If you’ve ever wondered what happens to the people who don’t make it as cult leaders, The Shrink Next Door, from Wondery and Bloomberg, is the podcast for you. It also has to be once of the most baffling true crime podcasts I have ever listened to. For a start, there isn’t really much crime. There is manipulation, there are boundary violations, dodgy finances and unethical practices, but if an actual crime on the statute books has been committed it is hard to pin down what exactly it is.
The story starts when journalist Joe Nocera moves into a new house in the Hamptons, and meets his next door neighbour, Marty Markowitz, who he at first assumes is a handyman. As time moves on Joe finds out that not only is Mark the owner of the large house, with tennis court and pool, but that for years his life was dominated by, and leeched from by his psychiatrist Ike Herschkopf.
Joe has been working on the story for years, and it is explosive, when it comes to medical ethics. If the series of events he uncovers is true – and it appears incredibly likely that they are, even with Ike’s protestations to the contrary -it poses a series on questions about medical ethics in the practice of psychiatry.
Through the podcast it is revealed how Ike slowly took control of Marty’s life, isolating him from family and friends, taking over business and financial decisions and using Marty’s money, connections, and home to make himself look wealthy, connected and popular. Essentially Ike stood on Marty’s shoulders to gather the praise and admiration he desperately wanted from others, and he showed no care for how much he was grinding Marty, and his business, down during the process.
Despite recent updates in the podcast, I remain baffled as to how Marty allowed the situation to develop and carry on for so long. However when we hear of this kind of insidious abuse in a short form podcast, it hurries and quickens the pace of a story, that actually took place over decades, and Herschkopfs slow mission creep probably contributed greatly to Marty’s inability to see what was happening. The revelation that other patients of Ike, also were controlled and manipulated probably points to a man who had been practicing his tactics and skills on people for a long time, and in Marty he just happened to find a perfect match for them – if it hadn’t have been Marty, there would have been someone else. It did leave me questioning though, while Ike is one hundred percent responsible for his paucity of any ethics professional or otherwise, where does Marty’s responsibility begin and end? I expect for different people there will be very different answers.
I’m also left with the sneaking suspicion that had sex been involved then the whole thing would appear more clear cut, people might have tried to intervein more, and Ike would have been struck off from practicing with a swift retribution. Instead Marty has been struggling to get any information or action from the authorities who regulate Ike’s profession.
The Shrink Next Door is fascinating, horrifying and baffling all in one, but mostly it feels a little incomplete, and that’s not just to do with the lack of bodies. I want to hear more. I wanted to hear from Ike’s colleagues – did they ever suspect anything? From his friends – did they spot the signs? From his family, and wife – what is he like at home? We are left with a picture of half a man in Ike, the impression of someone who is about to start crumbling, and possibly we don’t really know who he is, because he doesn’t know himself. In Marty we are left with an image of a man who is slowly rebuilding, brining love back into his life, and healing from his ordeal. I don’t know if we will ever fully understand what went on, and in some part this is due to the fact that Marty is determined to move forward, and to not examine his past, and especially will not be doing it in therapy – I don’t think anyone will blame him.