What would Freud say?

‘Shrink’ web series puts Jewish celebs on the couch

Sarah Silverman, Lena Dunham and other MOT artists poignantly summarize a lifetime of psychotherapy in under two minutes, de-stigmatize mental health issues

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Sarah Silverman in 'Shrink' (Zach Galler)
Sarah Silverman in 'Shrink' (Zach Galler)

Celebrities Sarah Silverman and Lena Dunham have been in psychotherapy almost their entire lives. For Silverman, that’s over 30 years. For Dunham, it’s 23. But for a new web series aptly called “Shrink,” they’ve managed to sum up the experience in less than two minutes.

In our age of elevator pitches and soundbites, “Shrink” aims to prove that even the essence of the long, arduous work of analyzing our psyche and neuroses can be packaged into a video short enough to be watched between subway stops.

Lena Dunham in ‘Shrink’ (Justin Foster)

Launched online September 25 for National Psychotherapy Day, these well-produced videos will stop you in your tracks. (Warning: You may feel an immediate urge to seek a referral to a therapist.) But if not, you’ll at least appreciate the self-knowledge insights genuinely and generously shared by Silverman, Dunham and four other public figures — all of whom happen to be Jewish (no surprise there).

Unlike the featured celebrities who have had a lifetime of therapy, co-creators Teddy Blanks and Alex Karpovsky are newbies to the couch. Blanks, 32, told The Times of Israel that he was in therapy for a mere few years in his mid-20s.

“I now have a pretty good grip on most of the major issues I worked on during that time, but of course things crop up now and then, and my therapist has always been very welcoming. She allows me to book just a session or two to work through a specific problem, even if we haven’t seen each other for a year,” said Blanks.

Alex Karpovsky (left) and Teddy Blanks (Nate Igor Smith)

Karpovsky, 42, didn’t grow up in a therapy-woke atmosphere. His Soviet-born Jewish parents met in Israel, where they lived for several years before moving to the Boston area in 1978.

But being around people who’ve been in therapy for so many years has had an effect.

“Making this show that made me decide to finally go into therapy myself. I’m currently in the process of finding a therapist,” Karpovsky said.

The creative duo (known collectively as Spielbergs) came up with the idea for “Shrink” after Karpovsky was introduced by friends to a young British comedian at a bar.

“After a few drinks, we stumbled onto the subject of talk therapy. He told me he had started therapy about three years ago, when he was going through an agonizing period of self-hatred. But he made incredible progress, and was now in a healthy relationship, and his career was going better than ever. I asked him if he could tell me how he did all of that before he finished his beer. The comedian then launched into a revelatory, moving and very funny description of his journey to higher self-esteem,” Karpovsky told The Times of Israel.

“When Alex told me that story, I thought there might be an idea
there. Like, what if we asked a bunch of very accomplished people who have been in therapy for a while to condense all of their self-discovery
into one bite-sized chunk?” Blanks said.

Author Gary Shteyngart in ‘Shrink’ (Justin Foster)

It’s no surprise that Blanks and Karpovsky approached Lena Dunham about the project. The Brooklyn-based Blanks, 32, had scored Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” film. Karpovsky, who lives in Los Angeles, knew her from acting in as well as directing an episode of her HBO series “Girls.”

In her episode, Dunham speaks openly about her obsessive compulsive disorder, which she says no longer defines her life. However, it’s been a long road to get to this point. She was in some pretty intense therapy as a child.

“They thought it would be a once-a-week thing. It turned out I was in therapy three times a week from seven to 10. And then at 10 I was allowed to take it down to two. Big win!” she says.

Actress Natasha Lyonne in ‘Shrink’ (Justin Foster)

In typical fashion, Silverman let’s a bit of profanity slip into her otherwise toned-down monologue.

“People think self-deprecation is some kind of modesty, but it’s not. It’s self-obsession. Like I remember my therapist saying, ‘Look in the mirror less.’ It got me to stop talking shit about myself and lovingly correct myself when I do,” Silverman says.

Author Gary Shteyngart, director Kimberly Peirce, and actress Natasha Lyonne are two of the other Jewish personalities featured in “Shrink.” Shteyngart speaks about how 15 years of psychoanalysis “saved his life.” Lyonne shares what it was like growing up as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and a drunk father.

“There was a lot of drunken yelling going on about Hitler going on in the house. ‘Hitler isn’t coming, Yvette!” (That’s my mother’s name.) Yeah, that leads to therapy,” Lyonne says.

Writer Susan Orlean in ‘Shrink’ (Zach Galler)

The creators said they learned a lot from making the series and hope to find a partner to help fund and produce a second season. Blanks recalled a particular nugget of wisdom from author Susan Orlean, who is also Jewish.

“Susan Orlean told us that therapy didn’t work for her until she stopped lying to her therapist. It’s great to keep in mind that of all the people in your life, your therapist is the one for whom you don’t have to put on a
show about how well everything is going,” Blanks said.

The fact that five of the six people featured in this first season of “Shrink” are Jewish did not go unnoticed by the creators. At the same time, they are not sure they have a clear-cut reason as to how this happened.

‘Shrink’ went online Feb. 25, 2017 for National Psychotherapy Day (Justin Foster)

“I’m tempted to speculate that Jews have a cultural tradition of neurosis and self-reflection, but I feel it may just be a statistical anomaly. It
probably just says more about our circle of acquaintances than anything else,” Karpovsky said.

The creators recognize that not everyone comes from a background that supports or makes therapy available.

“We both came from backgrounds in which therapy wasn’t something
that was widely discussed or necessarily available. We hope these
videos can help to destigmatize therapy — to tell people it’s okay to
need help,” Blanks said.

Karpovsky believes that celebrities can serve as positive role models when it comes to mental health.

“We have a fascination with how über-successful people work
through their problems, and we are betting others have that same
fascination,” he said.

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