By Steve Cash / Detroit
My friend Spencer, who is going through a late-life crisis, asked me if I knew a good therapist he could contact. It got me thinking about the many, many years I spent with various psychologists and psychiatrists. Here’s a brief rundown of my attempt to try and get it together, and my near hopeless attempt to find a normal therapist. Names have been changed to dissuade the litigious.
I was in therapy on and off for 25 years. I won't bore you with all the reasons except these few: Poor self-image, no confidence with girls, insecure, you know, the normal, neurotic, Woody Allen-ish hang-ups.
At 20, I decided to do something about it. Since I didn't know where to begin, I looked in the Yellow Pages. Big mistake. I picked the closest therapist and made an appointment. She told me she worked out of her house. When I arrived, I was greeted by a heavyset middle-aged woman. She introduced herself and led me down to her basement office.
She knew I was nervous and told me to sit on the floor and relax. The surroundings were pleasant. Lovely Berber carpet, dropped ceiling and a wet bar. She brought out some huge fluffy pillows and encouraged me to get comfortable. Sitting on the floor and lying on oversized pillows seemed unusual to me, but what do I know? I'm nuts.
I told her my story and she made some helpful suggestions. She pointed out that my parents had mistreated me and I was clearly a victim. I later found out that the person who is paying the therapist is always told that he is the victim. It’s only your fault if somebody else is paying. (Shrinks learn that on the first day of therapy school.)
Then the fun started. She asked me to pick up the fluffy pillow and hit her with it. She would then hit me back, she explained. I was new to this, but I figured this little game was to express anger and to vent during the session, instead of outside in the real world.
We whacked each other for a good five minutes. I was just starting to enjoy it when she ordered me to stop. She then suggested that we hug for the last 5 minutes of the session. She said she was trying to show me that there was time for anger and time for kindness and I needed to learn the difference. I awkwardly grabbed her and hugged away. I remember thinking how ironic this was. Here I am paying big money to hug this overfed 60-year-old therapist and the real reason I'm here is that I can’t get a 20-year-old girl to hug me.
When she let go, the time was up. She asked me to make another appointment. I politely told her that she was great but not quite right for me. I think she understood although when I bent down to tie my shoe, she took the opportunity to smack me one more time with that pillow. And they say I'm nuts!
My search for the right fit continued. This time I got a personal referral from my cousin. He raved about a brilliant psychiatrist. My cousin said the doctor was compassionate and smart as a whip. I gave his office a call. Just to be safe I asked his receptionist if he had any pillows in his office, and she assured me he did not. Feeling safe, I set up our first meeting.
He was a tall, distinguished-looking man, about 55. His office was very professional. Leather chairs, a mahogany desk and hundreds of impressive psychology books in plain sight. This was the real thing, I thought. My words poured out effortlessly. He encouraged me to bare my soul. He seemed genuinely interested and concerned.
Then it started, the incessant twitching. This man had every tick in the book. He shrugged his shoulders, he wiggled his nose, he scratched his ear, his right foot never stopped tapping. As you might imagine, this was a bit distracting. Here I am looking for answers on my impotence problem and this guy is rolling his eyes and looking at the wax he just pulled out of his ears. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but he made a Tourette’s sufferer look comatose by comparison.
Then it hit me. Maybe this was a test. Maybe he was conducting some kind of an experiment. Maybe he wanted to see how I would cope with an uncomfortable situation. That had to be it, I thought, because no one could take this guy seriously if he really had that many nervous and annoying habits.
I decided to play along. Instead of getting turned off by his twitches, I would show him my adaptability and patience by mimicking his actions, saying in effect, “Hey, you're weird, but I accept you”.
The next few minutes were reminiscent of a good Three Stooges episode He wiggled his ears and so did I. He kept sticking out his tongue and so did I. He blew his nose, and in turn, so did I .
As the session ended, I thanked him and was determined to see him again. He informed me that this was our first and last meeting. Furthermore, he chastised me for mocking his affliction. I tried to explain but to no avail. I could not convince this insecure doctor that I was not mimicking him in a cruel way. As I left, he charged me $200. Trying to stay in the spirit of our session, I charged him $200 right back. You should have seen him twitch then. And they say I'm nuts!
Finally, after years of trial and error, I found the right one. Dr. Harvey was my age and we had a lot in common. We shared the same culture and grew up in the same city. He helped me work through a lot of confusing feelings. I realized that by understanding my past behavior, I could react differently when the situation came up again. This was a real breakthrough.
I looked forward to our sessions with one nagging concern. I was always afraid of seeing someone I know in his office. Therapy is more accepted now, but still I felt embarrassed. Then it happened. After a really good session, my worst fear came true. I walked out into the lobby and there he was. Teddy Kahn. Teddy was a high school buddy of mine. I hadn't seen him in 20 years.
After the initial panic passed, I tried to be rational. After all, Teddy was there, too. If he outed me, he would be outing himself. A sense of relief passed through me. "It’s been 20 years! How you doing?” Teddy asked. "How do you think I'm doing, Teddy? I'm coming out of a psychiatrist's office and you're no better, you're going in” I said with confidence. "Steve, I'm Dr. Harvey's CPA!” Teddy exclaimed. “I'm here to do his taxes.” With my head hung low, I walked away in silence.
Given my experiences, I didn’t feel comfortable recommending a therapist to my friend Spencer, but I said that I would be willing to treat him myself. I don’t have a license or any credentials, but if ticks, neurosis, and paranoia are prerequisites, I am obviously overqualified And they say I’m nuts!
Steve Cash is originally from Oak Park, Mich. He is a longtime real estate agent who used to do stand-up comedy in L.A. His claim to fame was winning The Gong Show in 1977, and working at the Comedy Store with such greats as David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Michael Keaton. After watching those brilliant comics perform, Steve realized he’d better make a beeline back to Detroit and get back into real estate. Steve has had articles published in a number of publications and enjoys writing and trying to make people laugh.