I didn’t listen. The minute I hung out my shingle, I marketed myself as exactly who I am—an openly gay therapist, interested in treating the gay and lesbian population as well as heterosexuals. In Michigan in 1993, I didn’t know of any other therapists who advertised themselves this way. Yet inside of six months, I found myself overbooked if not overwhelmed, seeing 40 clients and running four different therapy groups. I couldn’t believe I was as successful as I was, particularly since I didn’t look like or sound like any other therapist around.
This gave me something else in common with Oprah.
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Eventually, what with my career, advanced schooling and my marriage to Mike, my life became so busy that I couldn’t watch “Oprah” regularly, but did tune in on occasional shows. Then in the mid-1990s came the proliferation of competing talk shows, along with a few trashy “freak shows” like Jerry Springer’s that exploited guests and encouraged the audiences to root and jeer at marginalized people with mental health issues, disrespecting others including themselves.
How, I wondered, could Oprah survive? She’d made a clear decision not to become a trash-talk show with half the dialogue bleeped out, with uniformed guards to keep guests from fighting one another. Could she continue to remain on the high ground and still keep her ratings that would let her stay on the air?.
Back in 1994, I assumed my success was based on my being one of the few openly gay therapists in Michigan. Accordingly, I always worried that if other local gay therapists opened their practices, the competition would make mine fade away. Well, by 1999, there were a number of other gay therapists in the Detroit area, as well as around the country. But my practice remained steady.
Again, I could relate.
Then in 2003, when I published my first book, many people told me that most likely, I was going to be invited to go on “Oprah.” I thought for sure this was my ticket to meet her.
My obsession grew, yet I wasn’t getting any calls from Harpo. I hired many publicists to help me get on the show—to no avail. Colleague after colleague of mine who had written a book were being Googled by Harpo producers and getting on Oprah, it was more than I could handle. I became depressed and knew I had to get hold of myself.
Then I realized something that I knew from my own training as a therapist but had not applied to my own life. What you see in others lives inside you. In my work with clients I would ask them to see how what they hated and were frustrated about with others lived somewhere inside of them.
The truth is that we react to not only the dark things we see in others, but also to their positive attributes. I had to consider how what I admire about Oprah applied to me.
Then it all started to make sense. I saw elements of myself in Oprah. I had seen the radiance in her, and now I saw that light in me. She was a mirror that let me realize that what Oprah was to me, I was to my local gay community and to my clients.
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Later on colleagues and friends gave me the playful nickname of “Joe-prah,” and I wore it proudly. Once I was able to connect with my inner Oprah, my obsession with her began to recede.