When Amanda Staton, a former Bachelor contestant with more than 1 million followers, suggests that we’ve gone too far with therapy dates on a show like The Bachelor, I had to agree.
As a psychologist and commentator of reality dating shows, I need to chime in on this conversation. Producers of shows such as The Bachelor and Love Is Blind want to increase ratings and keep people watching, but they are NOT looking out for the mental health of their stars.
Is This Real Therapy?
In the current season of The Bachelor, Clayton Echard had not one but two therapy dates. Both were mandatory; the women didn’t choose to participate. The women were encouraged to discuss traumatic experiences. Kaitlyn Bristowe, a former Bachelorette, not a trained mental health professional, led what looked like a group therapy session.
Weeks later, a trained psychoanalyst in Vienna is tasked with helping Clayton flush out who has resistance to the process. During so-called “couples therapy” sessions with six of the seven remaining women, the analyst joked that the women looked “intimidated.” Of course, the women are intimidated; they are forced to share vulnerable feelings in a situation where there is no anonymity or safety.
In the end, the analyst drops a bomb that some of the women are “performative.” The setup is so far from what actual therapy is; it’s laughable. And to add insult to injury, Genevieve is sent home for not being able to open up. Sarah, a second woman, is sent home after being exposed as the performer of the group.
You don’t have to be a therapist to know that this is NOT what therapy is, punishing people for not opening up and giving authoritarian summaries of people’s personalities.
On Love is Blind, one contestant experienced a panic attack after she worried that she’d shared too much with her new fiance. There was no therapist to support her or any of the other couples.
The Producer's Perspective
Some followers might say that contestants know what they are getting into, but do they? While no one forces people to go on such shows. It is understood that in exchange for air time that most contestants gain fame and followers. But this isn’t always the case, as social media can be fickle. And while no one forces contestants to says things, manipulative editing can weave a different story. Producers accentuate the negative, cherry-pick scenes, ask provacative questions, and delete content all for the sake of “good TV,” meaning cringeworthy moments.
But does therapy have any place on reality dating shows?
Yes and no. Not the type of therapy we’ve seen thus far. However, done right, therapy can be highly beneficial. For the sake of protecting those who are more vulnerable and helping a couple become more secure, enlisting the services of ethical professionals should be considered essential.
When it comes to The Bachelor and Love Is Blind, why not borrow scripts from other shows like Married at First Sight. Assign a trained couples therapist to help couples manage. Why not normalize that a marriage without a foundation will be hella hard?
And go a step further, don’t make therapists the matchmakers, hire therapists who are there for one reason- to help the individual or the couple cope. Help a new couple learn about their partner, give them communication skills, and settle into their new reality.
While television therapy cannot mimic real-world therapy because it is NOT confidential, you can solve this problem without making therapy public. You don’t have to show the content of the therapy sessions. The contestant can allude in an outtake about what they are learning about themselves in therapy.
If you want to do a group therapy date, neutralize it. Educate people about attachment styles and love languages without requiring personal disclosures.
If you are going to do couples therapy, make sure they are a committed couple, not dating multiple people. If the cast shares vulnerable information such as panic attacks, depression, neurodiversity issues, or sexual orientation struggles normalize the experience. Let viewers know that 30 percent of the population has occasional panic attacks and 40 percent of people suffer from depression. There can be commentary about mental health issues that normalize, not stigmatize, real world struggles.
Another way therapists can be helpful is to explain what is behind mean behaviors. Most people know that hurt people, hurt people but go deeper. And also pay attention to the environment, recognize that contestants are pried with alcohol and often sleep-deprived. Contestants are under a high level of stress and have to make real world choices without knowing the full picture which is uncovered only later.
Therapy can help on many different levels and not interfere with the entertainment value.
For the couples that do succeed, why not show a better edit? Take couples like Danielle and Nick and Jarette and Iyanna. Why show couples the most harmful, vulnerable moments. For Iyanna and Jarette, why keep showing an early storyline to make Iyanna feel like she was her groom’s second choice? For Danielle and Nick, why not focus on the positive aspects of supporting each other through anxiety.
If I were to advise people before going on a reality dating show, I would say, “protect your narrative.” Don’t allow the producers to control your story. And when emotions get high (because they will), take a break, compose yourself, and try not to take it personally.
But to The Bachelor and Love Is Blind producers, why be satisfied with meager results? The Bachelor has notoriously poor rates for couples’ success. For Love Is Blind, why hold up your original cast, Lauren and Cameron, as the Greatest of All Time? Why not create multiple storylines for successful relationships that look different. And instead of using manipulative editing, why not do positive editing to support those who say I do. Don’t the producers want followers to believe in their product?
Don’t insult viewers’ intelligence
When producers assume that people only watch reality dating shows for the drama, they undermine their fan base. Read your followers’ comments on social media. People stop watching not because they are boring but because they are too dramatic. On Love Is Blind, the drama of whether they will say yes or no at the altar is enough. You don’t have to drum up more drama. On The Bachelor, the tipping point is when women are fighting over shrimp. In no way does real dating look like reality TV dating. The producers must recognize that most viewers are hopeless romantics, myself included. They watch the show for entertainment but more for a happy ending.
Followers and viewers want intelligent shows. Take a hint from HBO Max’s Succession. People like messy. They can handle emotions, but they need them packaged differently for reality dating shows.
Let’s go back to the shows where finding love is the objective. What about people supporting one another on their journey to find love, not it being a competition who’s the biggest villain.
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