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Family Therapy

January/February 1998
Vol. 22, No 1

MARK GORKIN, The Stess Doc

Part therapist, part stand-up comic, Mark Gorkin, better known as the Stress Doc, started out as a social work doctoral candidate with a small private practice in New Orleans. But he dropped out before completing the program because he was burned out from the grueling graduate school experience and stressed out about writing his dissertation. Unsure about committing to a full-time career in clinical practice, he decided to take advantage of his firsthand experience and market himself as an expert on stress and burnout. Gorkin got himself a prime-time spot on a radio show, named Stress Brake, during which he delivered essays he had written on stress management. He started doing five-minute inserts on public television on stress, spoke on local cable magazine shows and gradually built up his reputation as the Stress Doc.

Since then, he has taken his program into corporations and government agencies and has taught at professional conferences. - 'What makes my approach so powerful,' says Gorkin, 'is that I combine my clinical training with humor. I offer a rich gumbo of solid clinical training and practice, university teaching, my own personal therapy, and then I combine it with humor.' He was trained in brief treatment and crisis intervention, directive, problem-solving modes well-suited to his gig as the Stress Doc. He also developed himself as a public speaker and began to concentrate on stand-up comedy. But to make a living at something as unconventional as stand-up therapy requires a lot of tolerance for uncertainty, says Gorkin. It is usually feast or famine, and often the work is seasonal. During the winter holidays and summer months, there are fewer speaking engagements, but he has so much fun that he can tolerate the lean times.

And he has a steady private practice to give himself an income base. He may just gotten his big break: after hiring an Internet marketing consultant, his web site was picked up by USA Today OnLine as a Hot Site, drawing thousands of potential clients to learn about his work. He's already gotten a call from the company that publishes Dilbert to talk about writing a book on stress management. 'I see myself as a psychohumorist,' says Gorkin, 'I practice the art of healing humor.' In his words, he'll sometimes put on a Blues Brothers hat and black sunglasses, start shaking a tambourine and announce, 'I confess that I have a secret identity, that I am pioneering the field of psychologically humorous rap music, Shrink Rap.' Then he starts rapping. His tag line is 'Practice Safe Stress and Seek the Higher Power of Humor: May the Force Be With You.' His audience, from executives at Texas Instruments to attendees at a counseling association convention, feel safer and more comfortable because he is willing to be silly and play. When Gorkin works with therapists who are burned out and looking for new directions, he emphasizes three things: developing their public speaking skills; training themselves to avoid using psychobabble; and, above all, networking. "Two things that changed my life are the artists support group I joined, where I can practice my Shrink Rap lyrics and get honest feedback,' says Gorkin. 'It also helps reaffirm my expanded identity - am a therapist, but also an artist, performer and writer. The second thing was I joined Home Alone, a social group for self-employed business people. It was there I started meeting people who told me about the Internet, and that is how I made the technological break through that has paid off.' While Gorkin believes all entrepreneurs need to be plugged in to cyberspace, he advises therapists to also try the more traditional route of local radio and television guest appearances to get their names out. 'It also helps that what I do is entertaining,' says Gorkin. 'Humor helps me stay interested, fresh and enjoy what I am doing. That's the heart of anyone's success: enjoy what you do.'