John T. Consoli
D.C. radio personality Pablo Sato wasn’t thrilled about going to counseling with his then-fiancée, but finding the right therapist helped him and his 270,000 listeners discover that even the best relationships require work.
“The preconceived notion is that people only go to counseling when you have ‘problems,’” says Sato. “What we are doing here by solving (our) problems on-air takes a special type of person.”
For Sato and Jaymee, that special person was Weena Cullins M.S. ’05, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist. Her year’s worth of Thursday morning segments on WPGC 95.5 encouraged her host and callers to tackle divisive issues like household chores, bills, sex and social media use.
Cullins, a straight shooter with a sense of humor, wasn’t intimidated when she first stepped into the studio in early 2014.
“I was more concerned about representing therapists everywhere and making sure I could bring good clinical judgment and sound guidance to a show that crosses a lot of boundaries,” says Cullins, acknowledging the show’s sometimes-raunchy banter. “We therapists are learning to bring pieces of ourselves to sessions with clients. We laugh with each other. We cry with each other. We sharpen each other.”
Once on track to teach counseling skills to others, Cullins began her own therapy practice after realizing the influence she could have on couples. A large part of her couples-focused Upper Marlboro, Md., practice is devoted to pre-marital counseling. Her book about common and sometimes controversial therapy questions will be published in early 2015.
Cullins saw the radio stint as an opportunity to bust old stereotypes about therapy and stodgy therapists, especially the kind that linger in the minority population she most wants to reach. Selected in part because of her appearance in a YouTube series on marriage in the black community, Cullins used wit and 10 years of professional observations to bond with listeners.
WPGC Program Director Steve Davis says listeners’ reactions to Cullins’ segments have been positive.
“It’s been very entertaining,” Davis says. “It’s also done a lot to help our hosts seem real, to give depth to people you hear on the air.”
Calls from listeners often provide truly emotional moments. Recently, a woman revealed she had been keeping a diagnosis of bipolar disorder from her partner of four years.
“It highlights that people are encountering situations where they feel isolated,” Cullins said afterward. “People are scared that they’re going to be rejected… It’s not happening in a bubble. It’s happening to couples everywhere.”
Pablo and Jaymee wed in December; Cullins expected to reduce her counseling and radio sessions to once a month after they “jumped the broom.”
Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.
Faculty, staff and students receive the daily Maryland Today e-newsletter. To be added to the subscription list, sign up here:Subscribe