Warning: This post will be filled with 'This Is Us' spoilers. Read at your own risk.
As a counselor I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people impacted by the new hit show 'This Is Us.' I’m encouraged to see people connect with the stories of Randall, Kate, Kevin, Rebecca, and Jack. I believe healing takes place when we are able to see our stories connected to others’ stories. This is best executed in a real life, human to human relationship but I think it can also happen with books that we read and shows/movies that we watch. I’m hopeful that This Is Us will continue to spark conversation between family members and friends as we connect with the story we are watching unfold.
I’ve heard people wonder if what we are watching each week is an accurate representation of an alcoholic’s struggle or what a family counseling session might really be like, so I thought it could be fun to unpack some of the themes we see show up in the show from a counselor’s perspective. I’m starting with Season 2 Episode 11 and move forward from there but will occasionally pick an episode from the past to cover.
In Season 2 Episode 11 - The Fifth Wheel, the family has all gathered to visit Kevin at rehab. We see Kate rescue Kevin out of taking responsibility for himself on several accounts throughout the show. We see Rebecca, continue to wound Kevin with comments that seem to favor Randall. We see Randall pretend like everything's okay which actually makes things worse for Kevin. None of them do it on purpose. In fact they all think they are doing what is best for Kevin. What Kevin really needed was for everyone to be open, honest, and responsible for THEMSELVES, not him. We watch this drive Kate crazy. She couldn’t believe she had gone so long without speaking to her twin brother. Maybe this should signal to her that she has some work of her own to tackle. If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t be afraid to take a look at yourself and question if you could somehow be contributing to the problem. Very rarely does one problem exist on its own.
After introductions are made at the rehab center Kevin’s counselor leads the immediate family into a family counseling session. This is one of the most realistic counseling sessions I have ever seen on TV. While it only lasted minutes and in real life would have lasted at least an hour, we got to witness the unfolding of emotions from each family member. Everyone gets defensive and the session gets pretty heated. This isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes things have to get to this point before people are willing to be genuine. The session wouldn’t have accomplished anything if everyone remained on their best behavior keeping their real thoughts to themselves. A counseling office is a safe place to let these thoughts out. Watching each family member express themselves we learn that everyone had their own perspective on what growing up in the Pearson household looked like. When a family is able get to the point where one person’s emotions are not a threat to another’s they create a space that is safe to feel and truly be themselves. We watch the counselor simply be the facilitator in this conversation. She points out things that the family might be blind to but she doesn’t set out to solve all their problems. This addresses a common misconception about counseling in general. The counselor’s job is in no way to work magic and fix the problems. The family has to decide what they’re going to do with this information. The scene that takes place outside on the park bench after the session may actually take days to occur in real life, but this is where the magic actually happens. Real change happens outside of the counseling office when the family makes new choices.
Some things to consider:
Is there someone in your life making choices similar to Kevin’s? How might you be standing in the way of them getting better?
If you were given the chance to say something to your family in a safe environment what would it be?