to me like he’s not into the relationship.

I think that some of it is the way he views women, and I also think that he was still coming to the house thinking “I’m cool, I’m detached, this is the way I treat women,” and I think that he and Kelsey do have a genuine affection for one another and I think he does care deeply about her, and love her in his own way. But at the same time, there’s a certain detachment and, like, “I’m too cool to look like I’m too invested in this.”

Sada and Whitney tried to get to the bottom of Farrah’s sex tape because she denies that it’s “porn,” but to me it sounds like a matter of semantics. She’s calling it a sex tape and holds firmly to that, but is she in denial or just trying to call it something beside “porn”?

Farrah is very uncomfortable with that side of her life and doesn’t quite know how to integrate it, emotionally and more importantly, this issue gets dealt with and confronted on a much deeper level as the season goes on. In this area, she and I had a very big breakthrough.

Even now when I look at her Instagram photos, she has an equal number of sexy shots, including some with sex toys, right next to photos of her daughter. I can see why she gets flak from the public and from Whitney and Sada and Taylor for having such widely disparate public personas.

In many ways, Farrah embodies that conflict of the Madonna-whore complex that we all have within us — understand, please, that I’m not calling her a whore in any way, I’m talking about the archetype within us and how we all struggle to figure out how to integrate both. I think she pushes buttons because of that. She practices Christianity and that’s very important to her, but at the same time she has the sex toy line and she has this tape for sale, so she really struggles with “How do I integrate these two parts of my life?”

My first impression of Jon Gosselin and Liz was that Liz was the same type of woman as Jon’s ex, Kate. Not the same personality, but the same type of dominant force in Jon’s life, outspoken and a little bossy toward him.

We all have patterns and we tend to be drawn to certain types of personalities, and I think Jon is the perfect example of this. When he first came into the house he wasn’t able to see the similarities between Liz and his previous relationship and, also, by the way, between Liz and his mother. He talks about that in therapy and that’s really, ultimately where I believe all of that came from.

This is also a couple with eleven children between them, how does that affect their relationship?

It affects their relationship tremendously. You can’t even conceive of how much stress they are under, it really is off the charts. It’s like having a kindergarten in your house every day, it’s intense.

He says he wants to get married, but Liz’s reaction is more that Jon just needs someone to provide stability and that person can be interchangeable.She seems to judge him for that and call him out as being needy.

That also says a lot about how Liz feels about herself and she isn’t able to say “Of course he wants to be with me, I’m so wonderful and I’m a great partner,” instead she feels interchangeable because she doesn’t feel that worthwhile, at the core.

I didn’t think of it that way!

That’s because you’re not the shrink!

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