The Shrink Next Door’s Other Patients
(Bloomberg) -- In the almost three decades that Marty Markowitz was a patient of Ike Herschkopf, aka “The Shrink Next Door,” he got to know a handful of Ike’s other patients.
They were the ones who thought of themselves as part of Ike’s inner circle—“the familia,” as ex-patient Judith (not her real name) called them—the ones Ike invited to the summer parties he threw at Marty’s house in the Hamptons. In researching “The Shrink Next Door,” I contacted many of these former patients, and some of those who were willing to be interviewed told me Ike stories that were eerily similar to that of Marty.
In the 10 years I spent looking into Ike and Marty’s relationship, I discovered few former patients beyond those Marty knew—or those he knew about (like the musician Courtney Love). They numbered about a dozen. But then, last May, “The Shrink Next Door” began airing, and suddenly I started hearing about a lot more former patients of Ike’s.
The series hadn’t even finished before I got a call from one former patient who said, “when I saw the title of the podcast, I knew who the shrink had to be before I listened to a single word.” A father called to tell me how his children were estranged from each other because of Ike. A mother wanted me to know that Ike had persuaded her daughter, who was then in college, not to go to medical school. She finally left Ike, moved to Israel and is now a doctor.
And while we sent Ike a detailed email asking him to respond to these allegations, he has yet to reply.
Having spent so long talking to the same small group of ex-patients, I was astonished to discover that the circle of people who felt they had been wronged by Ike was so much larger than I had imagined.
There must have been two dozen people who got in touch with me, including the writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, who reached out six months before she died of breast cancer in January. Ike had been her psychiatrist when she was a kid, she told me, and was even a character in her first and most famous book, Prozac Nation.
Many of the stories had common themes. One of the most prevalent was anger. Ike would locate the anger his patients harbored, and then stoke it—for years. That’s why Marty Markowitz didn’t speak to his sister Phyllis for almost three decades—reuniting with her only after he had broken off his relationship with Ike.
There was one story in particular that stood out. It came from a woman I’ll call Beth, who had been a patient of Ike’s from the early 1980s through 2008. She got in touch with me because she heard the short excerpt we ran from “Some Like It Big,” one of Ike’s six unpublished murder mysteries. The key plot device was a murder in which the killer purposely leaves the door ajar after shooting his victim.
Beth was astonished when she heard the excerpt. Why? Because her husband had been shot in the back of the head at the store he owned, and the killer had left the door ajar. And that’s not all. She once had a short-lived affair with her boss, an older man, and then, months later, started dating his son, whom she later married. Guess what? That’s also what the female protagonist does in “Some Like It Big.”
There was no doubt in Beth’s mind that Ike had taken these incidents directly from her therapy, and she was furious. “To have that used by my psychiatrist for his folly, to write some sort of novel that he desperately wanted to have published, is outrageous.”
I asked her if Ike had ever reached out to say he was going to use incidents from her life in his fiction.
“Absolutely not,” she replied.
The question I heard again and again over the past year was: “Is Ike Herschkopf still practicing psychiatry? And have the authorities tried to stop him?”
The answers are yes and yes. A month after “The Shrink Next Door” aired, the New York State Department of Health finally acted on the formal complaint Marty had filed in 2016. In late September, the health department began a medical misconduct hearing designed to ascertain whether Ike should have his medical license taken away. Marty was the first to testify in the proceeding, which took three days, including a day and a half of tough cross-examination by Ike’s lawyer.
“There’s no question that after my three days of direct and cross-examination, I felt that I had done the right thing and that I acquitted myself well,” Marty told me. “And I was happy I decided to pursue the matter.”
However, because the judges hearing the case are all volunteers with day jobs, those three days of testimony were spread over three months. By March, Ike was still giving his direct testimony when the coronavirus stopped the proceeding.
In the meantime, Ike still has his license, and he still has his practice. Not long ago, the judges overseeing the hearing decided to restart it virtually. They’ve scheduled two days in July and two days in September. By the time the last session gets underway, the hearing will have gone on for over a year.
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