Diamonds and denial: therapeutic lessons from the Real Housewives

Crystal glasses clinking, designer labels swishing, and explosive arguments punctuated by tearful confessionals – the Real Housewives franchise may be reality TV catnip, but beneath the designer veneer lies a treasure trove of relatable human struggles.

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From friendship fractures to family feuds, these ladies offer an unexpected window into the complexities of relationships. And while their experiences unfold amidst champagne flutes, couture gowns, and the dramatic backdrop of reality TV, they provide compelling subjects for therapeutic exploration.

As a therapist, I find myself drawn to the show, not just for the entertainment value (though, let's be honest, it's undeniably addictive and amazing!), but also for the opportunity to observe how different therapeutic approaches might interpret and navigate the drama that unfolds. So, let's Housewife up, grab a metaphorical martini, and use key moments from the franchise to explore how different modalities might approach the Housewives' struggles.


Freudian footprints: unravelling Lisa's icy demeanour

Take Lisa Vanderpump's icy demeanour and penchant for planting seeds of doubt in Beverly Hills. A Freudian lens might see these as defence mechanisms shaped by childhood experiences with manipulation or betrayal. Therapy here could involve exploring these unconscious patterns, understanding the roots of her guardedness, and developing healthier coping strategies for navigating conflict.

Imagine Lisa working with a therapist to unearth these buried emotions, perhaps utilising dream analysis or free association techniques, ultimately leading to a more open and trusting demeanour.


CBT cocktail for Teresa's fiery outbursts

Teresa Giudice's volcanic temper in New Jersey could benefit from a cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) cocktail. By identifying the negative thought patterns fueling her fiery outbursts ("They're coming for me!"), she could learn to challenge and replace them with more rational interpretations ("They might have a different perspective"). This could lead to calmer conversations, fewer table flips, and ultimately, stronger relationships.

Picture Teresa practising deep breathing exercises during heated arguments, shifting her focus from reactivity to present-moment awareness and reducing the intensity of her emotional response. Less watchable maybe, but think of the tables that could be saved! 


Gestalt glam-up: Phaedra's meticulously crafted image

In Atlanta, Phaedra Parks' meticulously crafted image could be addressed through Gestalt therapy's emphasis on self-awareness and authenticity. By exploring the "unfinished business" behind her need for validation, Phaedra could learn to embrace her vulnerability and connect with others on a deeper level.

Think of it as a metaphorical wardrobe malfunction – a chance to shed the carefully curated persona and reveal the genuine person beneath. Role-playing exercises could help her confront the internal critic driving her need for validation, allowing her to integrate her "shadow" aspects and build a more authentic self-image.


IPT interludes: building bridges, not walls

The constant social skirmishes across franchises could benefit from interpersonal therapy's (IPT) focus on improving communication and interpersonal skills. Housewives grappling with unresolved grief (Ramona Singer's sister's passing) or role changes (Kyle Richards' empty nest) could learn healthy ways to express their emotions and build stronger relationships.

IPT therapy helps people work on active listening, assertiveness training, and expressing empathy whilst fostering deeper connections and conflict resolution skills.


Solution-focused sprinkles: celebrating small victories

Not all is drama in Housewives land. Cynthia Bailey's resilience in navigating divorce and Porsha Williams' journey towards self-acceptance exemplify the strengths highlighted by solution-focused therapy.

This approach focuses on building upon existing strengths and identifying actionable steps people can take to achieve their goals, fostering personal growth and empowerment. It would celebrate Cynthia's post-divorce successes and recognise Porsha's acts of self-care, not just focus on the dramatic meltdowns.


Champagne flutes and catharsis collide: reunions and reality

While Real Housewives reunions and group therapy seem like oil and water, both delve into past conflicts, seeking resolution. Reunions, fueled by heightened emotions and amplified for entertainment, offer explosive arguments, while therapy provides a safe space for measured unpacking. Open communication fuels both, be it for entertainment or healing. But the cameras, divergent goals, and heightened drama ultimately reveal their true difference: reunions are a dramatic spectacle, therapy a private and empowering journey.


Reality check and call to action

Reality TV is heavily edited, serving up a curated drama buffet. While we can glean insights from these "unscripted" moments, armchair diagnoses and assumptions are based on “Reality” not reality. However, the Real Housewives and shows like it still offer a valuable reminder that everyone, from Beverly Hills billionaires to New Jersey moms, grapples with similar emotional challenges. By observing their struggles through a therapeutic lens, we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the complexities of human relationships.

So, the next time you find yourself drawn into the Housewives' whirlwind, remember – it's not just about the drama, it's about the (often messy) journey of personal growth. And who knows, you might even pick up a few therapeutic tidbits along the way.


Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute professional therapeutic advice. While the "Real Housewives" may offer relatable examples of human struggles, it's important to remember that reality TV portrays relationships and conflicts in a heightened and often unrealistic manner. If you are struggling with personal challenges, please seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Olney MK46 & Milton Keynes MK14
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Written by Gareth Eglinton-Pacitti, DCounsPsych, MBACP
Olney MK46 & Milton Keynes MK14

My qualifications and training cover a wide variety of humanistic therapeutic approaches in addition to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Brief Solution Focused Therapy and coaching skills.

I have lived experience of being queer and disabled. I love pop culture, music, reading, and American reality TV.

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