Ladies and gentlemen, direct your attention to the lovely and learned woman before you. No huckster or quack is she. No ma’am. She holds three degrees in psychology and runs a private counseling service. Tonight, here in our restaurant, she will cure your phobias, relieve you of your guilt, and free you of your sadness. All for the price of a New York strip and a cocktail. Give it up for the host of “Shrink ‘n’ Drink,” Julie Helmrich!
Clinical psychologist Julie Helmrich greets a large group of diners. Microphone in hand, she reads her first question from a thick stack of cards submitted by the audience:
Diner: “What does it mean when you fake smoke?”
Helmrich: “It probably means you just had a fake orgasm.”
Waah waah waah.
Half stand-up comedy and half group therapy, Helmrich’s shtick has played in restaurants from Wauwatosa to Waukesha. She estimates she’s treated a total of 2,500 people at the anonymous gatherings. And while it seems gimmicky at first, Shrink ‘n’ Drink inevitably leads to very heavy discussions, from suicidal ideation to female hormone therapy.
Years ago, she decided to flip the idea of counseling on its head: Instead of people going to a shrink, shrinks should go to the people – because all too often people just need somebody to talk to.
“Loneliness,” she says, “is very debilitating.”