The Therapist Who Was Always Late

As a young man in my mid-twenties in the late ‘70s, I was in a precarious state. I had just failed miserably at an attempt to work at a job on the west coast and was back with my parents in Co-op City. I was on the list for a civil service job at the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal, was writing freelance articles for a local newspaper in Manhattan, and working part-time in a costume jewelry business. But I didn’t have enough to live on my own, and had to periodically ask my parents for money. Most of the people I had hung out with in my college years were either moving out of the area, getting married, or developing their own new interests. I went on a few dates with women who lived nearby, but was unsuccessful in finding a girlfriend.

In the midst of this depressed state, I found myself one day sitting next to a cool-looking guy on the Co-op City bus. He had long red hair and a beard. Soon, we started talking. He was an amateur keyboard player, like myself, and had an old-style Farsifa electric organ, the keyboard that had been used by many ’60s rock and soul groups. His high energy captivated me. But the real kicker came when I asked him about the book he was reading, “Betrayal of the Body” by Alexander Lowen. Excitedly, he told me about bioenergetic therapy, the sexual and life energy coursing through us, breaking down blocks within both the body and the psyche, and how it had helped him. He also told me about how he was into Wilhelm Reich and that he had even tried to build an “orgone box” in his own house. My father was already sending me to psychotherapy—to the same tired, old psychiatrist I’d gone to since childhood—but this sounded new and exciting.

Within the next few weeks, I went to the library and got my hands on every book on bioenergetics I could find. Classical Reichian therapy, I felt, was a little too out-there and ingrown, and few people practiced it anymore, but Lowen-style bioenergetics therapists were in vogue. This was the 1970s and everyone seemed to be on a self-help kick of some kind.  New types of therapies were everywhere—primal therapy, gestalt therapy, encounter groups, rational-emotive therapy, transactional analysis, you name it. When I finally got the state Housing job and moved to Washington Heights, I started to look for a bioenergetics therapist in earnest.

The person who I came up with was Fran Zingerman, a fortyish woman whose office was on 8th Avenue near 20th Street in Chelsea, which back then was still a somewhat gritty working-class area. When I asked about her background, she told me that she’d previously taught math at Kingsborough Community College and had “extensive training” with several bioenergetic therapists, but held no formal degree or credentials. Today, that would raise a red flag with me, but in my youthful anti-establishment mind this was probably more of a plus for me than anything else. She also told me that while her therapy might be tax deductible, insurance wouldn’t pay for it. But at a fee of $35 per session, it didn’t really matter to me. I was sure the therapy would change my life,

Off the bat, I realized she didn’t want me to do much talking. I would be in the midst of an impassioned complaint about my life, when she would cut me off and tell me to do some heavy breathing, start massaging my back, or have me do some sort of exercise whose purpose it was to release tension. This was OK, but not all the time!

She agreed with me that I had experienced a lot of shocks in my life – the worst one being my sister’s nervous breakdown and subsequent internment in a psych ward. “You were right on when you told me that,” she said. ”It’s serious. People can change, but it takes years and years. For most of us, therapy is a lifetime commitment.” This disappointed me. I’d thought of this as being a one- or-two-year thing. The idea of having to go to therapy once a week for the rest of my life was not an appetizing prospect.

Another time, she asked me to describe her. “Well, you’re older. You have wrinkles,” I said honestly.  “Yes, yes, I’m old! Put your hands on my face! Feel the wrinkles!” I did as she asked, but couldn’t understand what she was driving at.

The real problem I had with her was her chronic lateness. I’d go to her other office on 103rd Street and find myself waiting for 45 minutes. Then, the patient before me would leave, and I’d finally get to see her. This happened over and over again. When I protested, she said, “Well, we really got into some intense material before, and just had to work it through. That’s the process.”

Soon after I started seeing Fran Zingerman, I had sex for the first time in about three years. Unlike my previous partners, who, like myself, were Jewish, Harlena was a slightly older Japanese-American woman. This was very daring, rebellious and exciting for me. However, I became frightened when during sex she started moaning and groaning very loudly, and I withdrew almost without thinking. We did it maybe two or three more times, but it soon became clear that I was fairly inexperienced. “I’m amused feeling you moving around aimlessly, like a fish out of water,” she told me. Within two weeks, she decided to end the relationship.

When in my therapy session I complained about both Harlena’s treatment of me and my sexual inadequacy, Fran Zingerman said nothing. Instead, she asked me to stand up, hugged me, and asked me to hold her in an embrace for five minutes. “I’m trying to break through the barriers,” she said. I guess she could sense that someone as shy and nervous as I was in those days wasn’t going to put the moves on her. Still, the experience weirded me out quite a bit.

I kept going to Fran for therapy sessions, and the number of times I had to wait 30-to-45 minutes before she was ready to see me became even more frequent. After this had happened about 20 times, I decided to end the therapy. I told her I was going on vacation, which was true, and that I’d call her when I came back. I never did.

A few years ago, I looked at Fran Zingerman’s website. In addition to being a psychotherapist, she now also called herself a “spiritual healer” who used chakras, reiki, and energy healing to help people resolve their blocks.

Whatever she is, I wish her all the best.

**

Raanan Geberer is a semi-retired community journalist who lives in Manhattan with his wife and cat. He grew up in the Bronx

 

(photo: Psychiatrist and patient by Richard Nowitz)

 

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