3 Ways to Find a Good Shrink

Hello there, old sports:

So ... I've been meaning to tell you guys: I dumped my shrink.

As many of you know, I'd been seeing her for 7-8 years, but I'd gotten fed up with her recently. Part of the problem was that whenever I asked about her, she'd refused to tell me a thing about her. (But since I saw her son's wedding announcement in The New York Times a few years back, I know she is married to her second husband, and she has two adult sons, one of whom went to Harvard.) And yet, she always wanted to talk about how I felt about our relationship.

I'd say, "Uh, I feel like I pay you a hundred bucks an hour to talk to you--and that if I didn't pay you, I'd never see you--and therefore, it's not a real relationship." She'd say something to indicate that I only felt that way because I was scared to rely on her, to trust her, to make her a real part of my life. "But you aren't a real part of my life," I'd say. "If you were, we'd see each other during the holidays. You'd have me over for a nosh now and then. You'd buy me nice earrings and clothes once in a while, since you're the maternal type. But as it is, the only reason I see you is because I pay you. In fact, if I was fat and male and wore flashy suits, people might mistake me for your Sugar Daddy."

It seemed we were just talking in circles, muddling along, not making meaningful progress. I went to Dr. H. because I wanted help with my relationship issues ... and yet here I am, almost a decade after I started with her, and the love of my life is NOWHERE to be found.

To be fair, initially, I did make some "progress" with Dr. H.: I got over a lot of sexual hang-ups, a lot of vestigial Catholic guilt, and began to have frequent mini-relationships ... But maybe a year ago, it occurred to me that while I used to feel relieved after our sessions--enlightened, in the sense of feeling both wiser and lighter--I hadn't in a while. What's more, my anti-depressants--which I'd started taking on the advice of my primary care doctor--were so helpful that I was pissed she had barely ever mentioned them to me.

But whenever I told her I wanted to break up with her, Dr. H. would hint that my desire to "terminate" was just another sign that I couldn't handle commitment or real emotional intimacy. In other words, she made me feel like I'd *really* be screwing up--and I'd be alone for the rest of my life--if I called it quits with her.

What the hell? Was my shrink playing mind games with me?

Finally, towards the end of last month, I'd had enough. I went through a few really bad weeks in early January--feeling incredibly blue--and what helped most were not my sessions with Dr. H., but talks with my friends Daisy Milliner and Ruby Finch. So in late January, I broke it off.

I haven't regretted it (not yet anyway). For a long time, Dr. H. functioned as a substitute parent for me--which I needed, since I hadn't had a mother in a long time, and since my father had his own psychological struggles. But it's time for me to grow up, and it feels good to be reacting to my emotions and obstacles in real-time, rather than postponing every reaction and decision until I've had a chance to talk things over with her.

ANYWAY. There's more to say, but I think I've gone on enough. Now the question becomes: Do I want (or need) more therapy?(Lovelies: your thoughts?)

Do you want therapy?

If so, which kind of therapy might work best for either of us? And how do we find a mental health professional to help us out?

I asked Stephanie S. Smith, a public education campaign coordinator for the American Psychological Association (and a licensed clinical psychologist), to give us some pointers.

Based on what she told me, I have a few tips:


People with very distinct, easy-to-define psychological problems--like panic attacks, or problems with public speaking, or an inability to orgasm--would very likely find a short-term course of cognitive-behavioral therapy helpful.

People with problems that are harder to explain, or not quite as limited to specific situations--like low self-esteem, or problems having satisfying friendships--would probably find longer-term psychotherapy helpful.


Each state has its own psychological association--like the New York State Psychological Association or the California Psychological Association--which has a site where you'll find a list of members that is searchable by location, specialty, etc. Get the numbers to a few different people in your area, and start calling them. Tell them about the problem you're looking for help with, about your background and your current life situation. Ask them if they think they can help you--or if they can recommend any colleagues who might be a better fit. (PsychologyToday.comis another good web site.)


The way I found my old shrink--who was quite helpful initially--was by calling a co-worker's therapist, and asking him to refer me to someone. So if you're close to anyone who sees a therapist--your sister, your gym buddy, your cubicle-mate--ask if she'll hook you up with the number of her head doctor; then, call to get a few recommendations. (But whatever you do ... DON'T start using the SAME therapist as a friend or relative; just as much as it can sometimes get weird when you feel like two friends are talking about you behind your back, it can be ten times weirder when you think your shrink is talking--or listening--behind your back.)


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