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.'
- LAURA MARKOWITZ