Too Close for Comfort: ‘Couples Therapy’ for Courtney Stodden on VH1
Five famous couples checked in for three weeks of televised relationship counseling, which premieres Oct. 3 on VH1. But the tabloid-star teen bride’s presence was unnerving—even for Real Housewives veterans.
Teen bride Courtney Stodden was not allowed to live in the Couples Therapy mansion.
The problem: pesky state child labor laws requiring that minors work a maximum eight hours a day when school is not in session. So, yes, the same girl who was old enough to marry a 51-year-old actor in Las Vegas last year when she was 16—with parental consent—was not old enough to be filmed around the clock when the second season of the show was filmed in Los Angeles in early August.
To make it work, Stodden and her husband, Doug Hutchison, squeezed in marriage counseling and bonding time in the house in the hours she was allowed on set. Then Stodden would prance away in her stilettos and her husband would retreat to his room, where he could avoid confrontations with the other four couples who participated in the new season, which premieres on VH1 on Wednesday.
It was an arrangement that bugged the rest of the couples who were filmed 24 hours a day for three weeks and had to learn to live with no television sets, limited Internet and cellphone use, and no drugs or alcohol. But the special conditions certainly weren’t the first thing about Stodden and Hutchison that set off the group’s hostilities. From the moment the then-17-year-old Stodden (she is now of legal age) and her yellow and black skimpy miniskirt and glorified sports bra appeared on the veranda to say hello and “start some drama,” as she put it to her husband, it was on.
Shayne Lamas, winner of Season 12 of The Bachelor, questioned her about her attire and her need to “put on a show” in a scene in the first episode. Her husband Nik Richie, founder of TheDirty.com, wasted no time calling Stodden “trash” after recognizing her as a “fame whore” who “submits herself to my site half naked all the time.” Then, after the counselor separated Stodden and Hutchison from the group, Richie offered this assessment: “This girl’s 17, right? It’s weird enough—no TVs, no cellphones, no alcohol, and now you have child molestation going on in this house?”
Well … not in the eyes of the law.
“You’ll see me struggle with it throughout the season,” said psychotherapist Dr. Jenn Berman, who runs the counseling and hosts the show. “My concern was that I don’t want to contribute to the exploitation of a minor. I felt that if it looked like it was heading in that direction, I was going to ask them to leave. What’s important to me is the therapy, even more than the show. But what I really found is that they are a legally married couple that genuinely has marital issues. The dynamics in their relationship are not necessarily what one might expect. She is not a victim of this man. She’s very strong-willed and she’s older than her years in a lot of ways, and he’s younger than his years in many ways.”
By the time the 10 house guests attended the first group therapy session later that first night, Berman knew the first season’s “Kumbaya” feeling would not be replicated. It didn’t help that Hutchison had a catchphrase, “I’m raising my wife,” and Stodden refused to take anything seriously. The couple proved to be a disruption in more ways than one. By focusing on their feelings about Stodden and her union with Hutchison, the others could ignore their own issues and problems, Berman said.
“I didn’t expect the extent of aggression and animosity in the house from the moment they walked in,” Berman said. “It really surprised me, in all honesty. I was quite shocked. Courtney and Doug posed many challenges. But we did what we therapists do—we processed it until a lot of people understood that they were allowing other stuff to be a distraction and that I was providing a safe environment for them to do all of the deep work they had to do.”
Besides the multigenerational controversial couple and Richie and Lamas, who got married two years ago after knowing each other only eight hours in Las Vegas, the other couples who signed up for televised therapy this season are Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen of Real Housewives of New York City; rapper “Too $hort Shaw, who wanted his ex girlfriend, Monica Payne, back; and Joel “JoJo” Hailey of K-Ci & JoJo and the former Jodeci and his wife, Tashaunda (“Tiny”).
For three weeks, the couples underwent daily group therapy in the morning, followed by individual or couple’s therapy throughout the day. Cameras trailed their every move as they woke up, ate meals, talked to each other, and hung out in their rooms. They were even audio-recorded in the bathroom.
“As soon as you turn your mic off, they were at your door,” JoJo Hailey said. “I am telling you, that was a lavish prison. It was extremely hard for me. OK, I see my wife. I can touch her but I can’t touch her. I want to talk about it but I can’t because we’re constantly miked up. It was a very humbling situation.”
But there weren’t any producers directing the action, which McCord and van Kempen, who spent four years on Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, especially appreciated.
“Part of the malaise that audiences are getting now from reality shows is that they are getting too structured; people are seeing through them,” van Kempen said. “They’re not scripted per se but they ceased being reality TV and became surreality TV. But with this show, because they are filming 24-7, there is no need for storyline producers. If you cast well, shit does happen. The best TV is going to come naturally if you have cast well.”
Married for 15 years, McCord and van Kempen said they welcomed the show’s help because they were in a rut of constant, aggressive fighting and not listening to each other. Too $hort asked Monica, whom he dated on and off for 15 years, to join him in therapy to see if they could reconcile. The Haileys, who have eight children and three grandchildren, said their primary problem is his alcoholism, which has landed him in the hospital several times and is destroying their relationship. The stress of becoming parents after only a year of knowing each other and being married was tearing Richie and Lamas apart.
“I run TheDirty.com and I see these types of people and I make fun of them because they’re fame chasers,” Richie said. “If you go on a show with a bunch of other celebrities, who knows if they are there for the right reasons? Of course, I questioned everything. But at the same time I wanted individual therapy and I researched Dr. Jenn, and I saw what she did for DMX. I didn’t want the cameras around but at the same time it was a last-ditch effort. If we didn’t do this, I wouldn’t see us being married right now.”
The group-therapy sessions are designed to bring up deep-seated pain and resentments in most of the participants. By all accounts, they proved to be the most challenging part of the process because of the presence of Stodden and Hutchinson, 52.
“Doug and Courtney were acting like they were in love and everything was perfect,” said Richie, 33. “Courtney was just a creepy overtly sexual person. She wouldn’t open up and that’s what bothered a lot of us. Obviously there’s something there. Why does this person crave so much attention? Why is this person so sexual at 17? Why is she wearing stripper clothes? I personally think they were there for the wrong reasons. They want to be famous and they’re getting the most out of it. Good for them.”
In a clip from the season, Berman reprimands Stodden: “No more beauty pageant answers!” Tashaunda Hailey said she tried to appeal to Stodden as a mother of daughters who are about her age, but it didn’t work so she gave up. Van Kempen was more cutting: “It was a fucking joke. Sorry. I mean, bless them. But not bless them, really. I was annoyed they were cast.”
“Showing your deepest, darkest times in life with Courtney Stodden sitting there twiddling her fucking thumbs, it was a definitely a challenging time in the first week,” said Lamas, 26. “There were certain people giving it all and there were certain people that were answering show questions. That really got to me. But then I realized I was acting out because of what I had going on in myself that needed therapy. I walked in with a marriage that was completely dried up, badly needed water, was on its last leaf and walked out to a beautiful blossoming tree. It saved my marriage.”
Stodden and Hutchison, who declined to be interviewed by The Daily Beast, had a multitude of issues to work out, Berman said. Hutchison admitted that he does not like the attention his wife’s scanty wardrobe provokes and that he is uncomfortable with her friendship with an ex-boyfriend. Stodden, who is obsessed with herself and her image, acknowledged she sometimes forgets she is married. In trying not to be a controlling older man, Hutchison has failed to ask his wife for things any adult husband would expect of his spouse, Berman said. He’s also lost his career and family because of the relationship, which has made Stodden his world, she added.
“Given the ages of the women in the house, Courtney is not just a different generation but she’s so much younger,” Berman said. “So it was harder for her to bond with anyone. She’s had her own experiences of being mistreated and bullied and being hurt. And there was an aggression in the house when they first came in that made it hard for her trust and open up. Therapy is a microcosm of how we function in the world and however you function out there, it becomes the same thing on steroids in the house.”
That was one of the most powerful lessons he gained from the experience, Richie said.
“You start seeing that the way you treat others is a reflection of your marriage,” he said. But if you go into it thinking that you know everything, it won’t work. When you’re stuck with these people, you have to learn about yourself. The biggest thing Shayne and I got from this was learning how to communicate with each other in a way that’s not confronting each other but we’re also supporting each other at the same time. But it was a lot of work to get there. I was not having it. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say it’s perfect. I still have to work on my marriage but they gave me the strength and the courage to figure out what the fuck I’m doing wrong and show me how to fix it.”