With his YouTube channel, Dr. Kirk Honda provides psychological commentary on Love Is Blind participants that emphasizes self-reflection.
y design, reality TV is misleading. Most shows are somewhat scripted, and even if they weren’t, the magic lies in the editing, where suspiciously clean “character” arcs and melodramatic narratives are crafted from the messiness of real people in oft-extreme situations. Plus, if being on a show means you’ll earn $1000 a week and become a celebrity, can you remain your authentic self while trying to stay on the ride for as long as possible? Add questionable working conditions and a disregard for the psychic impact that these “experiments” have on participants, and you have a product that seems tailor made for mindless binging.
All of these barriers are discussed by Dr. Kirk Honda on his YouTube channel Psychology in Seattle, where he provides his expert psychological commentary on the cast members of relationship reality shows such as 90 Day Fiancé and Love Is Blind. A couples therapist and a professor, Honda is, thankfully, a lot more reasonable and self-aware than his fellow Seattleite practitioner Frasier Crane. Instead of rushing to conclusions like the beloved, neurotic radio host, Honda always states that his observations are purely speculative—diagnosing from afar is immoral, anyway. In his reaction videos, he attempts to find and respond to some truth, and in the process, his approach manages to elevate reality TV from a guilty pleasure to an opportunity for self-reflection, learning, and empathy.
With 25 years of experience, Dr. Honda could probably make a good living by simply teaching and seeing a few regular patients a week. But for the past 13 years, he’s also been running a podcast as part of his life mission to try to make the world a better place by sharing his knowledge of psychology. Having built a following of regular listeners over the years, these episodes typically consist of him answering emails; other times, he will dedicate several hours to one particular topic—borderline personality disorder, for instance, or attachment theory. During the pandemic, when seeing patients and recording with his co-hosts became almost impossible to pursue, he consumed a lot more television. It was while watching the first season of Netflix’s Love Is Blind in 2020 that he realized he had a lot to say about these couples who were dating each other sight unseen and given only a few weeks to decide whether they’ll put a ring on it. Since his first LIB reaction video in March 2020, his channel has grown exponentially to now reach 330k subscribers.
The question of whether love is truly blind isn’t the most interesting aspect of the show—the fun really starts once the cast members finally meet and live together, with only two weeks before they walk down the aisle. Rather than focusing on that flimsy premise, Honda examines how the participants interact and tries to decipher what they reveal about themselves in the process. He sees Love Is Blind as an opportunity to witness human interaction that gets closer to the real stuff than movies (which he does also make episodes about) or the role-playing that psychology students sometimes engage in.
For us spectators, this also means that these reaction videos are a great way to learn about our own tendencies and discover strategies to better navigate our relationships. Witnessing two participants arguing, Honda pauses to offer alternative ways for each person to express what really bothers them. (One of the first things you learn watching the channel is that fights are rarely about what they seem to be about.) Unsurprisingly, the answer is often to be more vulnerable and spell out what we are afraid of, but Honda doesn’t expect perfection and his advice is practical. His platform, however, doesn’t pretend to be a substitute for therapy. If anything, it encourages viewers to seek the help they need, and many have (including this one).
Honda uses the show’s participants as jumping-off points to discuss key psychological ideas without judgment. Currently tackling season 4, he hypothesizes early on that Marshall’s great ability to emotionally support Jackie may be veering towards codependency, which is frequently misunderstood as two people over-relying on each other but clinically refers to needing to take care of someone who needs help, making for an imbalanced relationship between an over- and an under-functioner. While his audience has often already binged the entire season (though many only watch the show through his channel), Honda’s reactions are spontaneous and often surprisingly prescient. Long before Marshall called Jackie “a project,” Honda noticed that she rarely took care of him as he did her. Honda’s diagnoses are often validated by his accurate predictions, but when he gets it wrong (he didn’t expect Kwame and Chelsea to say “yes,” but who did?), it only underlines his main point: though they remain complicated, seeing people through a psychological lens can help us better understand them.
Even the most baffling and disturbing characters—the bread and butter of these shows—receive curious and compassionate treatment, which in turn helps us understand interesting behavioral patterns. Micah, one of this season’s most maligned participants, exhibits some problematic behaviors: she teases Kwame after rejecting him and acts like a mean girl ringleader with fellow participant Irina. Although Honda has a strong negative reaction towards them (what therapists call “countertransference,” which can’t be escaped but must be managed), he withholds judgments and searches for clues as to what psychological explanations might be bubbling under the surface. The little background information the characters share helps: Irina talks about being bullied as a child, which could explain her need to aggressively defend herself. When we meet Micah’s friends, we see how her immaturity has been normalized. People rarely act cruel to each other just for the sake of it.
Yet Honda goes even further. While Micah was the boss with Irina, she isn’t in that position with her friends, who instead treat her like a follower—the same way she herself treated Irina. The roles are reversed. To explain this, Honda brings up the concept of projective identification, the idea that we internalize both the way we were treated as children and the position of the person (typically a parent) who inflicted that treatment upon us. It’s why the bullied sometimes become bullies themselves: we either adopt or project outwards the ways in which we were treated. Though Honda reiterates these people don’t deserve online harassment for their behavior on the show, and won’t tolerate it in his comments section, it turns out to be an unnecessary warning. His commentary alone—with his patience, empathy and vulnerability—is enough to make his followers perhaps the most respectful on the Internet.
By encouraging greater media literacy and teaching helpful psychological concepts, while remaining entertaining and lighthearted, Dr. Honda’s reaction videos are a rare example of independently-produced content that adds value to the internet. It fulfills the web’s promise of being a place for knowledge and connection, rather than a cesspit for misunderstandings, quick judgment, and harassment.
Dr. Kirk Honda's Psychology in Seattle is available to watch on his YouTube Channel.
Manuela Lazić is a French film critic, actress and filmmaker based in London. Bylines include The Ringer, Animus Magazine, Little White Lies and We Love Cinema.