Rob Dobrenski, Ph.D. – Crazy: Notes on and Off the Couch

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My book is called Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch. It’s hard to put it into a specific genre (other than “Psychology”), but it’s part exposé and part memoir. It reveals what therapists really think about their profession, their colleagues, their patients, and their own lives. Each chapter is one hour in a therapist’s day, and that includes his own therapy session.

An average day in the life of a psychologist is a frenetic one. For example, a lighthearted, 9 a.m. appointment to help a woman manage a husband who won’t take out the garbage (even when pants are optional) quickly shifts to an emotionally intense session with a convicted rapist to cope with criminal urges at 10 a.m. After talking with a child about his fears of school an hour later, the psychologist then meets with a therapist to deal with his own fears, followed by lunch with his socially-phobic colleague who’s already had four martinis by 1 p.m.

What many don’t realize is that while the professionals are trying to help people resolve their problems, the therapists themselves are often depressed, anxious, and prone to panic attacks. They take antipsychotics, self-medicate with booze, and struggle in their own relationships. The ones who are providing the perspective are often the ones with the most on their plate. In short, they are just as “crazy” as the patients. This book brings us an oddly comforting conclusion —namely, the therapist’s not-so-secret secret: we’re all crazy. This is meant to be a liberating conclusion that removes the stigma from mental health issues. I want people to be able to say “I’m going to therapy,” the same way they would say “I’m going to the dentist.”

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m a 39 year-old Psychologist in NYC. I consider it to be one of the best jobs in the world. My parents laugh at me when I say I have a real job, because my father thinks only physicians should be allowed to call themselves doctors, while my mother says that “nodding your oversized head and saying ‘I understand’ while people cry in your office is not a job.”

I’ve been writing for about 4 years, mostly on the web.

“Crazy” is my first book. If no one buys it, it will be my only book.

What inspired you to write this book?

As soon as I graduated and began working, I was answering the question, “what’s it REALLY like to be a shrink?” on a regular basis. People watch shows like “In Treatment” and are really curious what it’s like to do this type of work. Many people revere psychologists, others see them as just quacks. Only those who have been in the therapy room know what it’s like, and even those people can only extrapolate from their individual experience.

Interestingly, many people ask me about my own mental health. Am I better off, worse off, the same simply because I do this work? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the lives of therapists, and it is certainly a buttoned-up profession. I write to try to pull the curtain back a bit.

How did you choose the title?

The book was originally called “We’re All Crazy” but my agent and publisher saw it as bit like spoon-feeding the reader, and I agreed. ‘Crazy’ is a word that, while eye-catching, has a lot of negative connotations, despite being used rather freely. I wanted a title to draw in the reader (especially since it’s a shrink who is using that word) and get him/her to really think about what that term means.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

Non-fiction writing is about having a platform. When I started writing I had no name recognition and no audience to speak of. So I began writing on the web at a site I called ShrinkTalk.Net. While I was connected to a few big names in the internet community, I used a lot of social media to promote my material and get people to read my stuff. That helped tremendously in getting an agent and a publisher.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

I actually just use common names that are often randomly selected from the names of my friends. They like to think they are actual characters in my book, so I just let them live the fantasy.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

If you are new to the game, practice writing as much as possible. Whether it’s stories, essays or even emails to your friends, pay close attention to what you want to say and how to make it interesting. It’s a skill that only a select few are naturally gifted at; the rest of us need a lot of practice.

When it comes to publishing, thicken the skin and learn how to handle rejection. I was offered representation from 2 agents; over 90 gave me a “thanks, but no thanks” response. The same was true with publishing houses. My agent was rejected dozens of times before we found a house that liked my voice.

As a side note, if you’re a shrink, prepare to be fired if you write something “too honest” about our field. It happened to me.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

People mistakenly think this is an academic text or perhaps a self-help book. It’s not (although people may take a few messages that could help them in their own lives). While people in the field or those who are therapy veterans may be drawn to the title and subject matter, this is a book for anyone who has experienced real emotional pain and perhaps didn’t know how to cope with it or needed help in doing so. That said, because a Psychologist’s day isn’t all tears and anguish, people who enjoy dry humor and unusual interpersonal interactions should really like the book. It’s a story that’s designed to be a little manic in its delivery, because that’s how this career works.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

“Crazy” comes out on June 14, 2011 and can be ordered at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. My site is ShrinkTalk.Net, which contains hundreds of anecdotes, stories and essays, including some material that ultimately didn’t make it into the final copy of “Crazy.”