“Start me up and I don’t stop,” says, Marin based therapist Dr. Tara Fields from the offices of KPIX-FM, where she hosts the new call-in “Dr. Tara Fields Show” for the all-talk radio station.
Fields couldn’t be better suited for the job. Hot off her three-hour afternoon gig giving advice, reality checks, comfort and a motivational prod to caller who seek her psychotherapeutic know-how, the doctor is riffing like a guitar hero in the spotlight. Several times during the interview, she brings her bullet-train of words to a sudden halt – to apologize for her talkativeness.
“Just jump in,” she suggests with manic glee. “I talk. That’s why they hired me.”
While watching Fields do her insta-shrink thing behind the glass of her studio booth; it’s not hard to be blown away by her skill at practical chat. Calls come in concerning every domestic situation you can name – from a wife concerned about her long-time husband’s declining standards of personal hygiene to a woman stood up by her fiance just before the wedding – and Fields has something pithy to say about it. Snippets of advice roll off her tongue as if coated with Teflon.
“I’ve been doing this as a licensed therapist with a private practice for 12, 13, 14 years, so nothing really surprises me,” she says before hitting up the interviewer for a single snack chip. (“I can eat just one. Watch me.”) “The real challenge is to sift out people who really need to be referred somewhere else. I try to be sensitive to the fact that I don’t know who they are and then get them on the right path.
“I’m different from a lot of on-the-air therapists in that I try to get people to come to their own answers, which I think most of them have. How many of us grew up with someone saying, ‘You can trust yourself?’
Forget about what Aunt Tilly’s telling you or what society thinks.”
Judging by a short visit to the station, Fields’ read on things seem sound. The woman with the stinky husband, for example, was left to ponder the possibility that her partner’s infrequent get-to-gethers with Mr. Soap might be an indirect method of communicating his dissatisfaction with the marriage and an incredibly effective way of telling his wife to literally keep her distance.
“People call in because they’re stuck, they’re helpless, they’re crying and they think they’ve lost Prince Charming,” she recalls. “And by the end of the show Wes (Hendrix, her engineer) is playing ‘Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves’ and the caller is saying, ‘Yes! I’m so glad he’s out of my life.’ “It feeds me and I can’t deny that some of this is entertainment. When I was auditioning for this job, I decided that I had to acomplish three things. I had to help people. I knew I had to be entertaining or it wasn’t going to work. And I had to have fun doing it.”
Through the conversation, Fields repeatedly brings up the topic of ratings and what she won’t do to get them – belittle callers who are already suffering from poor self-esteem, tell women to get or not to get abortions, take advantage of extremely vulnerable people. If someone is struggling with something as extreme as suicide, they won’t get on the air. Instead, Fields’ producer and phone attendant Allyson Geller will refer the troubled soul to the appropriate agency. Fields – also a resident therapist for KRON-TV’s “Saturday Daybreak” – strives to keep her ethics sound and her ego in check.
She puts it this way several times throughout the interview: “If I wanted to be cult leader of the world, I’d want them to depend on me.”
But the frequency with which Fields alludes to ratings suggests that regardless of her status as a mental health care professional do-gooder, there is a bottom line: Fields must bring in loyal listeners. Her advertisers wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ordinary therapists see clients for 50 minutes at a time, often weekly, over months or even years. Most psychologists are keen to let their patients do most of the talking. Although both parties must watch the clock, neither must pause for commercials. If Fields behaved over the air in the time-tested prescribed fashion, the result would be radio-shrink C-Span. You can imagine how many fans that would attract.
Instead Fields is more like a real-life equivalent of “Frasier” – a personality to help the psychologically needy and chase big ratings.
“Frasier’s also not afraid to be human,” she says of the sit-com sensation. “You see behind the scenes that he cares and has a good heart. But let’s acknowledge that I have more hair and a better relationship with my dog.”
Before studying psychology, she pursued a life in the theater and even studied with the famous Method acting guru Lee Strasberg. Her current day career skills were honed in Los-Angeles, where she established a thriving therapy practice and facilitated women’s groups.
Her theatrical experience shows. Fields looks and speaks more like a movie star then you average Berkely-based touchy-feely type. And one gets the sense that Fields might just be a better talker than she is a listener.
“What people hear on this air is me,” says Fields. “But they may be surprised to know that there are moments in my life when I’m not talking.”