The College Shrink

Life is hard. Too hard for many of us to navigate alone. That’s why we sometimes need to reach out to someone to help us understand it all. To keep pointing us in the right direction.  Emily had spent her entire life trying to be one of the good ones. Trying to make a difference. As a daughter, student, spouse, mother, friend, citizen, employee, church goer, workout partner, and lover. The whole time at an elite university in New Jersey, where she had been an undergraduate student, received her Master’s Degree and PhD, and has now worked as a psychologist in the school’s counseling department for almost twenty years.

Can you imagine what it is like to be a therapist at a school where one quarter of the 8,000 students make appointments each year? Seeing eight students a day, five days a week, not to mention trips to the hospital emergency room on nights and weekends.

The College Shrink is the story of Emily’s relationship with a handful of distinctive clients over the course of a school year.  A freshman girl seeking help to end a classmate romance, afraid of the repercussions. A student from Nepal, guilty of his new life away from a family that survives by cobbling a garden out of the rocky mountainside and tending to their goats. A generational football star who would rather be acting on a stage than flattening players from the other team. A quirky young woman with no friends and an unbending focus on being valedictorian of her class. Even a retired professor fixated on mortality – not just his, but of everyone he meets. All while dealing with the crushing fallout of her husband’s affair with a seventeen year old girl at the private high school where he taught. A girl who incredibly becomes Emily’s client as well. 

Basically, she became the caretaker for anyone who needed caretaking. The problem is that when someone dedicates her whole life to such a noble pursuit, and ends up not being strong enough to handle her own issues, it can be catastrophic.

The Missing Something Club

Kate was an aging baby boomer fully entrenched in mid-life crisis. Educated, literary, kids off to college and beyond, newly divorced, and no longer affluent. Suddenly isolated after a lifetime of steadfastly playing a role that wasn’t her. So she reluctantly posted an invite on a social networking website in an attempt to find others who were also missing something out of life. Five strangers responded, and they began to gather each week at a bar in Harvard Square, eventually sharing the secrets of their dispirited lives and attempting to play therapist for one another.

The Missing Something Club is their unusual story. An incredibly beautiful and confused mother of three young children who could not escape the guilt of having misled an unsuspecting husband she wasn’t certain she ever loved. A beguiling but adrift young man, not much older than Kate’s own sons, who, as a result of so many unfortunate events in his brief life, drifted along between meaninglessly hook ups with women he hardly knew. A too often disregarded pharmacist (a consequence of her large size), who yearned for her first real romance but who had little concept for how to attract or interact with men. A man they nicknamed Wallflower, with a dysfunctional home life that would be nearly impossible to replicate.

The root of the group’s eventual magic, however, was an eighty-two year old retired MIT engineer who peculiarly projected the number of days that remained in his life. And who painted the women in the group nude to help them better understand who they really were. Who taught them that you can’t force relationships. And with whom Kate was trying so very hard not to fall in love with.

Together they established a set of rules for their gatherings and then proceeded over the next nine months to break them one by one. Emboldened by their unfamiliarity and too much alcohol, they contemplated relationships, sex, love, parenting, and mortality. Their collective evolution was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

It was the most incredible experience of her life.

I’m Will

In his parent’s minds, Will was an underachiever. So they decided he should go to an expensive private high school that they couldn’t really afford. They assumed smaller classes and an ostentatious campus would help him overcome his enduring indifference to growing up. Will watched as his father wrote some great essays for his applications. Still he only got into a single school of the nine to which he applied — off the wait list when another family couldn’t afford the tuition.

When Will arrived for his freshman year (or Class IV as the school called it), he quickly recognized he would rather be just about anywhere else. Over the next four years, he grew a foot, developed a dusting of facial hair, and mostly completed over six hundred nights of homework assignments. Among other things, he also was regularly grounded by his parents for uninspiring grades, was caught cheating, was introduced to alcohol, and had his heart tortured by a lesbian schoolmate with whom he was hopelessly in love.

His final summer of high school is spent living in a rectory of Catholic priests in Connecticut and working in Manhattan. His parents thought living with priests would help him develop more discipline and a healthier set of values. Instead, each evening he rode the commuter train home, in the bar car, with a group of adults he serendipitously met and who provided him with a different kind of education than his parents had intended. Will’s life may have lacked purpose, but their standards were well below his own.  And yet they were all successful in the ways that his school and his parents measured success.

As punishment for some of his high school misadventures, Will had to write a thesis about someone he found interesting. He decided to write about himself. The result is I’m Will which shares an introspective glimpse into his struggle to find himself in the confusing and contradictory world of growing up.

You will cry until you laugh.