It has been a summer filled with reality television and perhaps there is a good reason why VH1’s Couples Therapy easily finds itself near the top of the pack without fail each week. Viewers of the show seem just as invested in Dr. Jenn Berman’s style of therapy as they are in the celebrity couples that have signed on for this truly unique experience. Dr. Jenn has a unique approach in that rather than drawing a chalk line between herself and the house guests, she is smack in the middle of the process with them. Watching her be affected by the growth and healing that has occurred on camera also resonates with viewers making each and every hour both riveting and relatable.
Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis is one of the celebs involved in this seasons show along with his girlfriend of 5 years, Abbey Wilson. Fans have watched the couple deal on camera with some heavy duty issues, such as Abbey’s serious eating disorder and they’ve also seen Joe completely out of control. As those scenes have been shown he has opted to lash out at Dr. Jenn as well as everyone connected to the show calling it scripted and fraudulent. As the season finale is upon us Dr. Jenn sat down with Cate Meighan who does Hollywood Catie Radio with Celeb Dirty Laundry to set the record straight putting herself on the line in the classiest of ways.
CM: As Joe continues to publicly lash out at you, basically disrespecting the work that you have done on the show, what are your thoughts?
JB: I am doing my best to address concerns and to help people to understand that what they’ve connected to with this show is all very real and very valid. It makes me really sad that someone who I did such heartfelt work with would say such mean things. It’s surprising because two days before this last rash of twitter ranting against me he called and apologized for calling me a fraud. He then complimented me on the great work that I did with him and Abbey so it’s just unfortunate. I think that what most people don’t realize how hard it really is to put yourself out there and then get feedback from the public. I think that people have been pretty rough on Joe and I understand why. I think it has been really hard for Joe to get such negative feedback and he had told me that he got some threats and that people were being really aggressive with him. I’ve seen some of it myself and I think he came to Couples Therapy and did some great work both individually and as a couple with Abbey but at the same time he behaved in a way that upset people. Both people in the house and people who watch the show. I think that he has pushed a lot of peoples buttons and that people can be cruel and aggressive while hiding behind the anonymity of Twitter. Being bombarded with that kind of aggression is really hard. As a therapist, I’m not interested in getting into any kind of twitter war, but I can say that I really understand that it’s upsetting and I think that those are the things that he is reacting to. I think sometimes it’s easier to get defensive or to claim that something isn’t as it seems rather than to take responsibility for bad behavior. We all have things that we have to improve about ourselves. My hope was that Joe would have seen this side of himself and it would have been a wake up call and I talked to him about this a couple times post-production. I told him “Let this be a wake up call to you. I don’t think you realize how you come off with people or with Abby a lot of the time. Let this be what enables you to have a healthier relationship with Abby and with other people.”
I wish he would just learn from this. The public is surprisingly forgiving and if he just looked at this and really took it in and admitted that he didn’t realize how bad he comes off and that he needs to change things I think then people would really embrace him. I wish so much that this was where he was coming from now.
CM: How are you handling the bit of backlash that has emerged?
JB: We’re all flawed. I’ve never claimed to be perfect. There are people that don’t like my style of therapy and that’s okay. I’m always willing to engage in a smart dialog about my work but when it comes to calling me a fraud or name calling- that’s just ridiculous. Anyone that knows me or has seen me work knows that I do this from the heart. My therapy is heartfelt and I genuinely care about the people that I work with, even Joe and Abbey, despite what they’ve said about me. I feel a real sense of responsibility to them in spite of them being mean spirited. I am in the trenches with them and for anyone who hasn’t gone through it it’s really hard to imagine how intense the situation really is. It’s hard to be doing inpatient therapy practically around the clock and it’s really intense for everyone involved.
CM: This season has been such a roller coaster ride between Joe’s outbursts, Abbey’s clear progress with her eating disorder and then anywhere Flava Flav is, drama is sure to follow. How do you feel about it all now looking back?
JB: I felt great about the work that was done. I always wish that I can have months and months with everyone. I really felt like every couple that I worked with on Couples Therapy moved forward and experienced healing and growth and learned new tools for the future. That’s something that I am really proud of.
CM: A big deal has been made about Dustin Zito and Heather Marter only being in the house for a few days. Did that matter in the end?
JB: I think it was a very eye opening experience for them. I have to say they came late thru no fault of their own. They absolutely wanted to be there the whole time and it was more of a logistics issue than anything. It blew me away how they walked into an already established group that was pretty intense as it was post 911 call and the group had already blended and Dustin and Heather hit the ground running. Therapy wise they were so brave and open, they did such meaningful work from the moment they hit the house they were amazing. Here was this young couple who had not had therapy before and they jumped in and participated by asking questions and challenging each other as well as other members of the group. Heather was just texting me last night about what an eye opening experience it was and how much it has changed her. They made great use of their time.
CM: Why does this reality format work for couples?
JB: I think it works on two levels. In terms of the therapy it works incredibly well because it’s such an intense situation. They get couples and group therapy every day, plus individual therapy. When I do this show I have resources that I don’t have in private practice. I get to do a level of work that I can only dream of in private practice. There are times in private practice where I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “Man if only I can bring in his mother from Michigan that really doesn’t want to talk to him, I could heal this wound and help him move on.” When I’m doing Couples therapy I can say to a producer “I need this mother here.” and they can get that person out there in no time and that’s one of the most incredible things about this, getting to bring in a third party is a huge reason why this works. Inpatient couples therapy doesn’t exist in this country. The fact that they have cameras on them 24/7 is another thing. If they have a fight I can review the footage myself or get notes from other people who witnessed it or from other counselors that were there. It gives me a huge advantage that I could never have outside of this scenario. That allows me to do work that is so much deeper, faster than anything I can do in private practice and that is amazing as a therapist. I think that it works for the viewers because it’s so relatable. They’re celebrities and there are some issues that are celebrity specific but the core relationship issues are the same for everyone. Communication, intimacy, sex, power it’s all that stuff that everyone experiences. The outcome of the relationship never defines success for me. If a couple shouldn’t be together and I am able to help them break up in an amicable way, then that’s success. If I’ve done my job well then they can respect each other and take the tools with them towards better choices.
CM: Your resume is beyond impressive. You’ve worked with rape victims, eating disorders, you are a writer and have a call-in advice show. At the end of the day, what work is the most important to you?
My heart is in a few places. I’ll always have a place in my heart for eating disorders. I’ve spoken openly about my own recovery and I think there are so many people struggling that think that they can never get well and it doesn’t have to be that way. A lot of people have asked about the eating exercise that I did with Abbey at Follow Your Heart. They’ve wondered what they can do to get on the right path and therapy with someone who has an understanding of eating disorders would be the first thing. I have an app that is called No More Diets and it has the eating exercise that I did with Abbey in an audio format. I’m basically talking people through that which is a good tool. With all of the Joe and Abbey stuff I’ve had some people reach out to me upset because they wondered if Abbey really even had an eating disorder. With Joe insisting the show was fake it really upset some members of the eating disorder community. So yes, Abbey does have an eating disorder and she made beautiful progress. That should still inspire people and nothing said by Joe should diminish the real healing and big steps that took place with her. I love anything that deals with women’s empowerment and I also really do love relationship issues because to me that’s kind of what makes us tick and we all seek to have healthy relationships.
CM: Your fan base is massive and it’s pretty clear that your style of therapy really does reach a lot of people that you’ll likely never meet in person. What would you like those people to know?
JB: I’m so grateful to each and every person who watches the show and follows me on Facebook and Twitter. I feel honored and what means the most to me is when people reach out to me and tell me how my work has changed their lives. That brings tears to my eyes and it’s why I do this. When I first started doing tv and radio my hope was that I’d be able to affect and help as many people as possible. It’s the greatest honor of my life to be able to actually do that, it’s my reason for existence.
Tune in for the season finale of Couples Therapy this Wednesday at 10pm on VH1. We will be recapping it live right here on CDL – and don’t forget to catch the hottest celeb gossip radio with Hollywood Catie on a station near you.