My second novel, The Midnight Shrink, is based on a amalgamation of bits and pieces from my life woven together in the context of a psychological thriller. As with all of my books, psychological messages are embedded in the story.
When I first started in private practice, I worked full-time during the day at a salaried university position. In order to develop a private practice, I would have to see patients after 5 PM. So my practice began at 6 PM and went until midnight. One of the first things I noticed was that people who came for treatment in the late hours tended to have different lifestyles than daytime people. They tended to be night-people; that is, people who whose days began when other people’s day ended.
Concurrent with this experience I was invited to be a regular guest on a radio talk show that was broadcast from midnight to 5 AM. The callers were also night people – the insomniacs, truckers, prostitutes, and assortment of others who lived by night.
I became intrigued with the stories they told. I became aware of the stereotypes that we developed about these people and realized that their stories were even more compelling than those who lived a conventional life. While many of them chose to live by night, a large number were edged toward the night because fewer people were competing for those jobs. And when it came to strippers, hustlers, prostitutes, the money was better. I met more than one young woman who turned to stripping or prostitution because they could earn far more money to support themselves, a child, or an ailing parent.
Then there was a period of time that I worked for a local community mental health center. It’s doors were open until midnight and no one was turned away for lack of money. The facility was short on space. So counselors took to seeing clients in their cars sitting in the parking lot. Many of the clients were indigent. They hardly had money for bus fare much less for mental health services.
When I sat back and thought about it, I wondered what it would be like to provide mobile mental health services, bringing the therapist to the people. I thought about the few times I saw a patient in crisis in their apartment or met them at a street corner because they were strung out on drugs. I thought about the night people, the people who lived on the street. I thought about how they are often invisible to the rest of the world. No one sees them, no one knows their story. And no one treats their psychological stress or trauma.
I thought of my life growing up in the south Bronx. I wondered about how those experiences formed the foundation for my concerns with the immigrants, the underdogs, the downtrodden, people of color, the poor, and the addicted. I knew these people; they were my neighbors. I knew they did not choose their plight. I wanted to tell their story. I wanted to make them real, visible. We all have a story, those that become patients and those that treat them. Whether rich or poor, it is our humanity that binds us.
These experiences formed the basis for The Midnight Shrink.