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lallieth

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Psychology Today: Street Corner Counseling
Psychology Today Magazine, Sep/Oct 2004

Talk-therapy is becoming increasingly popular by nonprofessionals, from public counselors at bus stops to syndicated sex columnists.

Whether the advice is good or bad may not matter. Liz Barry and Bill Wetzel say some people are just looking for a friendly face.

These two are public counselors at New York City bus stops, subway stations and street corners. Armed with two folding chairs and a sign that reads "Talk to Me," they spend 8 to14 hours nearly every day chatting with passersby. They've tackled everything from drug addiction to dissolving marriages, despite the fact that neither holds a degree in any kind of therapy. They're in it, they say, "for the plain, ol' fashioned conversation."

Dan Savage, author of the syndicated sex column "Savage Love," started his own column on a whim and without formal training. He says amateur counseling from a regular Joe sometimes has more common sense than a professional. "Just because you've got a string of letters after your name doesn't mean you know what's good for people," says Savage. "People want to get to a solution and get over it without rehashing their problems over and over again, the way a therapist might," he argues. Others just need someone to tell them what they already know themselves.

Lisa Levy was weary of therapy when she took to an off-off-Broadway stage with a microphone and a leather recliner. Her show Psychotherapy Live! is made up of high-speed 13-minute "therapy" sessions with willing audience members. Levy says she draws heavily on her past therapy for insights into the problems of theatergoers.

In Milwaukee, Terrance Ward and Janelle Ragazzi have found have found perhaps the most offbeat therapeutic niche. They hold their sessions in the bathrooms of nightclubs as restroom attendants through Ward's service, "A Touch of Class." Although they're ostensibly there to supply cologne, hand towels and emergency garment care to clubgoers, they find they most often are needed to lend a sympathetic ear. Ragazzi says people often skip the dance floor to head straight for the bathroom.
 

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