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The StressDoc"s Best Medicine

Laughing at patients might he considered a no-no by most therapists, but not Mark Gorkin. Actually, this D.C.- based doc doesn't so much laugh at patients as laugh with them. Each week, people from around the country gather in AOL's cyber-community and ask Gorkin, a self-proclaimed "psychohumorist," about a range of life- and work - related issues including on-the-job stress. Gorkin likens his popular online chat (Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11 p.m.) as "an exhilarating, exhausting, 90-minute workout" in which he serves as a "virtual Dear Abby." This gig has been so successful that it has led to several other 'Shrink Rap and Group Chat" gatherings on Digital City and WebMD.

Growing up in New York, Gorkin never planned to carve out a career with his wit. "I can't say I was a natural-born comedian, but I was a natural-born neurotic," he laughs. "That runs in the family, my Jewish Tennessee Williams family." Funniness found him, he claims, when "life's absurdities" hit. Gorkin was penning his doctoral dissertation in social work at Tulane University in New Orleans when he switched gears from social work to psychotherapy. In the late 1980s, he moved to D.C., opened a therapy practice and began calling himself the StressDoc. Asked why he chose Washington, he explains, "If New York City and New Orleans had a love child, it would look like Washington, D.C."

The city's mercurial climate also jibed with Gorkin's services. "Because of the political nature of the area, there's a lot of change and reorganization, which breeds uncertainty and anxiety," he says. Not surprisingly, his workshops and seminars on stress, violence and team building are in demand at government agencies. But it's not just government that needs help with burnout prevention. Gorkin travels around the country working with corporations, teaching things like conflict resolution and stress management techniques that use - you guessed it - humor.

Despite the laughs, therapy is serious business to Gorkin. "Laughter can break down the fear," he says. "By safely blowing off steam, you can really tackle problems."

What are Gorkin's parting words on how live a sane and stress-free life? "May the farce be with you." Rimshot, please.

Gorkin and his monthly newsletter, StressDoc Newsletter, can be found at www.stressdoc.com. His book, Practice Safe Stress With the StressDoc, will he published by D.C.- based AdviceZone.com this summer.