the shrink pimp

in a recent issue of elle lauren slater, a psychologist and writer, describes her wild and crazy experience as a discriminating patient in search of the right therapy. she tries gestalt and cognitive behavior therapy, consults a philosophical practitioner and a priest. they analyzed this, they analyzed that. she mentions five therapists. five? and she calls herself picky? hey, i can top that.

i was born in new york in the 50’s, into an arty, progressive, jewish, upper west side milieu. everyone was in analysis. when i was three, my parents divorced. their mutual guilt resulted in my earliest therapeutic experience, in which crayons and a collection of foam animals played a vital part. since that time i have been in and out of therapy, with mixed results. in spite of the conviction that i’m therapy-proof, 46 years later i am still a neurotic, angry new yorker, searching for the perfect shrink. where’s my dr. melfi?

never mind my problems with impatience and anger. my main problem is that i think i’m smarter than all my shrinks. for example, last wednesday i was in a big rush to get to my 11:00 appointment, so i took a cab. i’d just washed my hair, so i stuck my head out of the window, brushing. by 10th street it was beautifully blow-dried. proud of my multitasking abilities, i shared this information with my shrink.  do you know what she said? “laurie, do you really think that’s a good idea?  the air out there is so dirty!” i’m paying this woman to be smart! i thought but did not say, “where do you think the air in your hairdryer comes from, the swiss alps?”

so i needed a new shrink. i’d heard about this woman- dr. human. i kid you not. her name really is dr. human. she’s too famous and important to actually treat people. she just refers. she recommends and advises on who would be the best shrink for you. she’s a shrink pimp. it costs 350 dollars so you know it’s going to work. i’m such an idiot. i walk in and she said “what’s with the clothes?” i was wearing a black leather jacket. she said “you look too butch. clearly you have unresolved issues with your femininity.” in my imagination, i showed her my feminine side. it’s my left hook.

i tried a few of her recommendations. a dead ringer for dr. phil, dr. unger had a walleye and vacationed in the thousand islands. i learned from him that it’s not just a salad dressing, and to focus. dr. ross always forgot to bill me, perhaps out of pity. doctors cohen and cohan were next-door neighbors. it was just too much.

interlude: emergency paris shrink

living in paris after my psychopathic, sadomasochistic, evil gargantuan dutch boyfriend dumped me, i was truly close to suicide. i had to see an emergency paris shrink. she was elegant, with a cashmere twin set and a pearl necklace and a real skirt. i sat down and poured my little heart out. “i feel so fat and unattractive!” and she says, with a strong french accent,  “well you are fat and unattractive!” then she said, “right now i think paris is too close to amsterdam for you. why don’t you go ‘ome?” so i went ‘ome.  there were still a couple of shrinks in new york i hadn’t tried.

the insightful dr. laszlo

dr. laszlo, was a diminutive hungarian woman who worked out of her modern apartment. her gaze was intense, her accent freudian. i described my problems with men. with her mitteleuropean intonation, she summed up my fatal mistake.  “eets like you go down to zee beach and zere ees all ziss send. you peek up one gren of send (here the hand gesture is important), look at eet, and say, “you! and unnly you!” here she pauses. “but zat gren of send (here she violently throws away the grain) may have other plans!” indeed. but still i searched.

eureka! the doctors zucker

until my parents’ divorce, when i was three, we lived in a building on central park west. a few years ago i was invited to a brunch party in that neighborhood.  as i passed our old building on my way to the c train, i stopped and asked the doorman, “who lives in the penthouse?”

“in which apartment?” he asked me. in recalling the impressions of a 3 year old, the entire floor was our own. it was my entire world, after all. then i remembered rightly. “it faced the park, and downtown.” the doorman told me that was dr. zucker’s apartment. i thanked him, went home and wrote a letter to this doctor asking for a favor. i wanted to see the apartment, just for ten minutes. i wanted to see the setting of my dysfunctional childhood. i got a call from dr. jane zucker. she and her husband, dr. myron zucker would be happy to let me peek into my former home. the next day, i went.

they were both psychiatrists. they had bought the apartment, fully furnished, from my parents at the time of the divorce in 1958, and remembered them clearly. “wasn’t there a problem with alcohol?” recalled dr. jane. indeed there was. it was all there:  the enormous curved couch, the milk glass saarinen tulip-based table. the black and white checkered kitchen floor. as emotions welled up, i entered my former bedroom. in the corner, by the window, where my crib had been, stood the psychiatric couch. i thought, “what an astounding thing!” i just had to get shrunk there. imagine the opportunity!

i didn’t do it. yet a couple of years later i went hunting again. dr. jane answered the phone. “which of us do you wish to see?” she asked me. “well, it depends. whose consulting room has the couch where my crib was?” she replied, “that would be my husband” and i made an appointment.

it was an incredible session. i lay down in my “crib” and actually cried. i found out my mother had looked to me for the love she never received from her own mother, laura, for who i am named. there were profound epiphanies, the kind i’d always hoped for in therapy. i looked forward to an enlightening and productive regression into a troubled childhood. unfortunately, i was unable to regress any further, as i’d neglected to ask the esteemed dr. zucker about his fees. of all the session’s revelations, this was the most shocking. three hundred and seventy five dollars later i understood that synchronicity doesn’t come cheap. after all, he was the one with the penthouse. maybe i can go once a year. i’d found my perfect shrink.

©  laurie rosenwald