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Shrinking With the Stars: Hey Ted Lasso Show, Why is Redemption for Everyone but Marriage Therapists?

First off let me say, there will be spoilers for season 3 of Ted Lasso here and secondly let me say I truly enjoyed the show. Yes there were some uncomfortably overly sweet and sentimental moments, but a universe where we get to see athletic men in a locker room being kind, sensitive and respectful of women? Where a gorgeous, perfectly fit character in her forties gets to start each day eating shortbread cookies baked by her employee? Where men have an informal group, even if it foolishly called the diamond dogs where they make dog sounds, but where they talk to each other about emotional concerns and insecurities in a vulnerable way? Where women are supportive of each other and their careers? Where characters strive to be better human beings who are more focused on a sense of community and not winning at any cost? Where gay men can find acceptance among their straight teammates? Where soccer players sing and choreograph a song from the Sound of Music to say goodbye? Come on, this is great stuff! Bad behavior is forgiven and characters are redeemed. Love it! Unless you are Rupert or a marriage therapist. Apparently there is no redemption for us.

Well I get the Rupert part, pushing your coach to the ground while wearing a black jacket that flows out behind you like Dracula’s cape on a dark and stormy night? Well you had those boos coming. But what did marriage therapists do to incur the level of disrespect that we got doled out in this show? Don’t get me wrong, the marriage therapist on this show should be booed and much worse. But why did the writers and creators of this show—yes I’m talking to you Jason Sudeikis—decide to portray the marriage therapist as an unethical and cruel clown incapable of even following a soccer game? 

In this season we learn that Ted’s ex wife is now dating their former marriage therapist and this is treated as some unfortunate but not egregious offense. Let me take a moment to assure the public, this is not in any way normal or acceptable behavior. I have been a couples therapist for 28 years and it is an incredibly difficult and rewarding profession. But it is a profession I am proud of. To become a licensed counselor in the state of Virginia you need to earn a Masters degree in counseling with 60 credits and an internship of 600 hours, you need to accumulate 3400 hours of postgraduate supervised experience, 2000 hours of which must be direct client contact with 200 hours of supervision. You then need to pass a licensing exam and agree to adhere to a code of ethics in your practice. Compare this to coaching, which I believe anyone can call themselves, though to be a certified coach requires 125 hours of coaching training. That is a big difference. As a licensed counselor, every year I must attain 20 hours of continuing education to renew my license and some of that must be in ethics. To become a competent couples counselor can take years more training and experience, though in a befuddling and I think unfortunate state of affairs, a licensed therapist can work with couples even without specific education and experience. I would like to address this more in another post. Suffice it to say as a consumer you should make sure your couples therapist has both explicit training and experience as working with couples is very, very different than working with individuals. 

Each counseling profession has a code of ethics, as an LPC, or Licensed Professional Counselor I follow the American Counseling Association code which states there should be at least five years for any dating or sexual contact with a former client. Even as I write that it seems absurd to me because every ethics training I have ever had cautions against this ever being advisable no matter how many years have passed. And there is good reason for this. Counseling relationships are not equal, there is a power differential always. I’m not being vulnerable or disclosing with clients as they are with me. I’m there not as a friend but as a professional with boundaries that should help clients feel safe to do the hard work they have to do to be vulnerable and introspective. They trust me to hold that frame and I believe it is my job to do that not just during the time I see them but into the future. And that is because I always want them to feel like the door is open for me to be a resource in the future should they want to come back to counseling. And I’m very happy to report that is what happens. I’ve had the privilege of working with people multiple times as things have come up in their lives. It is a sacred trust people place in us and the colleagues I have had the privilege to know treat it this way as well. 

Now what are the responsibilities of the couples counselor? Well the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy says that sexual intimacy with both current and former clients or with known members of the client’s family is prohibited. No ifs, and or buts about it. So what is happening on Ted Lasso is unethical and that therapist has opened himself up to big trouble. That therapist had a duty to both of his former clients to follow the non-maleficence principle, which says we are not to cause harm to others and to avoid practices that have potential harm. Well, dating one partner of a couple that you worked with does great harm to poor Ted. How can he ever believe that the couples therapist was working on behalf of his marriage during their time together? Well he can’t, which will add to the pain of his divorce. As counselors the other principle that is the foundation of our work is the moral principle of beneficence: to do good, promoting and contributing to the welfare of the client. Ted Lasso was owed much better than this. So instead of having dinner with this so called therapist and his ex wife he should have been filing an ethics complaint with the ethics board. And what about the people in Ted’s life? He had smart worldly people around him. I’m quite sure Rebecca or Coach Beard must have known how appalling this situation was and should have helped Ted see that so he could properly assert himself. 

The show did such a good job showing a respectful therapeutic relationship with Dr. Sharon, the sports psychologist for the team in season two, that I am just puzzled at how my profession was portrayed this season. It is important for the public to see marriage therapists as I know them to be: highly educated and trained individuals who willingly put themselves in with couples who are vulnerable and often at times in unimaginable pain and distress trying to heal their most important relationships; not as unethical, unprofessional boobs who can’t control their impulses and maintain appropriate boundaries. And I’m not a stick in the mud, I’m all for entertainment and artistic expression. But in a show that emphasized the best of human nature and people trying to live by a good moral code it seems particularly disappointing that my profession ended up in a very small pool of irredeemables.