The Shrink Next Door straddles the line between outrageous and plausible a little too well, and it’s all the more gripping for it.
In this podcast we’re introduced to Ike and Marty, a therapist and his patient whose intimate (though initially professional) relationship turns dark in the wildest of ways. There's alleged abuse of power, manipulative influence, financial exploitation and one individual’s terrifyingly measured movements. Set against the wealthy and indulgent backdrop of New York’s Manhattan and the Hamptons, this is the most fascinating true podcast to arrive on the airways this year.
In 2010, former New York Times journalist Joe Nocera bought a home in the Hamptons with his wife Dawn. Not long after arriving to spend the summer there, the couple were invited over to the house next door. For context, this house is one of the biggest in the area – there’s even a pond with a bridge you need to cross to get to the front door. It’s renowned for the parties that are hosted there and the coachloads (yes, literal coaches) of elite guests from the city who turn up for the occasion. Joe and Dawn's neighbour, Isaac 'Ike' Herschkopf, asks them round for drinks; their invitation is hand-delivered by someone they assume to be Ike’s maintenance guy.
When Ike welcomes Joe and Dawn into his home, he greets them like long-lost friends despite them never having met before. It’s not long before they learn that a) Ike is a well-known psychiatrist to Manhattan's elite and b) he likes collecting pictures with famous people. There’s at least one entire wall covered in photos of himself with a range of familiar faces – Gwyneth Paltrow, OJ Simpson and TV’s Judge Judy included. When Ike finds out that Joe is a columnist for the Times, he asks for a picture with him too. It’s weird, but Joe explains that he goes along with it before scuttling back to their own house.
Fast-forward a year and Joe and his wife have returned to the Hamptons for another summer. Ike isn’t there this time. The maintenance man who’d stopped by to invite them over is, though, and they later discover that Ike never owned the house next door at all. Sure, it was his face all over the walls but the property actually belonged to Marty Markowitz – the assumed maintenance man. The confusion doesn’t stop there. Other neighbours told Joe that Ike was Marty’s therapist. Marty had recently kicked Ike out of the house and it’s here that a twisty, troubling story starts to unfold. Why on earth was a psychiatrist living in his patient’s house as if it were his own, and what happened to their already boundary-breaking relationship to prompt the patient to eject his therapist from the home that wasn’t at all recognisable as his own? Turns out, it's as complicated as it is fascinating.
In The Shrink Next Door, Joe explains that Ike and Marty's story was originally pitched as an article in 2012 but never went to print. What’s transpired, seven years later, is a gripping six-episode audio series that unpicks the decades-long strange relationship between Marty and the psychiatrist whom he'd originally visited for help with depression. Over the years, Marty claims that Ike managed to take complete control of his life, isolated him from family and cleverly gave himself access to his money. Ike apparently put Marty in a situation of such deep-rooted co-dependency that cutting ties with his sister, signing over a huge chunk of his wealth and running around as an errand boy became normal. Ike had himself written into people's wills, instated as CEO of a patient's million-dollar company and took control of vulnerable people's lives for his own advancement. According to the overwhelming allegations in the podcast, Ike knew how to use his power and the lasting effect on the patients under his spell was unsurprisingly devastating.
The situation was desperate for Marty and his story speaks to concerns – or at least a subconscious awareness – that many of us will have had about the boundaries between doctor and patient. There's more, of course. Throughout the podcast we hear from Marty himself alongside more of Ike's patients whose stories paint an outrageous picture of power and control within the therapist-patient relationships. Welcome to the game-changing diversion from the true crime narratives you were just starting to tire of.
The Shrink Next Door is a podcast by Wondery and Bloomberg, and is available to listen to on all major providers