At first, Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf, a psychiatrist who talked of having a “direct” approach with his “clients,” seemed like just the person Marty Markowitz needed. When Markowitz started seeing Herschkopf in 1981, he felt overrun with responsibilities, was grieving the loss of his parents and having inter-family issues over control of his family’s fabrics company. And the therapy did help. But soon, Herschkopf had extended control over other aspects of Markowitz’s life far beyond the boundaries of a doctor-patient relationship. Over the next 30 years, Markowitz would later allege, Herschkopf took control of his finances, moved into and pretended to own his home in the Hamptons and orchestrated his estrangement from his family. Their relationship ended in 2010, when Markowitz began the process of taking back control of his life and calling attention to what Herschkopf did to him.
The strange, sad story became the subject of the 2019 Wondery and Bloomberg Media podcast The Shrink Next Door, which was adapted into an Apple TV+ drama of the same name, released on Nov. 12, starring Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd as Markowitz and Herschkopf, respectively. In breaking down how this psychiatrist was able to exert total control over a patient, both versions of The Shrink Next Door illuminate the dangers of abusive and manipulative professional relationships. Here’s the true story behind The Shrink Next Door and what to know about the real life figures whose stories it tells.
A neighbor’s discovery inspires The Shrink Next Door podcast
Journalist Joe Nocera assumed Ike Herschkopf, a New York-based therapist, owned the vacation house next door to his in the Hamptons and that a man named Marty Markowitz, whom he saw taking care of the grounds, was the property manager. When he later found out that Markowitz, in fact, owned the house, and that Herschkopf simply acted like he owned it, he began investigating.
Nocera discovered a deeply layered story of manipulation and betrayal; over six (and some bonus) episodes, he breaks down how Markowitz came to be in a position vulnerable enough to cede control to Herschkopf—and how, after decades, he finally cut him off.
How a psychiatrist inserted himself into a patient’s life
From the outset, it’s clear Ike Herschkopf is not a typical therapist, a quality hinted at, in Paul Rudd’s depiction in Shrink, by his unconventional practice of taking Will Ferrell’s Markowitz on walks around New York instead of sitting in his office and directly confronting the sources of his patient’s problems. Rudd’s Herschkopf, in accordance with Nocera’s description of the real figure, is bombastic and status-obsessed, constantly showing off pictures of himself posing alongside celebrities.
The Shrink Next Door podcast documents how he used his position of power and influence, as a psychiatrist trusted by patients, to take advantage of people—like Markowitz, who had established himself as a millionaire through his family’s company, Associated Fabrics Corporation—for his benefit. In real life, Herschkopf quickly situated himself in positions where he could make decisions that had actual impacts on Markowitz and his family. Slowly, as the years went on, Herschkopf isolated Markowitz from his family and friends and pushed him away from romantic relationships, often through the advice he gave Markowitz about how to handle these personal ties. He installed himself as the president of Markowitz’s company and opened a charity foundation with (mostly) Markowitz’s money.
In a July 2021 interview with Forward, Markowitz described his time with Herschkopf as “living a lie.”
“Ike sucked me into this cult of Ike and I was spending six or seven hours a week with him, he kept me constantly busy transcribing his handwritten books, throwing these parties, and I didn’t appreciate what was going on,” Markowitz said. “He didn’t let me have a girlfriend. I would go on a date, and he’d call her a gold digger. He would say, ‘Everyone is out to get you, I’m going to protect you.’ And I was stupid enough to buy it.”
Among the more heartbreaking losses incurred by Markowitz due to his ties to Herschkopf is that of his sister, Phyllis Shapiro, portrayed in the Apple TV+ series by Kathryn Hahn. Shapiro, who also worked at the fabric company, came to realize that her brother was consulting Herschkopf on business decisions instead of making them himself. After seeing Herschkopf herself for a therapy session, Shapiro decided she didn’t trust him. As Markowitz spent more time with the psychiatrist, he started growing impatient with what he saw as Shapiro’s lack of work ethic. Eventually, she quit, and Markowitz stopped speaking with her.
Later, in an effort to get her brother’s attention, Shapiro stole money from him—at that point, Herschkopf convinced Markowitz to cut her off for good. They didn’t communicate again for many years.
As Nocera asks in the podcast, how could Markowitz allow all this to happen? He says, “I felt I had no choice.” So vulnerable was his mental state, that Herschkopf’s hold over him proved irresistible. In another episode, speaking about the experience of being unable to recognize he was under manipulation, he says, “It was so over the top, you had to want to see that.” For Markowitz, the damage is not just that he lost so much time to Herschkopf’s influence—it’s in the difficulty of rebuilding his life in the years since their relationship ended.
How Markowitz got free—and what happened to Herschkopf
For a long time, and especially after he cut off his sister, Herschkopf was essentially Markowitz’s only friend. Even as Herschkopf took more and more of Markowitz’s money and made Markowitz do an increasing number of chores and errands for him, Markowitz saw him as the only person he could depend on and trust. The unbalanced dynamic continued until 2010, when Markowitz underwent hernia surgery. In the days following the operation, Markowitz noted that Herschkopf did not check on him at all—and questioned their friendship.
“I knew that he knew that he was the only person in my life,” he told Nocera. “All of these frustrations, all of these issues, all of this anger came bursting out of me.”
With the help of some employees, who knew of Herschkopf as a business consultant under a different name, Markowitz sent a letter telling Herschkopf he no longer wanted to be his patient. Though the psychiatrist said he was making the wrong decision, Markowitz was done: he stopped responding, he took back his house and reunited with his sister. These days, Markowitz is looking to enjoy retirement and spend time with his girlfriend in Thailand.
In April 2021, following years of effort on Markowitz’s part to spotlight Herschkopf’s misdeeds, the psychiatrist was ordered to surrender his license to practice in New York. As the Shrink podcast revealed, Markowitz was not Herschkopf’s only victim; other former patients told Nocera the psychiatrist similarly took over their lives, convincing them to rewrite their wills to benefit the doctor or his family. The state’s Department of Health concluded that Herschkopf broke “minimal acceptable standards of care in the psychotherapeutic relationship.” In Nov. 2021, Herschkopf told the New York Times he plans to appeal the health department’s ruling.
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Write to Mahita Gajanan at firstname.lastname@example.org