Rachel and Peter made Bachelorette history last night, and openly discussed a topic that's usually avoided on the show: mental health. On their one-on-one date, Rachel asks Peter a question she says she gets a lot: "You're so great, why are you still single?" Peter explains that after his last relationship ended, he saw a relationship therapist. "[Therapy] helped me a lot to be more calm in my thoughts," he says.
Rachel was initially surprised, because she said she went through the same exact thing. "There's so much I need to work on with myself; something's not right," she recalls thinking. "So I went to a therapist. It was the best decision that I made that entire year, and again, it prepared me to realize what I want from myself, and what wasn't working for me," she says. Yas, Rachel!
There isn't always room for mature discussions about mental health or therapy in The Bachelor Nation. (Remember last season, when Taylor was dragged for trying to explain "emotional intelligence" to her fellow cast members?) Rachel and Peter's conversation really was a beautiful thing, because it showed how going to therapy can be an act of strength, rather than one of weakness, as it's usually portrayed on TV shows, says Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist in Washington, D.C. "Sadly, seeing somebody to help you get through a difficult time, or figure stuff out, or promote self-awareness is still stigmatized in the United States," Derhally says.
Fans of the show tweeted that they were happy to see a real discussion about mental health on The Bachelorette:
Going to therapy is certainly not a weakness, and it's actually a good indicator that someone can be vulnerable, open-minded, and willing to be introspective, says Goal Auzeen Saedi, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. "But often, people unfairly assume it means one can't handle the pressure of life, or that they have a serious mental health issue," she says. Also, opening up about going to therapy can actually help you develop a relationship with a new partner, Derhally says. "When you're dating somebody, you want them to know what's important to you, and for a lot of people, going to therapy is an important part of themselves that they want to share," she says.
Conversations about therapy don't always happen on a first date, and many people feel too vulnerable sharing such intimate details about their life right away. Ultimately, there's no "right time" to have this conversation. For the most part, it comes up organically, and sometimes that can happen on a first date, like with Rachel and Peter. "These are two emotionally mature people, so that's great, and obviously neither felt shame about it, and both felt that it was an asset to them," Derhally says.
Of course, hearing about a potential partner's therapy can be overwhelming for some people, Dr. Saedi says. "Unless the other person is a trained mental health professional, they often aren't prepared to respond appropriately, and things can go downhill rapidly," Dr. Saedi says. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't share. Keep in mind that your date may be caught off guard, and may not react eloquently in the moment. At the same time, remember that it's not okay if someone judges you for going to therapy. If you're on the receiving end of the conversation, thank your partner for feeling comfortable sharing this with you, and tell them that you'd love to learn more as your relationship progresses, she says.
If you're nervous about telling someone because your relationship is fresh, or you've had negative experiences in the past when opening up about your mental health, you might want to wait until you're having a good day or week to tell them, suggests Anita Chlipala, LMFT, a dating and relationships expert. That can often be easier for people, because it's less dire than when you're in the middle of a triggering situation, she says. You might also want to tell them in private and in person, rather than via text, Dr. Saedi says.
"I would also be prepared with answers to the kinds of questions they may have but may not ask," Chlipala says. They may want to know why you started seeing a therapist, and if you have a history of mental illness, for example. It can be helpful to remind this person that "many people with mental illness have healthy, strong, and loving relationships," she says. That being said, it's also important to note that "not everyone who goes to a therapist has a mental illness," Chlipala says.
In a perfect, more accepting world, going to therapy would be seen as a "bonus," Derhally says. "Why wouldn't you want to do everything you can to make sure you are healthy and happy, and can cultivate happy and healthy relationships?" she says. It's not a coincidence that Rachel seems like a happy and healthy person, who also happens to go to therapy. And as for her relationship with Peter, well, we can't wait to see what kind of magic they cultivate next week.