What It’s Like To Be A Therapist On ‘Real Housewives’

- Real Housewives of New York -
What It’s Like To Be A Therapist On ‘Real Housewives’

Longtime fans of The Real Housewives of New York City don’t just remember Alex McCord’s Herman Munster shoes, Kelly Bensimon’s gummy bears, and Jill Zarin’s “hiiiii” heard round the world, we also remember an unlikely fan-favorite: Bethenny Frankel’s therapist Dr. Xavier Amador.

On her spinoff show Bethenny Ever After, Amador was heavily featured, talking to the Housewives OG about her marriage, her relationship with her parents, and her career. He went on to appear in RHONY when Frankel rejoined the show for Season 7. But, when Frankel showed up in Season 11 of the show with a new counselor, fans only had one thing to say: Where’s Dr. Amador?

“I am not aware I had fans!” Dr. Amador tells me via email. Though he admits he was “regularly approached by fans of the show who recognized me.”

Therapy sessions are shown often throughout the Real Housewives franchise now, but back in 2010 when Frankel and Amador first appeared together, the trend was just kicking off.

“My first thought was that I didn’t want to harm the psychotherapy,” Amador says of being approached about filming his sessions with Frankel. “I asked Bethenny and her producers that we would not be interfered with, that we would not do anything for the cameras and instead focus on the work she was doing in therapy.”

Naturally, this is what any therapist would want if they were asked to appear on a reality TV show starring women with a flair for the dramatic. Dr. Ken Ballard, who regularly appears on The Real Housewives of Potomac and previously on Married to Medicine, says he was “apprehensive” about being filmed.

Dr. Ballard on Real Housewives of Potomac

“I realized that I had no control over how it would be edited, how it would be viewed, how I would be portrayed,” Ballard tells me over the phone. But, after being assured by producers and Bravo that his work would not be interfered with, he decided to take the plunge.

Ballard says he hasn’t experienced any meddling from producers, and from speaking to four therapists who have been featured on Housewives, a hands-off approach is usually the case.

The only time there was producer involvement, Amador tells me, was if there had been a “particularly moving moment” that the cameras didn’t capture. “They [would] ask if we would discuss it again ... Typically we did not unless it was an actual discussion.”

Similarly, Donna Schwartz, whose sessions with Ashley Darby are featured on The Real Housewives of Potomac, describes being interrupted a couple of times by producers. “The [producer] stopped the session to ask if Ashley could talk about issues related to [her husband] Michael [Darby],” Schwartz explains. “I told the [producer] that I wasn't going to create drama for the show. It was important to me to continue to have a safe space for Ashley to work on herself and give the audience an authentic view of a therapy session.”

Ashley and Michael Darby on Real Housewives of Potomac

Schwartz also references a session that she had with the Darbys together. “The session with Michael paused when the [producer] asked if I could get [Ashley and Michael] to open up more about their relationship,” she explains. In response, she said that “they were doing a great job and it takes time for a couple to talk about their feelings in couple's therapy.” As shown in the episode, this worked out: Michael and Ashley open up about him being unfaithful and the strain put on their relationship once they had a child.

While some therapists — Amador, Ballard, Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Dr. Sherry Blake — have been featured on Bravo numerous times over the years, RHONY fans were recently thrown for a loop when Ramona Singer was shown with a new therapist, Dr. Gregory Petronzi, during Season 12. In her session, Ramona described herself as “sensual” and demonstrated her flirting style to Petronzi, which left viewers wondering what the guy must have been thinking.

Ramona Singer on Real Housewives of New York

While he doesn’t go into details, Petronzi does note that, of course, the cameras did make things different from a usual session. “Having privacy can be an important part of therapy," Petronzi says. "So naturally, not having that [privacy] made the experience different than normal sessions,” he says. Petronzi first thought the request was a “hoax” when he was first asked about appearing on the show, but after confirming that it was real, he decided to film, in part because filming therapy sessions is a common part of training.

“Doing therapy while being filmed was something that I did during my training years ago,” Petronzi says. “I currently teach a class at NYU where my students are asked to film themselves doing therapy and then we discuss the sessions. It's difficult work. I hadn’t done it in quite some time but felt that asking my students to do this on a regular basis left me no option to decline.” He adds, “While challenging, my goal was to try and remain as much of my authentic self as possible.”

Likewise, Amador went through similar training, being filmed when he was studying for his PhD. He was also a contributor for the Today show, which got him used to being in front of the lens. “In other words, I had plenty of opportunities, over a 20-year period to learn how to ignore cameras,” he says.

As a fan of the Housewives franchise, the biggest question I have when therapists appear on screen is why they would agree to this? They’re in a very serious profession, couldn’t being on reality TV be perceived as a bad look? But, the answer is pretty obvious: All four therapists hoped to spread the benefits of therapy to as many people as possible and to destigmatize the idea of it.

“I felt it could possibly be a public service and indeed it was,” says Amador. “After our sessions aired I was inundated with countless requests for referrals to therapy! In fact, I still get such requests that start with ‘I saw your work with Bethenny and would like to see someone like you.’” Ballard echoes this, saying he receives requests for virtual therapy from people across the country.

Dr. Amador on Real Housewives of New York

For Schwartz and Petronzi, it was about promoting therapy as a healthy choice. Schwartz wanted to shine a line on postpartum depression in particular, which was talked about during her time with Ashley.

They also all enjoyed being on the show. “When I told my daughters I was going to be on The Real Housewives of Potomac as a therapist, they were ready to have viewing parties!” Schwartz says.

Ballard describes being on the show as “an out of body experience.”

“I felt something deep inside in my soul when I watched it,” Ballard says. “It wasn’t like I was watching me. I was watching somebody do therapy and I was really impressed with him.” He says he was “honored” to be part of Bravo’s contribution to destigmatizing therapy.

Therapy and Real Housewives is a natural match. The franchise, at its core, is about the communication and complicated relationships between women (whether that means sorting out what happened when a fight turned physical or trying to figure out if a fellow Housewife planted a news story about a dog adoption). And considering therapy is all about digging deep into issues, it feels like a natural fit when we see how a Housewife talks not just to her co-stars or to the camera, but in therapy where honesty is key. It’s no wonder Amador and the rest of the Real Housewives therapists gain their own fans — they keep our Housewives real.

Images: Bravo

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