After nine seasons of mismatched couples and questionable behaviour, fans of Married at First Sight Australia are left wondering just how qualified the experiment’s experts really are.
It’s easy to discount the infamous experiment as entertainment but at the core of the series is a host of real people with real feelings, who have put their trust in “experts” to set them on the right path.
During the second Commitment Ceremony of the 2022 season, Holly Greenstein poured her heart out to her co-stars after they failed to believe that TV husband Andrew Davis had been mistreating her behind closed doors. The 36-year-old also condemned her long-gone groom for repeatedly belittling her under the guise of “brutal honesty”.
By the time Holly expressed that she was leaving the experiment, the once-hopeful newlywed was distraught.
However, instead of offering any advice or a means to cope with her obvious trauma, relationship experts Mel Schilling and John Aiken, as well as sexologist Alessandra Rampola, dubbed her as “brave” for speaking out and sent her on her merry way. There was no accountability, no “we’re sorry this happened to you”.
At no point did they step in, as “relationship experts”, and say: “Hang on, this is not how a partner should be treated.”
Not to mention the fact that the experts pride themselves on creating long-lasting matches, yet continually pair participants with differing values, interests, needs and wants.
The Experts Presented The Same Issues During The 2021 Season
A failure to mediate also bolstered 2021’s most controversial couple, Bryce Ruthven and Melissa Rawson.
During their time on the show, their relationship exhibited so much toxicity that a petition was started to have the series reviewed for breaching a duty of care.
While the media watchdog cleared the series of any wrongdoing, viewers still held the experts accountable for perpetuating such a venomous environment.
Surely somewhere in their contracts, or at the very least, in their individual professional codes of practice, there is a clause that ensures their clients — i.e. the contestants — a duty of care.
So, what exactly are the Married at First Sight Australia experts’ qualifications, and what role do they really play in the experiment?
As one of the OG MAFS experts, John has over 25 years of specialising in relationships and has been known to call out some problematic behaviour from many of the show’s stars.
He also “focuses on giving out practical advice to singles and couples” through his media roles, according to his website.
Long-time fans of the show will also remember that John and his fellow experts were formally known as “psychologists”. However, their titles quietly changed in 2018 after a former participant launched an official complaint against John.
As reported by the Daily Mail, the contestant claimed they were “put in dangerous situations” by the expert.
In an official email from the Psychology Council of NSW in August 2017, the Council determined that John, and the other experts, could only continue on the show if they weren’t referred to as “psychologists”.
It wasn’t the first time complaints had been levelled against John for malpractice on MAFS.
In 2017, John took to Instagram to drum up excitement over drama surrounding then-participants Andrew Jones and Cheryl Maitland.
Sharing a photo of the pair, John penned: “Are things going to get ugly between Jonesy and Cheryl tonight? Perhaps a little payback? Find out 7pm MAFS!”
Andrew later slammed the expert for his commentary, sharing a screenshot of the post with his own cautionary words.
“Does your psychologist froth when things get ugly? Is he/she into revenge and/or payback???? You might not be getting your money’s worth.”
Not entirely professional — or supportive — behaviour, is it?
What’s more, is that John previously told 9Honey that “duty of care is something that [they] take extremely seriously”.
“From the outset of this show, it has been of utmost importance to myself and all other professionals involved to constantly assess and monitor the well-being of all the participants in the social experiment,” he said.
Having made her MAFS debut in 2021, Alessandra is, arguably, the least problematic of the experts.
She has over 20 years of experience as a certified sexologist and holds a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Not to mention a whole host of other sexology degrees to her name.
While her role on Married at First Sight may be viewed as “comedic” due to her tasking the couples with sexercises, Alessandra has actually helped some participants overcome a host of intimacy issues while in the experiment.
However, while Alessandra is pretty good at calling it as she sees it during the dinner parties and Commitment Ceremonies, is she really equipped with the right skills and qualifications to handle some of the sh*t that goes down on MAFS?
Besides her well-known MAFS presence as one of Australia’s favourite love experts, Mel has plenty of experience in the relationships department and has been a love expert for 20 years.
The 50-year-old also made history as the first Australian expert to be accredited by the International Dating Coach Association.
According to her LinkedIn, Mel has a degree in Psychology and has held a number of positions as a psychologist. As such, she should be more than qualified to oversee and guide the participants on MAFS, right?
As of March 2022, Mel isn’t listed as a registered practitioner on the Australian Health Practioner Register Agency (AHPRA).
Despite not currently being registered, if Mel self-identified as a psychologist, she would (assumedly) follow a code of ethics. As such, her behaviour on MAFS would, to a degree, be breaching these guidelines.
The Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics explicitly states that “psychologists do not exploit people with whom they have or had a professional relationship”. Now, I don’t know about you, but MAFS as a general concept is pretty exploitative, not to mention the way the experts prod the participants to reveal their darkest desires and secrets on national TV in the name of entertainment…
In addition: “Psychologists avoid engaging in disreputable conduct that reflects negatively on the profession or discipline of psychology.”
Echoing the Code of Ethics’ sentiments, psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg told the Daily Telegraph that the experts should “hang their heads in shame” for appearing on the infamous series.
“I think that the psychologists who appear on it should hang their heads in shame because to be part of something that is so voyeuristic, so exploited, is not what psychology should be about — that’s my personal view,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.
We Need To Remember That The Married at First Sight Experts Are Professionals, Not Actors
Most recently, 2021 MAFS participant Beck Zemek addressed the experts’ role in the experiment during So Dramatic!‘s AFTERMAF(S) series.
Noting that the experts wear earpieces during Commitment Ceremonies, the former bride revealed producers will tell them to “cut [contestants] off” to feed into particular storylines.
Put simply: “The experts are actors in the entire production.”
But that’s the thing. None of the experts were recruited as actors. They signed on as qualified professionals (to varying degrees) whose job — at least in the outside world — is to protect their clients, not put them in the firing line at the direction of producers with little to no psychology experience.
This is why their role on Married at First Sight is so polarising. Their qualifications don’t reconcile the fact that they willingly continue to create relationships and environments synonymous with bullying and distress.
As the seasons progress, the “experts” continue to appear less like professionals and more like puppets, which is why we’re all left wondering — how real is Married at First Sight after all?
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