The TV series 'Couples Therapy' gives viewers a rare glimpse into real-life therapy sessions: NPR

Orna Gurlanik is the therapist at the center of the documentary series Relationship Therapy.

Paramount+ with SHOWTIME


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Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

We often think of couples therapy as a last-ditch effort that people make when they are almost ready to part ways.

One documentary series challenges that idea by following the experiences of couples in therapy at different stages of their relationship.

Relationship Therapy gives viewers a rare glimpse into real therapy sessions and the deeply intimate conversations that are normally private.

The series is now in its fourth season, and All together host Ailsa Chang spoke to Orna Guralnik, the psychotherapist at the center of the show, about what it's like to see such intimate moments on TV.

The trailer for season 4 of Relationship Therapy.


The trailer for season 4 of Couples Therapy
YouTube

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Ailsa Chang: My first question to you, Orna, as a therapist: why? For example, tell me what turns you on, what is attractive to you about making something public that is usually so intensely private.

Orna Guralnik: I know. And the framework of confidentiality is usually kind of our first rule, right? I had the same feeling when I first heard about this idea. But what excites me most about what the show has been able to achieve is that it manages to offer something to people who otherwise wouldn't have access to therapy, wouldn't have access to how other people deal with their problems as relationship problems. always appear. I think the series provides a lot of vital information.

Chang: How do you think the interactions change because everyone participating knows there is an audience there, a huge audience?

Guralnik: Shockingly, nothing fundamentally changes. There is something essential about the work that doesn't change at all, regardless of the cameras. But there is something about knowing that it is being recorded – and that it may be broadcast – that greatly intensifies the work. It's almost like steroid therapy. So it happens faster.

Chang: What's new about this season is that we encounter the show's first polyamorous relationship, a group of three people. And I was curious about how you worked with them: Are there universal lessons we can learn from this group, even though they don't represent a “typical relationship”?

Guralnik: What's interesting to me about working with non-traditional structures is that the ingredients of a relationship don't change. In the case of polycules or people in polyamorous relationships, a lot of emphasis is placed on verbalizing things. About keeping things very explicit.

Chang: I was so struck by how explicit the agreements were – there was almost a contract that the three of them were trying to draw up.

Guralnik: Well, there's always a contract. In every relationship there is a contract, whether it is explicit, implicit, or passed down from tradition. What happens with non-traditional structures or with polycules is that they have to repeat a new version of the contract. And they figure it out as they go, because they don't trust tradition. So they have to be very, very thoughtful and explicit about the new contract.

Chang: A colleague of mine mentioned that watching your show was educational for him in his own decision to break up with an old boyfriend. And I'm wondering what you think about your relationship with viewers. These are people who learn from you and your customers.

Guralnik: I feel super, super responsible. I think that has been the greatest honor and privilege – and the greatest burden of doing this show. We take that very, very seriously, to make sure we're really pushing [the show] in the direction we believe in ethically, morally and psychologically. I take it very, very seriously. I mean, it's an honor and a very big responsibility.

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