Here's why 'The Bachelor's therapy dates are harmful.

The Bachelor’s Therapy Dates Suck — But Are They Legit Harmful, Too?

That couples therapy date was so hard to watch.


Picture this: A woman (probably named Lauren or Hannah) with tears streaming down her face, staring at a stone-faced man holding a red rose, while cameras capture the scene. The couple has been studiously ignoring the meal in front of them, opting instead to spend their first (first!) date in deep conversation about the woman’s deepest fears, insecurities, and traumas. The stakes are high — if her story is just emotional enough, she may get that rose, guaranteeing her another week of vying for that very man’s affection and love. If not, the man may accuse her of having “walls up,” and she’ll be sent home. (Content warning: This story discusses trauma, including sexual assault, emotional abuse, abusive relationships, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, and body image issues.)

This type of dramatic moment has always been a staple of Bachelor one-on-one dates. But ABC has taken a new approach in recent seasons, encouraging this kind of disclosure in increasingly uncomfortable situations. In Clayton Echard’s season, for example, the women have undergone two pseudo-therapy sessions: the first, a group therapy session moderated by Bachelor alum Kaitlyn Bristowe, who is not a trained mental health professional; the second, a series of miniature couples therapy sessions held by a person who claims to be a psychoanalyst and used controversial techniques.

Mental health experts agree The Bachelor’s approach to therapy and trauma doesn’t work, but season after season, the show remains largely unchanged in this regard. (It does not learn from its mistakes. Ironically, this unhealthy pattern is something a legit therapist might point out to execs and producers.) Of course, there has been some progress, like thoughtful conversations about socio-political issues and trigger warnings before airing sensitive content. However, these small markers of change do not absolve The Bachelor from their dangerous habit of commodifying trauma and weaponizing therapy.

Trauma-Dumping On A First Date

ABC/John Medland

On The Bachelor, the dinner portion of each contestant’s first one-on-one date is reserved for the most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching story they can muster up in front of a person they barely know (plus, producers and cameras).

In the past, contestants have shared some seriously upsetting tales, including stories of surviving sexual assault, emotional abuse, and suicidal ideation. In Echard’s season, for example, contestant Gabby Windey discussed her challenging relationship with her mother. During their first one-on-one date, which aired on Feb. 7, Windey told Echard, “As kids, she was really physically affectionate, and then she would, like, flip and kind of withhold her love… I was just like, ‘If my mom could stop loving me, why can’t anyone else?” Though Windey desperately wants a relationship with her mother, she told Echard that, at this point, it’s too unhealthy for her.

Undeniably, what Windey has gone through (and is still going through) is sad. “It sounds like a fear of abandonment,” Meredith Prescott, LCSW and couples therapist, explains. “A parent’s inability to be consistent with affection, love, and attunement can shape their child’s attachment style and their ability to connect and trust others in adulthood. They know that at the drop of a hat, things could change.”

Certainly, then, this conversation is something that should come up in a serious relationship. But is it appropriate for a first date? In short, no. “You haven't established a sense of safety and trust in them. That's something that takes time,” licensed psychologist Erika Martinez, Psy.D., explains.

Additionally, Bachelor leads are not typically trained to handle these types of disclosures, and their response may demonstrate that lack of experience. Per Martinez, if they have a “poor reaction,” that could be even “more detrimental to the person who was initially doing the sharing.” In fact, disclosing your trauma to the wrong person can “perpetuate more trauma.”

Echard’s reception of Windey’s story might not initially raise any red flags for viewers. “Thank you for sharing all of that. It tells me so much,” he told her before asking, “Do you hope to, like, mend that relationship with your mom, or do you feel like it’s better off to just not basically try to fix it?” His empathy for her situation is palpable. “I’m sorry. It’s a lot. I do care. I understand it’s hard to talk about, but it means a lot that you were able to open up to me,” he said. “You are very deserving of love. I hope you know that.”

Still, if we’re talking about mental health, there’s an important piece missing from Echard’s conversation with Windey. As important as it is to face your past, it’s even more crucial to figure out a way to cope with it. Though Windey mentioned in passing, “I’ve done, like, so much work,” neither she nor Echard get into the details of what that work entailed — at least, that’s the extent of their conversation that we see on TV. Windey doesn’t owe Echard or Bachelor viewers any more insight into her life, but off-screen, that discussion would be crucial for any two people seeking a strong relationship.

When it comes to forming lasting connections, how you handle difficult times is a much more telling indicator of compatibility than what those difficult times are. But ABC doesn’t really seem to grasp that. Windey’s date with Echard is only one example of this — the rest of his season has been just as, if not more, troubling.

The Bachelor’s Group Therapy Circle


In recent seasons, Bachelor producers have taken to inviting previous leads back on the show to lead something that looks a lot like a group therapy session — even though it cannot technically be classified as such. “If we use the word therapy, we are by definition suggesting a professional intervention process that is carried out by a trained professional,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, explains. “By definition, then, group therapy is moderated by a trained therapist or an individual trained to conduct group interventions.”

When non-therapist Bristowe visited Echard’s group date in an episode that aired on Jan. 24, she opened up the conversation with a demand: “Stand up if there are parts of yourself that you aren’t proud of.” What followed was a conversation about emotionally abusive exes, body image issues, and eating disorders. It was a bonding experience for the women and Echard — but was it a healthy or appropriate way to approach such serious topics? Er, not really.

“We are going to be getting, like, really vulnerable and deep, so I think some of us are like freaking out,” contestant Serene Russell said in a voiceover. The women were surprised by the date and what they were expected to do — a huge red flag for mental health pros.

“By definition, therapy occurs in a voluntary, confidential, psychologically safe environment. It cannot occur as a surprise,” Klapow explains. Martinez adds, “People need to know what they're getting into, right? So, like, one of the big things in mental health is whenever we start therapy with a new client, we send them a document called an informed consent. It basically outlines what to expect in therapy, what therapy is, what therapy isn't.”

By technically not calling this date “therapy” (in the episode description, it’s referred to “an emotional date where Clayton and the women bravely open up about their insecurities”), The Bachelor might have found a loophole for these ethical considerations. But that doesn’t make it OK.

The Bachelor’s Couples Therapy

Perhaps ABC’s worst attempt at mimicking therapy aired on Feb. 21. During a group date in Vienna, the contestants were led through couples therapy under the supervision of psychoanalyst Katherine Rippensburg, whose psychoanalytic qualifications and practices are currently not able to be found via Google. (ABC did not respond to Elite Daily’s request for comment on Rippensburg’s certifications.)

Per Klapow, psychoanalysis is no longer the most common type of therapy. “Mental health professionals, for the most part, are not trained as psychoanalysts,” he says. “The practice was much more prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s.” Prescott calls it an “old-school” form of therapy that has been largely replaced by other, updated methods.

But even before the date started, the women were worried about the day ahead. “I hope it’s not, like, a huge therapy session,” Teddi Wright, one of Echard’s contestants, said to the camera. Her concerns went unheeded (obviously), and the contestants wound up at a group date that consisted of Echard having a couples therapy session with each of them individually.

Not only does this approach sound intimidating, it’s not too useful in the grand scheme of things. Jaime Zuckerman, Psy.D. and licensed clinical psychologist, explains, “Trauma therapy conducted in this abrupt context leaves very little, if any, time to learn and practice the necessary coping strategies that must be in place prior to diving into traumas.” So, yes, there’s a reason therapy takes more than one session.

What viewers see of the therapy sessions themselves are pretty run-of-the-mill for Bachelor territory. The women opened up and cried while Echard sat there. There were only two outliers: Genevieve Parisi (who was terrified of therapy) and Sarah Hamrick (who loved therapy).

Ahead of her session with Echard, Parisi explained her fears. “I've never been to therapy for a reason. Because I don't like talking about things that make me upset and crying,” adding, “I’m terrified. It takes a lot for me to open up, and it’s hard to do that unless I’m in a setting that I feel very comfortable.” Notably, she never had a one-on-one date with Echard — so really, why would she want to attend a couples therapy session with him? That reasoning’s not quite good enough for Echard — or production.

When Parisi refused to open up to him (a practical stranger) and Rippensburg (a legitimate stranger), he sent her packing, and Parisi was left to blame herself. “I’m not going to get anywhere if I don’t let my walls down,” she said on her ride to the airport. This didn’t surprise Zuckerman, who explains, “Pressuring someone to attend therapy when they are not ready will likely result in early termination or the patient being closed off.”

Hamrick had a very different perspective on therapy. “I am weirdly very excited. I love therapy because I like talking about my problems to someone and my connection to Clayton is really good,” Hamrick told the other contestants. But her eagerness to participate seemed to rub Rippensburg the wrong way.

Following the sessions, Rippensburg gave Echard a worrying diagnosis. “Some of [the feelings shared] were honest,” she publicly told him and the remaining group of women. However, “[s]ome of them weren’t honest.” She then revealed her belief that some of the information shared was “performative.” Though Rippensburg didn’t specify whom she’s referring to, the other women quickly labeled Hamrick as the culprit, and Echard sent her home that same day.

Just to be clear: Rippensburg’s accusation was completely, unequivocally inappropriate. “[Therapists] wouldn't call anybody out in such a public forum,” Martinez says. “That’s just, wow. That's really bad TV.” This kind of pronouncement also had the potential to be wildly inaccurate. “In such a short time frame, a therapist really has no basis to determine this,” Zuckerman says.

Prescott agrees, adding, “That's definitely concerning. How we talk about our clients really matters, and even if we have challenging clients or challenging circumstances, we owe our clients to be empathetic and curious as to why they're having the response they're having and not shaming them.”

Plus, Echard’s decisions concerning Parisi and Hamrick sent a message to viewers: You can (and will) be judged for what you say in therapy — you may even be punished for it. And this message could have consequences way beyond the parameters of the show. Martinez explains, “[It’s] misleading and misrepresenting therapy.” It also makes seeking help look a hell of a lot scarier than it really is — thereby intensifying the stigma around seeking therapy.


Fortunately, many Bachelor fans did not fall for this toxic dramatization, and called the franchise out on Twitter.

Former contestant Amanda Stanton also took a stand on the situation. Per Us Weekly, she wrote on her Instagram Stories, “I understand where they were trying to go with it … but forcing girls to ‘open up’ on National TV and then literally judging their sessions or sending them home and making them feel bad if they don’t open up enough is just not it.”

She added, “There’s a reason therapy is a private thing and I don’t think this is a good representation of therapy or helping end the stigma around mental health. Just had to say it.”

Is It Ethical?

There’s a reason The Bachelor encourages these deep dives into vulnerability — it makes for an interesting show. Beyond the season’s storyline, there are some benefits to these conversations happening on-camera. Martinez explains. “I think it's good in the sense that it demystifies what happens behind the closed door, right? [Seeing something] we often are not privy to [can] be super helpful for people that may still have some stigma about mental health.”

But that silver lining only holds if the therapy is done right — something The Bachelor consistently fails to do. “The way that they're portraying this, it doesn't necessarily cast a positive or a favorable light on mental health treatment,” Martinez continues.

“Having difficult conversations or asking people to engage in difficult topics is not by itself harmful,” Klapow adds. “It is when people are coerced into it, punished for not engaging, or rewarded for sensationalizing the content that the situation becomes psychologically damaging.” The Bachelor seems to tick each of these troubling boxes.

As Martinez says, televised therapy is a “double-edged sword” — but that means there is twice the potential for harm, which the contestants are usually left to deal with off-camera. The major downside? As the show continually resorts to exploiting trauma and misrepresenting therapy, the stigma around mental health only gets worse — just when people need professional help the most.


Meredith Prescott, LCSW and couples therapist

Erika Martinez, Psy.D. and licensed psychologist

Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist

Jaime Zuckerman, Psy.D. and licensed clinical psychologist