The Gift of Gab

Sunday Independent JournalTara is that voiceThe Gift of Gab

Makeup artist Chris Scott prepares Tara Fields before a segment

Makeup artist Chris Scott prepares Tara Fields before a segment

‘TV shrink’ dispenses advice on local and national programs

Tara Fields can’t stop the small talk. She’s chatty. She’s talky. She has a million friends and a million stories. She flits from subject to subject, from aside to anecdote, all interspersed with laughs and the occasional “Oy vey!” The focus is everywhere.

And then it narrows to the pinpoint.

The microphone is on.

On this morning, the Mill Valley psychotherapist who calls herself “a TV shrink” is in the KGO radio studios with morning host Ronn Owens. The subject is Mel Gibson’s roadside anti-Semitic outbursts. It’s been the scandal buzz of the celebrity news feed all week and Fields has a lot to say.

She ponders whether the apologies issued through a publicist are sincere. “We can’t tell if he’s remorseful or not.” She questions the source of Gibson’s rage. “Depression is anger turned inward.” She talks to callers. She argues with Owens. She leans into the microphone. She offers hope. “How many people are going into rehab because of Mel Gibson?”

She fills the hour.

And then the microphone turns off, and the focus goes wide again.

Fields doesn’t stop being “Dr. Tara” when she’s not on the air. She just turns down the volume.

The title “TV shrink” is not one that comes up on career aptitude tests. Field is free to mold the definition. She shows up every other week on KRON’s Saturday “Morning Daybreak” show. The spots she tapes with Jack Hanson run on the Comcast “Local Edition” every hour on the cable system’s CNN feed. The week before her hour with Owens, MSNBC sent a limousine to her house to bring her to a taping.

She is a regular on the A&E program “Intervention,” and she taped a segment with Oprah that will air later this month.

She’s busy. She loves it.

She needs it.

Tara Fields regular host

Fields: Passionate about her convictions, from social issues to creating a dog park in Mill Valley

Fields is a contradiction moving at blur speeds. She is an obvious extrovert in the world’s loneliest profession. Therapists don’t talk. They listen. And then they can’t talk about anything they hear. A woman who studied acting with Lee Strasberg painted herself off the stage. A woman endowed with, as media mentor Dr. Dean Edell says, “the gift of gab,” found a career that ensured she had nothing to talk about.

“My husband can’t ever say, ‘Honey, how was your day?’” Fields says. “You can’t talk about it, you really can’t.”

So she found a way to talk.

Fields never really strayed too far from the spotlight. She’d come to California from New York aiming for an acting career. She didn’t want to be discovered, she says. She just wanted to act. But the kind of acting she was talking about and the kind of Hollywood she found were not the match she hoped. She recalls an “existential crisis” in her early 20s that took her out of the business altogether.

And into psychotherapy, first as a patient and later as a therapist. She studied psychology at Antioch University in Los Angeles and did her internship at a Beverly Hills clinic. She got her license. She launched a practice. But she was already craving a stage. She got involved in a pilot for a show on the psychodrama therapeutic technique. She got some radio time. By the time she moved to Mill Valley in the early ’90s – “Life’s too short to live in L.A.” -she was comfortable behind the mike and polished in front of the camera.

When she met Edell, she made him a mentor.

Fields was a natural, Edell says. “There are some people you just see instantly that they’ve got it,” Edell says. “That’s Tara.”

The ability to speak on any topic at any moment and sound intelligent made her a welcome commodity all over the Bay Area. Before long she was doing regular spots on KTVU’s “Mornings On Two” and then rushing across the bay to tape segments for KRON. She had a Saturday night radio show in Santa Rosa and became an afternoon alternative to the much-reviled Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

She didn’t just like the attention. It became a mission.

“It felt like it’s a calling,” she says.

The idea of missions and “a calling” is not a surprise to mystery writer Harley Jane Kozak, who lived upstairs from Fields in a Los Angles duplex. “She’s a person of passionately held convictions,” Kozak says.

Fields grew up marching in civil rights demonstrations with her parents. She doesn’t just want to talk. She wants to speak up. “Any place where somebody needs a voice, Tara is that voice,” Kozak remarks.

Kozak says her longtime friend is the kind of person who makes people stop and listen.

“Where I want to just fade into the woodwork, Tara is out front demanding a better table at restaurant and demanding equal rights for everybody,” Kozak says. “If she had not gone into psychology, she would have made a really great lawyer or politician.”

Not all the causes are earth-shattering social issues. In the ’90s she was part of a Mill Valley crusade to establish dogs and their owners in the town’s Bayfront Park. She’s near militant on the subject of dog rescue, condemning anybody who buys from a breeder when there are so many dogs that need homes.

The passion makes her convincing. It’s not just that Fields can talk on camera, on cue. She is sincere on no shortage of subjects. Ross McGowan, who hosts KTVU’s “Mornings on Two,” praises Field’s ability to come off as a caring human and not some jargon-spouting psychology theorist. “You an always count on her,” McGowan says. “She comes in and she knows the story.”

Watching her shift gears when the mike goes live, it would be easy to doubt that sincerity. When she leans forward in her chair, the posture looks almost too professional.

Comcast’s Hanson has watched that transformation and he’s come to understand Field’s sincerity. “She’s got multiple personalities and I don’t mean that in a negative way,” says Hanson, who hosts “Local Edition” segments in Comcast markets around the Bay Area. “When she comes on, she knows she’s a performer but she’s not a performer who is acting. It’s just a different part of her personality.”

Fields has personality to spare. She’s at the dog park every day, consulting with the canines and their human counterparts (she met her husband there). She goes to Spirit Rock at least once a week – “That’s one of the many communities I’m plugged into,” she says. She has patients most afternoons. She has an agent, and he’s still maneuvering for a “dream TV thing.”

For a woman who entered the world’s loneliest profession, she’s never far from an audience.

The audience is everywhere, as wide as her off-the-air focus. She can talk. And she does.

To anybody who will listen.

Whether the microphone is on.

Or off.