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The Shrink Next Door is one of those stories that proves the maxim 'stranger than fiction' to be true. Aptly, the show stars Will Ferrell (Elf, Stranger Than Fiction [see what we did there]) as Marty Markowitz, a textile company owner who begins therapy with the much-lauded Isaac 'Ike' Herschkopf (Paul Rudd, Marvel), only for his life to be turned upside down.
If you want to go into the show not knowing a thing about Markowitz's story, we advise you to look away now – because as we delve into the true story behind The Shrink Next Door, we're obviously going to spoil it for you (but then again, it is real life...)
Prior to its incarnation as a work of serialised fiction, The Shrink Next Door was a podcast hosted by Bloomberg journalist Joe Nocera. It all began when Nocera spied a man at the property next door to Nocera's own in the Hamptons.
Nocera always assumed the man he saw, dressed plainly in work clothes who rarely made eye contact, was merely the groundskeeper. What he discovered was that the man was in fact Markowitz, and the property upon which he worked belonged to him, not to the charismatic psychiatrist Herschkopf whom Nocera had always believed to be the owner.
So, how does a man's life become totally subsumed by another?
The story begins in June 1981, when, according to The Forward, Markowitz was referred to Herschkopf by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. The psychiatrist, whose celebrity clients are reported to have included the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, was not your average therapist.
As pictured in the show, he didn't confine his sessions to his office, instead choosing to walk around New York City with Markowitz, helping him confront his various fears and anxieties. In time, Herschkopf effectively indoctrinated Markowitz into a cult – the cult of Ike Herschkopf.
Herschkopf began to ingratiate himself into every aspect of Markowitz's life, including joining his company (Associated Fabrics Corporation) under the pseudonym Isaac Stevens, eventually becoming its president. Markowitz alleged that Herschkopf isolated him from his family, including his sister Phyllis Shapiro (played by WandaVision's Kathryn Hahn in the show).
As the siblings' relationship grew tense, Herschkopf convinced Markowitz to cut her off. Markowitz grew more and more isolated.
He distanced himself from his niece and disinherited his family, naming Herschkopf's wife his sole beneficiary. Ike convinced him to set up a charitable foundation, however, "according to the Department of Health, Herschkopf kept the foundation chequebook and directed most of its donations. The psychiatrist used the money for donations to, among others, the Ramaz School, an elite Jewish school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan which his three daughters attended" (via The Forward).
Eventually, Herschkopf was Markowitz's only friend, and as Markowitz told The Forward: "I was living a lie when I was with Ike. Ike sucked me into this cult of Ike and I was spending six or seven hours a week with him, he kept me constantly busy transcribing his handwritten books, throwing these parties, and I didn't appreciate what was going on.
"He didn't let me have a girlfriend. I would go on a date, and he'd call her a gold digger. He would say, 'Everyone is out to get you, I'm going to protect you.' And I was stupid enough to buy it."
Herschkopf was known to be status-conscious, and would often use pictures of himself with celebrities to impress people. Eventually, though, the jig was up.
In 2010 Markowitz had surgery for a hernia and Herschkopf never visited, affording Markowitz the time to recalibrate. "I knew that he knew that he was the only person in my life," he told Nocera in The Shrink Next Door podcast. "All of these frustrations, all of these issues, all of this anger came bursting out of me."
Former patients also alleged to Nocera that Herschkopf also took over their lives, often ending in convincing them to rewrite their wills for his, or his family's, benefit.
Markowitz ultimately severed his relationship with Herschkopf, and after 27 years of estrangement, he reconnected with his sister. The story doesn't end there, though.
Two years later, Markowitz filed an official complaint with New York State's Department of Health. A whopping seven years later, the DoH began to investigate the claims, and in April 2021, Herschkopf was forced to surrender his license.
The DoH cited 16 incidents of professional misconduct that included fraudulent practice, gross negligence, gross incompetence, exercising undue influence, and moral unfitness, noting in its statement of the case: "The Respondent denied each of the factual allegations and specifications of charges of professional misconduct." In November, The New York Times reported that Herschkopf is intending to appeal the DoH ruling.
As the series begins, Markowitz told The Forward he is happier now than he was under Herschkopf's care. "It's my 40-year ordeal," he said. "It was 29 years under his power and 11 years seeking justice. I finally got it. That's what I wanted."
The Shrink Next Door is now available to watch on Apple TV+, with new episodes released weekly on Fridays.
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