This is Us- Through the Eyes of a Therapist

*SPOILER ALERT* This post contains spoilers from this weeks episode of This is Us. You may want to watch it first 🙂


First, I LOVE this show and have since episode 1. I love that they show some real family dynamics, but even more so, I love that they aren't afraid to address mental health in this show. I mean, I LOVE it! I think society is starting to be less taboo about mental health and therapy, but the taboo is still out there, so I love it when anything mainstream normalizes the struggle. Often times people wait to seek therapy until everything is falling apart and it is a last or worst case scenario. If we as a society didn't treat it like that, we could treat things a lot faster.  OK, off my soapbox and onto the episode.

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We are all walking wounded, and the characters in This is Us are no exception. This weeks episodes addressed some of those wounds, their effects and the importance of tending to them.

I think it is great that Randall and Beth are taking on foster parenting. That being said, it does seem like the original motivations were more about Randall working through his own stuff than about providing a loving, consistent home for a child who hasn't had that opportunity. When our wounds aren't healed, we tend to function out of our woundedness and not our wholeness.  However, I think that regardless of the depth of the motivations, that this could not only be great for the TV family, but also for the TV audience to get a glimpse into this world, even if there are some distortions from reality (like how fast they got approved and trained to be foster parents.)

In this week's episode, their first foster child, Deja comes to live with them. They are all wide-eyed in anticipation that everything is going to be fine (even after the couple's freakout in last week's episode and the conversation about all of the worries). Thankfully, This is Us did not disappoint in showing that there would be challenges in this. When the social worker was leaving after bringing Deja, Randall said to her "I don't think she's ok." To which the social worker replied, "That is correct. She is most definitely not ok." And later "I'd tell you the first night is the hardest part, but I'd be lying." Truly, why would she be OK? I love that they don't try to immediately make it ok. We live in a world that we are constantly telling people we are OK or fine, when we are anything but. It is OK to not be OK. A powerful moment , both to the viewer and the TV couple, was when things got tense, voices got raised slightly and Deja shrunk back, wincing as if she would be hit. This moment built compassion for the character but is painfully true. The number of children who are abused regularly is startlingly high. Their stories are painful. Their stories should make us feel. No child should ever live in fear of being hit. But Deja does. It is such a clear display of a principle that the traumas of our past, follow us into our present and cause us to react as if we are threatened, even if we are not. I hope that This is Us continues to address her pain tenderly, trauma needs tenderness.

In my career I have worked in Foster Care and in a variety of nonprofits with children who have been through the system. Even in the best of circumstances, there are wounds. Even in the worst of circumstances, that child still wants to be with his or her mother. The pain is real. Thank you This Is Us for addressing it. For those of you who still may be carrying those wounds, there is hope, there is healing.

While Randall's family is dealing with their transition, the drama wasn't lacking for the others either. The impending death of Jack continues to loom in the flashbacks while the characters in the present are continuing to work out their own grief 20 years later. This episode tackles some of the issues so beautifully. Kate shares with Sylvester Stalone that he was her dad's favorite. This prompted sharing about his death and later Sly trying to show compassion to Kevin. Kevin tries to shrug it off as a "long time ago." Sly gets personal and shares his own connection to his past and how quickly he can feel connected to it "I could just reach out and touch it." And then profoundly, "In my experience Kevin, there is not such a thing as a long time ago. There is only memories that mean something and memories that don't."  (Beautiful writing!) You immediately see Kevin struggling to fight the emotion and then in the next scene he isn't capable of doing his lines that he so clearly knew earlier in the episode. His unresolved grief penetrates through flashbacks incapacitating him, as unresolved emotions often do.

He is later mad at Kate for telling Sly and his inability to deliver his lines "Him bringing it up 2 seconds before the scene was supposed to start kind of threw me." Kate responds, "Well, I'm sorry but kinda seems that it throws you no matter who brings him up... or when." He tries to deny it but Kate points out that he never wants to talk about it. "Because I don't wanna wallow in sadness about it?" Kate replies "There is a difference between wallowing and actually having a normal conversation about it. There is." She went on to share what she had learned from her therapist, "If I don't learn to face my grief, that it would be like taking a deep breath and holding that breath for the rest of my life." Wow! What a fantastic analogy! Have you felt that feeling? Do you long to let it all out? Many clients I have worked with have been stuffing their emotions for years, afraid to feel them, distracting but not dealing. While Kate still has more healing to do, it is obvious she is on her path, and it won't be easy. If you are on that path, a wise, trained therapist who is unbiased in your life and can tell you the truth is a wonderful resource. I am not just saying that because I am a therapist. I live it too. (Never see a therapist who is afraid to see their own therapist:) ) You have to do the dirty work- the painful, ugly, slogging through the depths of mud- to come out on the other side.

This same theme was continued in Jack's story line this week. He cracks a joke at AA that there seems to be extra credit for tears (if that is the case, This is Us has earned a lot of people extra credit). Later after some tension with Rebecca he admits "My life before I met you wasn't great. I just kind tried to get away...but now they say that if I wanna fix myself, I gotta sit in all the ugly horrible years. And they say that on the other side of it, there is relief."

It is so true. I walk with my clients through this yuck on a daily basis. There are a billion and one ways to distract or numb yourself, to ignore the problem and move on. But the truth is, the issue is still there under the surface, impacting your thoughts, feelings and actions. It can dampen your joy and leave you on edge. And it shows up in the most inopportune moments- like when trying to run lines with Sylvester Stalone (I hate it when that happens to me!), or when you spouse tries to initiate intimacy with you, or when someone yells and you flinch...Or maybe in your life it shows up when you lose your temper with your kids, are distracted and have a car accident, lose your cool with your boss, or a billion other ways. But it will seep out.

The Theme of this episode as I see it is a simple truth I see all the time: Unprocessed and unhealed wounds fester and impact us far greater than if we do the painful work needed to heal them up. The work is hard, but as Jack said "on the other side of it, there is relief."