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Matches Made in Therapy

July 08, 2002|LINDA MARSA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If a shared interest in art films, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners hasn't worked its romantic magic, perhaps a mutual background in psychotherapy will lead to a lasting relationship. That's the premise, at least, behind TheraDate, a fledgling matchmaking service designed exclusively for people who are in analysis.

The idea isn't as farfetched as it may sound. Many therapists say that single clients occasionally ask them if they know of anyone who might make a good romantic match. The thinking, of course, is that therapists know a great deal about their patients--their unresolved issues, neuroses and the like--and are in a good position to identify a compatible partner.

Ethically, though, psychotherapists are not supposed to get involved in their patients' personal lives outside the confines of their offices. TheraDate attempts to sidestep this dilemma by not allowing therapists to do the actual matchmaking themselves.

"There's bound to be a lot more compatibility among a group of bright, verbal, high achievers who value self-reflection and are smart enough to be using therapy to improve their lives," says TheraDate's founder, Frederick B. Levenson, a psychoanalyst in Manhattan. "And who are better qualified to do this than therapists, who've devoted their lives to understanding relationships?"

TheraDate was launched this spring with small advertisements in New York and Los Angeles magazines, a Web site (www.theradate.com) and letters of introduction to 20,000 therapists in Los Angeles and another 38,000 in New York. Since then, about 200 people have signed up for the service in each city, including a lot of therapists themselves, according to Levenson.

The program is open only to those who have been in therapy for at least two months, or who have been in therapy at some time within the last two years. It's also restricted to people trying to cope with more mundane difficulties, such as problems at work or in romantic relationships, not those with more serious problems, such as violent tendencies, emotional disturbances or substance abuse.

No couples have actually been fixed up through TheraDate, Levenson says, because he is waiting until the service has a large enough pool of patients--about 500 or so--to make compatible matches.

Membership will cost $800 a year for eight matches. (Levenson initially set a rate of $2,000, but has since dropped the rate to $800 as part of a "summer price special.")

Working with participating therapists, patients will fill out a confidential 10-page survey that delves much more deeply than the usual dating service inventories, which may include embellished resumes--"Harvard MBA"--and preferences--"enjoys walks on the beach"--that don't reveal much about someone's character.

The survey asks questions about family history, birth order, parental relationships, education, sibling rivalries and religion, as well as such questions as "What are your defense mechanisms?" and "What are your personality factors?" These more in-depth psychological profiles should result in better matches, according to Levenson, a certified psychoanalyst who has a doctoral degree from the California Graduate Institute in Los Angeles. The completed forms are reviewed by TheraDate counselors, who look for singles with complementary traits.

"For a relationship to endure," says Levenson, "people need to have similar psychodynamics--the notion that opposites attract is a myth."

Once patients have been matched with possible dates, both people are given each other's phone number and the next step is up to them.

The TheraDate team has done some dry runs for training purposes and to see how the system works, mixing confidential surveys from clients, friends and family, with those of couples they know in successful marriages. "We wound up matching these couples with each other almost 90% of the time," says Levenson, who believes that hooking up people who've been in therapy can reduce the divorce rate.

Not everyone, however, thinks that therapists are the best judges of someone's dating prospects. "Therapy is designed to help people resolve difficulties," says Leon Vandecreek, a psychologist at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. "But that process doesn't always reveal what someone would be like in a relationship."

Therapists' involvement in patients' personal lives may also overstep ethical boundaries. "The goal of psychotherapy is to diagnose and treat psychological disturbances, not to give report cards for how one lives life or communicates with others," says Judith Coche, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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