Relationships can be challenging. As a society, few are ever given any sort of formal training on interpersonal communication or conflict resolution, and—good, bad, or indifferent—learn what they know about marriage and relationships from what they observed of their own parents or other family members. Challenges can be overcome, though, and conflicts can be resolved with the right techniques—which many get by attending couples therapy to receive guidance from a professional.
COVID-19 and Therapy
Therapy is typically conducted in an office setting. As with every other area of life, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns implemented in states across the country to try and limit the spread of the virus put an abrupt end to those in-person sessions early last year. Unfortunately, mental health and relationship challenges didn’t suddenly end just because a pandemic came along.
In fact, when it comes to couples and relationships, the pandemic lockdown made matters worse in some cases. Couples who were already struggling suddenly found themselves sequestered together 24/7—without the break or buffer of heading off to separate jobs, or the ability to get away and go hang out with friends for a bit. They were forced to be there—together—which has the potential to inflate and exacerbate issues.
Adapting to COVID-19 Quarantine
And, just as with every other area of life, therapists had to find creative ways to adapt to the realities of quarantine and find ways to continue working with patients. This was especially true for Dr. Orna Guralnik and the crew of the Showtime series “Couples Therapy”. They had already begun filming for Season 2 of the series under normal conditions, and suddenly had to figure out not just how to continue conducting therapy sessions—but how to continue conducting therapy sessions in way that allowed them to capture all of the angles and nuance they need to produce the show.
I spoke with Kim Roberts, director of “Couples Therapy”, and Josh Kriegman, director and executive producer, about the challenges of filming during a pandemic. They explained that the normal set has been carefully crafted to allow them to capture different angles and closeups of facial expressions without intruding on or interrupting the therapy session. These are real people having real therapy with a real therapist and filming the show can’t infringe on that dynamic any more than absolutely necessary. So, in normal, non-pandemic times, the office setting has cameras located in all corners and different locations, hidden by mirrors and obstructed from view. Josh told me that aside from the fact that the couples get outfitted with a lavalier microphone before their session, their experience with the therapist is effectively no different than it would be if they weren’t filming the show.
MORE FOR YOU
When the couples can no longer come to the office / set in person, that creates significant challenges for filming the show—and continuing the progress on their therapy. They solved the problem by shipping cameras and microphones to the couples and continuing the sessions over Skype. There were some initial hiccups to work through in terms of getting the technology installed and configured properly, and for both Dr. Guralnik and the couples to get comfortable sharing and communicating over this medium. The challenges also yielded some interesting benefits, though, as it provided a window into their lives and interactions with roommates, children, or pets as they conducted the sessions. It was a point of view that Dr. Guralnik generally does not have an opportunity to witness.
Dr. Guralnik explained that there were some initial questions and experiments—both with the couples from the show and her regular patients—in terms of frequency and what cadence of sessions would work under these conditions. They opted to continue meeting every week, but Dr. Guralnik wondered, “Is it too much? Is it working at all? Is this kind of interfering with the treatment and the changing the rhythm of the treatment?”
There were also some challenges with eye contact. In a normal office session, patients are sitting wherever they are sitting—they can look away or may not be facing Dr. Guralnik in the first place. Conducting therapy over streaming video changed that dynamic and made it so the interaction was much more face to face. Dr. Guralnik told me that the direct eye contact could be intense, but at the same time it’s strange because it’s not even truly eye contact since people generally look at the screen and not directly into the camera.
She agreed that there are some unique advantages to working with patients from the familiarity and comfort of their own homes, but also noted that it can be a problem in some cases as well. She pointed out that the therapist’s office is neutral territory—and that has its benefits. “That is the analytic space or the therapy office and there’s something kind of magical about that too, that allows your mind to open up in a different way that you can’t do at home. You’re kind of burdened with too much of yourself at home.”
They worked it out—both in terms of continuing therapy in general, and the ability to capture the sessions for the show. Dr. Guralnik was able to continue her work with the couples, and Roberts and Kriegman and the crew of “Couples Therapy” were able to record the sessions and continue to capture the emotion, and sensitivity of the therapy in a compelling way to share with the audience.
Season 2 “Couples Therapy” premiers Sunday, April 18 at 10pm Eastern time on Showtime.