Dr. Jenn Berman Reveals How She And The Couples Therapy Cast Handled Dick Donato’s HIV News

On this week’s episode of Couples Therapy, Evel Dick Donato finally came clean to his castmates about the fact that he has HIV. It was hard enough for him to reveal that to Dr. Jenn, and his ex-girlfriend Stephanie Rogness-Fischer still had her own apprehension over the whole issue, but Dick bravely and emotionally admitted his secret in group, and the news made some of his housemates visibly upset. We spoke to Dr. Jenn Berman about Dick’s secret and how it really played out, both on-camera and off.

VH1: Dick’s reveal that he’s HIV positive feels like it’s the bigger bombshell that’s been dropped on a Couples Therapy episode.

Dr. Jenn: Yeah, it’s pretty huge.

It’s interesting that not only was Dick struggling with the news itself, but the struggle between him and Stephanie was also playing a big part in the drama around this.

Dr. Jenn: Yes, Stephanie was really uncomfortable with it, and it was bad enough that he carried this around with him for all of these years and he’s such NOT a secretive person, he’s like “This is who I am! This is what the deal is!” kind of guy and then he came and felt ready to talk about it and she didn’t want him to, it was hard on him, it was hard on her, and it was very conflictual for me as a therapist, as you saw, it brought up a lot of ethical issues for me.

What are the details of that in couples therapy when one person wants to share something and the other is apprehensive?

Dr. Jenn: In my private practice I have a “no secrets” policy with the couples that I work with. If I’m working with a couple and, for whatever reason we do a session separately, my clients know I won’t keep a secret from them. Here, the circumstances are even more exaggerated because there are cameras in the room, there really is no secret-keeping from anybody! I also felt like it was really important and therapeutic for Dick to talk about it not just with me but with other people in the house and to talk about it publicly, I felt like it was important for his healing. Once he told me, I didn’t want to keep a secret from Stephanie and my hope was that if she he would be the one to share the information with her and I wouldn’t have to be the one to do it.

I’m dating myself here but back when The Real World first showcased Pedro Zamora as one of the first HIV positive activists on reality TV, his roommates really struggled with the idea of living with someone with the disease. I know we’ve come a long way since then, were Dick’s housemates concerned after he told them his news?

Dr. Jenn: Not at all, it was not an issue at all. This was a really well-educated group and they were like, he’s our friend and we know how you get this and we’re not going to swap fluids with him so we’re all good! I was so grateful that this is such a wonderful group and they all handled it beautifully, but you know, we really didn’t know how they would react. After he spoke to me about it. We didn’t know what their concerns would be.

It seems sad to hear him say that he thinks Stephanie will be the last relationship he’ll ever have. It’s not as though HIV is a terminal illness in the same terms we used to think of it.

Dr. Jenn: Right, he’s HIV positive, he does not have AIDS and there’s a big difference. In the ’80s, people felt that it was a death sentence and fortunately medicine and education have come a long way since then and that’s not the case. There are couples where one person is positive and one person is not. Hopefully this will help more couples get tested, have safer sex and talk to their partners and show people this is a disease that is not limited to one segment of the population.