a large audience woith hands raised to ask questions
a large audience woith hands raised to ask questions

Dear Paul, Husband Not Willing to Participate in Therapy as Entertainment

Paul Kiernan

Two weeks ago, my wife told me that our marriage was in trouble, but she wouldn’t say why exactly.

Dear Paul, I have been married to my wife for 12 years now, and I thought things were going well. Yes, we have had ups and downs, but nothing serious; I’m not cheating on her, I don’t believe she is cheating on me, and we are financially stable. We have two kids who are well-adjusted, and life seems fine. Two weeks ago, my wife told me that our marriage was in trouble, but she wouldn’t say why exactly. A few days later, when I suggested we do counseling, she said, I have a better idea and told me we were going to appear on a daytime talk show and discuss our troubled marriage there. I don’t want to do this, and I wish she would just tell me why she feels the need to air our problems in public; she won’t. She insists that going on this show and discussing our marriage with the host and strangers will bring us closer together. It may, she claims, save our marriage. First off, I didn’t know our marriage needed to be saved, but more importantly, why do people feel the need to air their dirty laundry in public, especially on tawdry talk shows? Any advice?


Uncomfortable Guest

A person wearing a black ski mask and a sheet with the eye  and mouth holes taped shut and Help written on the sheet

Dear Uncomfortable,

What’s wrong with you, man? You don't want to go on TV and have thousands of strangers make judgments about you and how you live your life. You don’t want to sit on a set under blaring lights with an audience frothing for good gossip to hoot and howl at your shortcomings as a husband? You don’t want to make public the very private and intimate story of your marriage as it falls apart? Are you saying you’d rather work things out between you and your wife quietly, maybe in a counselor’s office, just the two of you, instead of making your twelve years of marriage a prequel to a sideshow? 

What could you be adverse to, free round trip airfare, a room at a moderately nice hotel for you and your guests? How could that be bad? How could you turn down the chance to fly to Cleveland and have some untrained “Doctor” grill you on your failures in the marriage while turning to the audience for their untrained opinion? I mean, nothing says second honeymoon like having your quirks and foibles spread across the screen and picked apart by a daytime talk show crowd.

Kidding. I’m with you, Brother; if there is a problem in your relationship, why do you think going on national TV to pick the relationship apart is going to solve anything? That’s a long and silent flight, I can only imagine.

Sadly, your wife is not alone.

The intersection of therapy and entertainment has become a contentious issue in recent years, as reality television shows, podcasts, and other media outlets increasingly showcase therapy sessions for the sake of entertainment. While the intent may be to destigmatize mental health and promote self-reflection, there are several problems associated with therapy as entertainment, including how it can damage relationships.

A huge stadium packed with people

Lack of Privacy: In traditional therapy settings, privacy and confidentiality are paramount. Patients feel safe to discuss their most intimate thoughts and emotions. When therapy is portrayed for entertainment, this privacy is jeopardized. The public disclosure of personal issues can breach trust in relationships, as friends, family, or partners may feel uncomfortable knowing their private matters are being shared.

Distorted Reality: Entertainment often thrives on sensationalism, and this can lead to a distorted portrayal of therapy. Media may focus on dramatic conflicts and emotional outbursts, skewing the perception of what real therapy is like. This distortion can lead to unrealistic expectations and disillusionment among those seeking therapy in real life.

Exploitation of Vulnerability: In the quest for high ratings, entertainment therapy often exploits the vulnerability of individuals seeking help. Participants may be encouraged to reveal their most sensitive issues for the sake of drama, which can undermine the therapeutic process and erode trust between therapist and client.

Simplification of Complex Issues: Reality shows and other forms of entertainment tend to simplify complex mental health issues for a broad audience. This oversimplification can lead to misconceptions about therapy and mental health, potentially exacerbating misunderstandings in relationships. For example, people might expect quick fixes or dramatic transformations, which rarely occur in real therapy.

Erosion of Professionalism: Therapy should be a professional and ethical practice, but when used as entertainment, it can compromise the professionalism of the field. Therapists may be portrayed as characters in a storyline rather than highly trained professionals who prioritize the well-being of their clients. This can damage trust and credibility in the therapy profession.

Spectator Effect: The mere act of having an audience can change the dynamics of therapy. Participants in entertainment therapy may behave differently or exaggerate issues for the sake of the viewers. This can lead to inauthentic interactions and a lack of genuine progress, which can be detrimental to the relationships involved.

Trivialization of Mental Health: By presenting therapy sessions as entertainment, there is a risk of trivializing serious mental health issues. This can make it difficult for those genuinely struggling with their mental health to be taken seriously, as their issues are framed within the context of entertainment rather than genuine distress.

Pressure to Perform: Participants in entertainment therapy may feel pressure to perform or act in a certain way to satisfy the expectations of the audience or producers. This pressure can hinder their ability to be open, honest, and vulnerable in therapy, which are essential for its effectiveness.

So, Uncomfortable, therapy as entertainment can be entertaining and even informative to some extent, but it comes with significant drawbacks that can damage relationships. The popularity of this type of public privacy is very disconcerting, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, but that doesn’t mean you have to participate in it.

Honestly, if this is how your wife wants to deal with your marriage trouble, that seems to have come out of the blue; I have to say, I don’t believe she is serious about it. I don’t believe there are actual problems in your marriage, the way you tell this story. However, I only know your half. But your half tells me this is not a wise move. I recommend you talk to your wife, let he know that you’re very uncomfortable with this public airing of marital problems, and ask her to attend counseling with you to fix the problems. If she refuses, then she isn’t serious about the problems or rectifying them; save yourself and walk away.

I hope that helps.

If you have a question or a problem that you think Paul can help with, drop him a line at paulk@thoughtlab.com. He’ll try to answer. Which may or may not be a good thing.