To video dating and video mating, add a new twist to the technological matchmaking boom: video shrink- shopping.
"Welcome to Therapist Preview," says Sharon Arkin, a 42-year-old federal employe who, after 12 years in the mental health referral field, hit on the novel idea of allowing clients to choose a psychotherapist by reviewing videotaped interviews and detailed resume's.
Sitting on a sofa in Arkin's Silver Spring apartment, the client will be able to watch a half-hour television show. But instead of Monte Hall, it might be Melvin Shandler, PhD, a bearded therapist from Bethesda. Shandler's resume' describes his type of therapy as "eclectic -- influenced by Sullivan . . . the cognitive/behavioral therapists" -- says his patients cry occasionally, laugh occasionally and scream at him rarely, that he charges $50 an hour, reads National Wildlife magazine, has just returned from the Grand Canyon, doesn't smoke; says his favorite poem is "The Mending Wall" by Robert Frost and lists his major life accomplishment as getting his doctoral degree.
Is this any way to choose a therapist?
"It's controversial," Arkin says, claiming her sneak-preview service is the only one of its kind in the country. She hopes that clients will become as selective about choosing a therapist as they are about choosing a mate.
"I think there's a lot in common there. It therapy is one of the most intimate relationships you can have."
So far, she says, 19 area therapists -- including one psychiatrist, several psychologists and a smattering of psychiatric social workers -- have shelled out a $100 membership fee to be included in the roster for one year. Clients will be asked to pay $45 to review up to five tapes, beginning Dec. 1. If the client fails to find a compatible therapist, Arkin will not refund the money. She will, however, allow the client to review tapes of any new therapists who join the club.
With more shrinks per capita in Washington than anywhere else in the world, Arkin is psyched for success.
"Therapy is used here by more people with less sickness than anywhere else," says Arkin, who went through half a dozen therapists herself in recent years before finding the right one. In going the usual referral route, she says, "You don't get the feeling of what the person therapist is like. Which is what I hope to accomplish with the video preview."
Arkin also hopes to cash in on the health insurance afforded federal employes here by eventually hiring a psychologist to conduct the interviews. That way, her service would also be covered.
"I'm not going to become a rich woman overnight," she says. "But I hope to support myself."
Arkin credits the Georgetown Connection video dating service with helping her devise the detailed questionnaire for the therapists. The questions range from professional to personal -- including college degree, marital status, hourly fee, type of clients preferred, insurance plans, how often patients cry, laugh, or scream at the therapist, how often the therapist touches the patient. The form also requests a description of the therapist's office ("color scheme, seating options, decor"), favorite books, major life accomplishments and disappointments, favorite poem, favorite song ("Thanks for the Memories"?) and most recent vacations. None of the therapists listed Vienna.
Brushing aside criticism that the screenings may be superficial, Arkin says, "I don't think people will be taken in by hairdos and things."
The videotapes are unlikely to replace "General Hospital" as sizzling drama. The therapists rarely make any gestures, tend to speak softly and distinctly, and seem rather stiff in front of the camera. Arkin already has plans to trim the 30-minute interviews, which threaten to put potential clients to sleep, down to 8 minutes.
And the prognosis?
"It doesn't sound very ethical," says Dr. Henry Work, deputy medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. "I think the thing that would bother us the most is: a) the difficulty for patients who are anxious or disturbed to be able to make that judgment, and b) no interim physician making an appropriate referral."
Work also said the video service constitutes professional advertising, which he says the APA frowns upon. However, an APA counsel says the professional group has no position on advertising for psychiatrists, which is legal.
As for Arkin, she sees her video venture as a public service. "I think people are more selective about a mate and tend to settle for someone far less often than they settle for a shrink," she says. "People are confident about not dating someone again if it turns out to be a bummer. But when the therapy isn't working, they tend to think, 'It must be me.' "