Charles Eisenberg is a NYC-based psychotherapist who has spent over 25 years helping people in both institutions and through his private practice. Born and raised in Queens, he’s a lifelong New Yorker with an interest in the arts, a panache for colorful socks and the belief that everyone can be creative. Here’s why, and how, he does what he does.
I majored in philosophy, because I was interested in human problems, questions about possibility and making choices and self-determination, all those existential questions people have. When it was time to figure out what I wanted to do when I graduated, I thought it made sense to go into the psychological field where I could spend my time talking to people about the questions that interested me as opposed to, say, being a lawyer. I actually took the LSAT and applied to law school. On the day I was going to mail the law school applications I decided that law wasn’t the life for me. I’d rather focus on the dynamics of the mind, and psychological growth.
I went to Binghamton University in Upstate New York, got my masters degree in social work, and had a private psychotherapy practice for about 14 years. In 2000, I came back to the city.
I was born in Flushing, Queens, but I grew up out on Long Island. My family is a New York family: my father’s from Brooklyn, my mother’s from the city. Almost every weekend we were doing something in the city, either going to a museum a poetry recital, or some avant-garde happening.
When I came back to the city in 2000, I thought, “I’ll open a private practice, but first I’ll work in an institutional setting for a couple of years.” Everybody does this, as it allows you to get to know colleagues in the same field and to develop referral sources. Turns out I really enjoyed this administrative work, which lasted about 14 years. I was primarily working on quality improvement and risk management, in institutional settings. What I liked about the job was that I’d done enough work with people one-on-one to be able to improve systems. It interested me to make a difference on a systemic level, an administrative level, to be able to provide better quality services to people in these psychiatric settings. You have to be politically savvy, introduce innovation, and advocate for the welfare of patients.
Oddly enough, when I was working in my last position as director of quality improvement and patient satisfaction, I was finding myself talking more and more to parents of adult children, or patients that were struggling with mental illness. I found myself counseling people once again and that’s what got me thinking about changing my career. It was actually my wife’s suggestion. She said, “You really like talking to people about their family problems and their personal problems. Maybe it’s time for you to move out of this administrative work.” That’s really how I transitioned back to direct patient care. It was a little daunting, leaving a position and starting your own business.
My first thought was about finding the space for a private practice. It’s not a complicated business model but you need to have office space and build a patient base. I thought, “Where am I going to do this?” I Googled office space by the hour, and Breather came up. It’s convenient, for me and for my clients, because I can meet them where they are and I can use it when I need it. This helps me manage start up costs.
I specialize in working with actors and artists. Creativity and the creative process are two points of interest for me. My wife is an actress and I’m an oil painter and sculptor. I draw and oil paint almost every day. Actors and performers come to me for help in dealing with audition rejection, families who disapprove of their career choice, or even performance anxiety! Often times people feel they’ve plateaued and need a creative breakthrough. And of course, many artists, actors, and performers need help gaining the ability to promote themselves and drive their business side of their art.
I think creativity is general to everybody—if you have a living space, you have to figure out where to put the furnishings, that’s creativity. There’s creativity in problem solving. Creativity is therapeutic. It brings happiness. People don’t think of themselves as creative but even when they’re getting dressed and picking an outfit, that’s what they’re doing. It’s an aspect of self-expression. People do it every day.
As told to Breather. This interview has been condensed and edited.