“How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?”
“Just one, but it has to want to change”
I’ve been watching “Couples Therapy”, the VH1 reality show from 2012-2018 where a celebrity psychologist treats celebrity couples. Led by Dr. Jenn Mann (she was “Dr. Jenn Berman” the first season and quietly divorced her husband during season 2 and went back to her maiden name) and her team of staff therapists all agree to live in a house for 21 days and participate in group therapy to better their relationships. Not all are married; some are dating, some are engaged, (straight and/or gay) but all are monogamous couples (well some aren’t, but their partners don’t know this). And I’m OBSESSED.
I became aware of this show thanks to a classmate of mine in my group therapy class. As part of my masters program, we learn techniques and skills to run our own therapy groups someday, and we are required to have supervisory hours running group therapy to get our degree. I haven’t had this experience yet, (I will this summer) and I (not ironically) also want to become a marriage and family therapist. I have been binge-watching this show and I’m on the 5th season already (there are only 6). I’ve learned a lot about how to conduct a group therapy session watching Dr. Jenn. She is truly a gifted therapist.
On Season 5, rapper Ghostface tells his girlfriend Kelsey that he “don’t need no therapy, but I’ll go to support you”. This incredibly patronizing response should have been a big enough red flag for this chick to walk away, but she was “in love” and thought she could change him. (Ah yes. Drag the guy to get the therapy he doesn’t think he needs to make him commit to you. Not a very sound idea).
It’s obvious right away this dude needs therapy more than anyone else in this whole season. He’s a misogynistic, narcissistic jackass who actually has been cheating on Kelsey for the entire year they’ve been together with a woman he’s had a two -year relationship with that knows nothing about Kelsey. He wants the 2 year girlfriend to come on the show so he can “make a decision about who I want.” No regard for their feelings at all. (By the way, there’s a happy ending–*spoiler alert*–they both break up with him and leave his sorry pathetic ass!!) Hallelujah!
It got me thinking about how there are people who truly desire to get therapy and can’t get it due to lack of insurance, lack of transportation, and/or an overall lack of knowledge about how to find a therapist, and here’s this loudmouth jackass who has the amazing opportunity because of his celebrity to get paid to work on his relationship with his girlfriend, who by the way, had suspicions he was unfaithful. He’d done a pretty good job of gaslighting her for a year. He ended up blaming HER for falling in love with him because “you chose to go fast.” I know, right??! Appalling. What balls this guy has. Gigantic. He was cheating on two women at the same time, using them to feed his ego. He defends himself saying, “I’m a man, that’s what men do”, to which Dr. Jenn responded, “that’s not what men do. That’s what YOU do.” He truly did not see he was doing anything wrong.
And then, lo and behold, during a group therapy session, he bawls like a baby realizing his dad was never there for him blah blah blah and “maybe” that’s why he treats women the way he does. It was quite a moment, until the very end when he tells Kelsey he “forgives” her for “bringing me here to this hell.” Soooo, he got nothing out of it. He felt it was a waste of his time. I wanted Dr. Jenn to ask him, “why is your moniker “Ghostface”? Is it because you’re not really here? Because you have shitty values and no substance? I can only imagine what his “music” is like. No thanks.
And there you have it folks–therapy only works on people who want to improve their lives and their relationships. Like the joke at the beginning of this blog post, people change if they WANT to change. You can lead a narcissistic jackass to water, but you can’t make him drink. Therapy only works if people are willing to be honest and admit their struggles, to be willing to be vulnerable, to be willing to admit they’re not perfect and they don’t always know what the right answers are. And if you’re going to do couples counseling, listen to your partner when they tell you how they feel for chrissakes. I mean jeez Louise. Ghostface was screaming in Kelsey’s face that her feelings were “wrong”. (For the record, feelings are never “wrong”). Feelings give us information. We don’t always need to act on our feelings but we should pay attention to them. And for fucks sake, if your partner is sitting next to you–tears or no tears (there’s usually tears) and tells you “I feel” statements such as “I feel angry/sad/scared that you’re going to leave me/seeing someone else/ confused at your behavior/things you’ve said ” don’t disregard their feelings and be dismissive! It’s cruel and unusual punishment no one deserves, just for having feelings that are inconvenient for YOU. Grow up and grow a pair. Hold yourself accountable for the things you say and do that hurt others. Learn to say these words out loud: “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
But this blog post is about those who aren’t willing to do this hard work. Therapy works if you’re able and willing to admit you have shitty communication skills and want to understand why you get sullen when you’re angry, scream at your kids, or finally address how not processing or grieving the traumas you suffered are affecting every area of your life today. If you’re not honest, the therapist can’t help you.
Why did Ghostface think he didn’t need therapy (besides the fact that he’s a narcissistic jerk)? He truly believed he had no problems at all, it was his girlfriend that had problems because she didn’t trust him. Truly unfathomable. He has a need to think he’s all that and a bag of chips, side of guac and pico de Gallo. He ain’t. “He doth protest too much.” HUGE RED FLAG KELSY.
I have come to see that those who seek therapy are truly some of the bravest souls there are. To be willing to sit across from someone, someone who’s initially a complete stranger, and bare your soul takes trust in the clinician and a huge amount of trust in the process. I will discuss what this “process” is and “how does therapy work?” in my next blog post, but suffice it to say, the strongest, most humble, kind, and fiercest people I’ve ever known are those that have gotten mental health treatment.
It makes me crazy that there is still a stigma around receiving mental health care and treatment. No one judges someone for going to the ER to fix a broken bone or a migraine, but we judge those that seek to better themselves by talking to a professional. Why is this?? Especially in this day and age, I mean jeez we’ve got a greater awareness and acceptance of mental illness than any other time in history. And sometimes, it’s not a diagnosable illness but poor coping skills, maladaptive behaviors and cognitions that cause us often irreparable harm in our relationships. We can teach you these skills but first, you gotta admit your way ain’t working for you.
But there will always be those people who think the problem lies outside of themselves, and blame everyone else for everything that’s wrong with their lives. We psychology nuts call this an “external locus of control”, and people who blame everyone else are truly some of the most unhappiest people on the planet. Imagine how powerless that would feel! It’s like if you get all green lights on the way to work, you will have a good day, and all red ones, well, the powers that be are out to get you. And you spend all day projecting that helplessness in the form of being a Negative Nelly or Debby Downer. We all know people like this.
Sadly, many many people have this mentality that they’ve just been given a “bad hand/everyone’s unfair/everyone’s mean/life is hard/it’s not my fault”. And then there are just those who have a real lack of self-awareness, or those who truly can’t see the forest for the trees. The obvious can be right in your face but only someone as skilled as a therapist can point it out to you in a way that doesn’t diminish you, insult you, or belittle you. We therapists are very curious creatures and we thoroughly enjoy getting our hands dirty helping you figure out your shit.
I beg of you to ask yourself, or better yet, ask your partner or a trusted friend, “am I an asshole sometimes?/do I talk over you?/do I shut down when you try to talk about difficult things with me?” and LISTEN TO THEIR ANSWER. If they say yes, thank them for caring enough about you and their relationship with you to tell you the truth.
And go find a therapist. You’ll thank me, and so will everyone around you.
*How to find a therapist near you? Go to http://www.psychologytoday.com, enter your city for a list of qualified therapists near you*