May 14, 1998
By Teresa Strasser
I'm not mental. Really. I'm not manic-depressive,hypomanic, borderline schizophrenic or psychotic. I don't hear voicesor imagine I'm being followed by Marie Osmond. I don't have tics or acompulsive need to wash my hands or avoid cracks in thesidewalk.
Like a lot of people, I could just use someone totalk to. That's all. I figure it can't hurt.
After all, my family is like a Who's Who of mentalillness.
When I read about a study that indicated thatAshkenazi Jews have a higher incidence of depression, I wasn'tsurprised. Relatives on both sides of my family have spent short andlong stays at various mental institutions. "Grandma had to go awayfor a coupleof weeks," and "sometimes Grandpa doesn't like to get outof bed," and "there's the mental hospital your Uncle Marty was in,"are things I heard while growing up.
So far, save a few bouts of garden-varietymelancholia, I seem all right. But with genetics like mine, you can'tbe too careful. That's why I'm on the hunt for a goodmental-health-care professional.
Since relocating to Los Angeles, I've had notrouble finding a hairdresser, a reliable dry cleaner and a woman whoadministers an almost painless bikini wax. After just about a year ofliving here, it finally seems time to track down someone who willgladly listen to my problems for money.
In my mind, I picture a sort of therapist datinggame. I line them up and toss off a series of questions: TherapistNo. 1, if you were a vegetable, what would you be? Therapist No. 2,if I were to have a nervous breakdown at 3 a.m. and call you at yourhome, what would you do? Therapist No. 3, if I were to use humor inthe course of discussing my life, would you laugh? Or would you juststare blankly and ask why I feel the need to joke?
I've heard that getting a referral is the way togo, but from whom? It's not the kind of question you want to ask justanyone. I've gingerly approached the subject with a fewacquaintances. Sometimes, people hand over the name of a trustedtherapist without flinching. Other times, I can just see themthinking, "I had no idea Teresa was mental."
I'm a little leery about referral agencies eversince my experience with 1-800-DENTIST. I called, asking for afriendly, experienced dentist in my area and ended up with a palsiedoctogenarian whose 1950s dental machine was dinette-table yellow andprobably about as sterile as a deli counter in Kabul.
I go see "Beth," the therapist of a friend ofmine. Beth's office is conveniently located and her building has freeparking, so I'm really hoping for the best.
I don't want to say she wasn't nurturing, but itwas like talking to the Great Santini in a flowing pants suit.
"Are you always this nervous?"
"No. Only when I'm about to have my head shrunk tothe size of a pea by a woman with the demeanor of a drillsergeant."
Well, that's what I said to myself. What I said toher was, "Do I seem nervous?" Perhaps I was thinking about the checkI was going to have to write. She informs me that I need "deep" work.I think she means deep into my pockets. She assures me that many ofher "industry" clients become outrageously successful under hertherapeutic tutelage, and I am enticed by her self-proclaimed Midastouch. Still, I doubt she is "the one."
Lots of counselors and counseling services don'teven return my calls. I'm feeling rejected. The whole process makesme needy and insecure, the very qualities I'm trying toameliorate.
I press on. I've got people asking people to askpeople for their people. It won't be long before that perfecttherapist, sort of a cross between Barbra Streisand in "Prince ofTides" and Judd Hirsch in "Ordinary People" comes along.
Those feelers are out there. Just last night I gota call from a perspective therapist.
"So, why are you seeking therapy?"
"Oh, you know, the usual stuff, who am I? What amI going to be? What's it all about? Why is Marie Osmond followingme?"
"Just a joke."
"Why do you feel the need to joke?"
And the search continues.
It won't be long before that perfect therapist,sort of a cross between Barbra Streisand in "Prince of Tides" andJudd Hirsch in "Ordinary People" comes along. Above, Barbra Streisandas she appeared in "The Prince of Tides."
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomethingcontributing writer for The Jewish Journal.