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TODAY

Thursday, April 18

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Airbags

One of my favorite parts about writing this column is finding the unexpected use of the classified. Because it's obvious -- or, rather, it's accepted -- to use a classified to sell a couch or find a date. But what about someone who you have to trust with your deepest secrets, your messy mental crap?

Like, say, a psychiatrist.

Like, say, a psychiatrist you find via a classified ad they post at a psychology Web site. All you have to do is click on your state, your city, and try very, very hard not to laugh.

Why? It's mainly because of the pictures. Many of the shrinks put in these super-goofy photos that fall into three categories: actor's headshots; glamour shots; and mug shots. With the actor photos, you get a lot of the docs with a big grin with his chin resting on his hand. And in the glamour shots, there aren't feather boas or costume jewelry, but there is that Vaseline-coated lens thing you most often encounter during Barbara Walters interviews. The mugshots are sad and make you think the docs don't even care. And here and there are non-portrait photos of things like a psych couch or a lotus flower.

And you know when you read a personal ad, there's invariably a "here's why you should date me" paragraph? It's where the person will say, "I'm a good-looking stable guy who just wants to meet a nice girl, get married and have kids." Well, the therapist personal ad version of that is more like this, "I am a Humanistic/Transpersonal Psychologist who believes in a whole person/contextual perspective." When you click on a therapist's full profile, it's eerily reminiscent of a nerve.com or match.com profile. On a personal classified, you'd answer a question about religion, but at the find-a-therapist site, they talk about treatment practices.

But even when I try to look past the goofy photos and the personal statements, these therapist ads just seem weird -- and desperate. Because ideally, a patient wouldn't hire you for your white teeth or your big blue eyes but rather for your qualifications, your experience. And that's hard to prove in an ad, which is why for something so intimate, so important as a therapist, people tend to get recommendations for friends or doctors. Because if you can't rely on your own intuition, get the opinion of someone you trust.

And don't rely on the empty promises of any classified ad.

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