According to my childhood diary, I wanted to be a psychologist since I was 9-years-old. I have dedicated my entire professional life to the field of psychology. When I was first asked to provide consultation on a television show, my initial inclination was to decline. I was working full-time as a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist at a University, Principal Investigator on federal grants, training and teaching therapists regionally and across our country, doing a number of public speaking engagements nationally, and keeping a part-time private practice running. Additionally, I am an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Executive Director of a trauma center which serves the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in addition to being the mother of three young children and trying to have some sort of personal life. The story goes, while traveling in California, I met someone socially who encouraged me and then inspired me to try television as his company was looking for experts with professional and academic credentials. Although I initially declined primarily due to the fact that it was far outside my comfort zone and my schedule was already out-of-control, with some prodding and pep-talking from someone who believed in me (with this man who is now my dear friend), I decided to take a risk and try television, after seeing there were experts before me with professional pedigrees who were well-established in the field. In the end it wasn't that hard; I’m a person who says yes to opportunities. You only have one life. Thus, in 2015, I began working for a television show, Seven Year Switch, and entered a world unfamiliar to me in which I would become familiar with terms such as “call time,” “HMU,” “B-roll” “Jib,” “VTR,” and countless others. Let’s be clear: I did not own a single headshot or a lip gloss. All this said, my experience in the television world has been nothing short of wonderful. I have met so many dynamic, smart, and friendly people from production assistants to audio-guys and gals to executive producers who work around the clock to produce these relationship docuseries. I have been struck by the manner in which I have been able to reach an audience via a platform I never imagined (e.g., television and social media) using in my professional world. The downside of the negative messages I receive via social media and other outlets attacking my personal appearance, professional credibility, or ethics is far superseded by the rewards of working with incredible people, intelligent and dynamic colleagues, and the positivity we have from viewers at home. I receive calls and emails on a daily basis from fans of the show who were touched by one of our couples’ experience or who benefited from psychoeducational information provided on relationships, trauma, or communication strategies by myself or one of my colleagues on these different shows.
Reality Docuseries are Not Evidence-Based Treatments
I lecture and provide training in trauma, trauma-informed care and evidence-based practices and treatments across the country and have dedicated the majority of my professional energy to the dissemination of evidence-based treatments, nationally. It goes without saying, but I must emphasize: Reality docuseries, or the exercises within them, are not evidence-based treatments. Notwithstanding the fact that arranged marriages have existed for centuries, Married at First Sight is a “social experiment” that was created in the context of a Danish television program. To be clear, “Switch Therapy” on Seven Year Switch is a concept that was created within the context of a television show. It is no more of a therapy than “Donut Therapy” or “Walking in the Woods Therapy.” When the show started, there was no “evidence-base.” There are no clinical trials supporting the effectiveness or efficaciousness of these approaches. “Switch Therapy” is not my terminology, but that of the production company. That being said, in my personal and professional experience, many of the individuals and couples who participated in Seven Year Switch benefited from this experience in extraordinary ways. We have not “deconstructed” the "Switch Therapy" process so I cannot be clear what was most beneficial: Two weeks away from their spouse, 2 weeks of journaling and introspection, 2 weeks of no social media, telephones, television, or 2 weeks of being paired with someone who is also struggling in their marriage and who has the qualities you think you want in your spouse or qualities more similar to your personality… or the exercises and activities they did together. I can tell you that most of them will tell me they do not regret doing television and were able to get positive benefits out of it, from learning new communication skills to obtaining clarity in their personal lives. One young woman stated that particularly after watching it play back, the show, “saved her life.”
My Professional Role: When My Personal Integrity, Professional Ethics, and Contractual Obligations are in Conflict
Within my role as a consultant to cast and production, I have had to be clear about what my role is and is not. I have contracts with a production company/Network, the ethical standards of my profession as a licensed psychologist, and own my personal ethics and integrity to consider within my role as an expert in this capacity. Just like conflicts in relationships in which your needs may conflict with the needs of others, there are times in which my professional and ethical responsibilities as a psychologist do not line up with the needs of production or those developing a television show. At those times, I have actively voiced my concerns and we have always been able to come to agreements in a way that makes sense for everyone involved. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have worked with a production company with heart and which is run by people with enormous integrity and care for others, who have in my personal experience, placed the well-being of individuals, couples, and families first – before the needs or demands of the actual television show(s), the majority of the time.
Within my Television Role, I Am Not a Therapist
It must also be stated that at no point should the role I (or others) provide be construed as replacing actual therapy. We are NOT individuals' or couples’ therapists on these television shows or in real life. We do not have a client/therapist or doctor/patient relationship at any point during production or any point, period. Outside companies are hired to conduct the psychological evaluations of cast members. My role that I am hired to do as a “Relationship Expert” is to provide consultation to the cast of a television show and consultation to production on topics that fall within my expertise. We provide support and consultation to the brave individuals who are willing to have their lives documented and I do believe that this consultation has helped many people. It is noted that this is not therapy, nor should it replace real therapy and participants on these shows sign various consent forms acknowledging the roles and limitations of the "experts." Through these unique experiences, I have been privileged to meet many incredible human beings who are open and ready to take risks to find love, save their relationships, or find some clarity in their lives. As an expert in trauma, I work with individuals to identify where their trauma histories may be interfering with their functioning and when I believe they are being triggered or distressed by the unique circumstances of filming – and I advocate for them to the extent I possibly can. I also work to identify ways in which individuals may be impacted by their prior life experiences and make suggestions for self-care strategies to manage their current stressors. I work with individuals and couples to secure therapists in their communities (typically paid for by production, who encourages aftercare) and encourage them to seek the support of licensed professionals who can provide them actual therapy and with whom they can have an actual confidential client/therapist relationship.
Although I did not seek out television, working in this industry has been fun, exciting, challenging, at times exhausting, but incredibly professionally stimulating and I am glad I said yes to the opportunity. I have watched people fall in love, gain insight or perspective they did not previously have, and grow (and even grow up!) immensely within the wild world of filming a reality docuseries. And, I do believe you can find love in extraordinary ways if you are open to receiving it. These are real people with real lives and when they do find love, it's remarkable and an honor to witness it. Never did I think I would be working within this context, but I am beyond grateful for those who believed in me and for the individuals, couples, other experts, production crew and viewers for making this opportunity thus far, the greatest experience of my professional life.