Revision Street: Aaron Karmin (III)

August 26, 2010

Early-thirties Aaron Karmin has a new home in Albany Park, a new wife, and an incredibly upbeat attitude for someone who, in his own words, spends the whole day listening “to peoples’ sad stories.”

“It’s called compassion fatigue,” he adds.

I work with everyone, I mean from people who are on probation because they—it’s an anger management clinic. I get clients who come in to deal with shyness. I work with cops. We’re on Michigan and Monroe, so it’s right in the financial district, so we got a lot of bankers, hedge-fund guys. Fortune 500, I own a law firm and I punched a bailiff in the courtroom, versus, you know, I beat my wife and this is part of my plea agreement. The private practice is fairly diverse, and the phone counseling reality is—I mean, it’s phone counseling, so it can be people from anywhere.


Albany Park (Photo by Heather Phillips)

 

We get translators, they’re born in, I don’t know, Pakistan, and now they’re working for the contractors and they’re worried about retribution against their family in Pakistan and so I’m doing phone counseling with them. Or guys from Texas who are driving the convoys and they hit a roadside bomb and the car behind them blows up and they see the person dragged out, beheaded, lit on fire, and now they’re having flashbacks. Whether they’re rich or poor, black or white, mental health is kind of mental health in that way. As far as my peers, my colleagues, the world of mental health is largely female. There aren’t a lot of men just in general.

The dark humor in the world of therapy is, a bad economy is good for business. I preface it with being dark humor because if you don’t have humor you don’t survive in this line of work. I worked at an in-patient psych unit at Swedish Covenant Hospital and in in-patient psych treatment you get all of these people trying to hurt themselves, kill themselves, trying to kill somebody else, you know just totally unable to care for themselves. You get a guy who’s trying to take a swing at you and break your nose, or trying to stab you with plastic knives that he sharpened, and if you don’t have humor about it then you’re just gonna melt down.

Right now, I think people feel stuck. There aren’t a lot of options. In the world of mental health funding, cuts go down in government, state, federal levels and there are lot of counselors who are having to cling to the jobs that they’re at. So there is definitely that lack of flexibility.

I work with a lot of check cashing places as well. They sign up for the phone counseling service. Their employer will pay for it because a lot of times the employees become agoraphobic. They get robbed all the time, obviously they’re check cashing places, so they become agoraphobic. In a bad economy you see those places get robbed more and more frequently or you know you talk to people, I talk to people who are in retail stores and they see a lot more robberies. Or you get a lot more people who are looking for documentation so they can get disability, worker’s comp, things like that just because they’re not being able to return to work.

Then you get the flip side. You get the type-A personalities, people who, you know, I had my baby and I’m going back to work two weeks later or a week later because they’re so worried about losing their job. Or someone who had a death in the family so they take a day off for the funeral and now they’re grieving in the workplace because there’s that fear of losing their job.

That’s part of being a therapist. You have to look at things from as many angles as you could come up with, because somebody comes to you with a problem and they’re looking at it this way and that’s probably why they’re coming to a therapist, cause they’re stuck at looking at the problem in only one way: If I lose my job it will be terrible. Why will it be terrible? Because I’ll be homeless, I won’t be able to pay my mortgage, my wife will leave me, I’ll be eating out of the dumpster like Oscar the Grouch. But really that person has siblings, parents, they have some money saved. Even Oscar the Grouch had a pet worm named Slimy. I mean come on, it wasn’t so bad.

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