Last year, we discovered a supershrink for millennials: a therapist whose batting average with clients our age was so remarkable that she became something of a legendary figure in our small circle of friends and colleagues.
When we first heard about Merav, we were both in graduate school, and as often happens when entering the mental health field, friends had started hitting us up for referrals. So we’d put together a short list of people who sounded good in their online descriptions. One day, a colleague suggested adding Merav to our referral list, her primary distinction initially being that she had evening openings.
We looked her up and read, “As a therapist I bring an active, no-nonsense approach that cuts through to the real issues.” Sold! We passed along her info to the very next friend who called in crisis, and the feedback was glowing. We now know a dozen people who all appreciate the same things about Merav in therapy: she’s “direct,” “bold,” “calls me out on my shit,” and comes off as “impressively unimpressive” (a cryptic oxymoron we’d never heard before).
Who was this woman and why were so many young adults drawn to her therapeutic style? We decided to find out and arranged to interview her. Immediately, we were struck by the sense of immediacy Meray conveyed. From the moment we said our hellos, it felt like she might be an old friend. “You guys are videotaping me?” she said before we even sat down. “I wasn’t prepared! Do you have any lipstick I could borrow?” Informal, direct, and warm. We instantly liked her.
We know that millennials grapple with excessively high personal standards, overly critical self-evaluations, and consequently exorbitant rates of depression and anxiety. Merav echoed what we’ve found to be true about the millennial experience. “A lot of the anxiety in millennials stems from a feeling that they have to be perfect, that other people have the perfect life, and they don’t measure up,” she told us. “So a lot of therapy has to do with putting your hand in people’s hand and saying, ‘Hey, you’re fine the way you are. Look at all those great things about you.’ We start from there. We work with finding the strengths people can identify in themselves.”
Merav exemplifies many of the qualities our millennial friends look for in therapists. They want to work with people who exude authenticity and aren’t afraid to challenge them while also offering reassurance along with clear expertise. They’re allergic to blank-slate therapists, who say very little in session. Instead, they want therapy from a “real” person, who shares opinions and even discloses aspects of their own personal life.
What makes Merav successful, we came to realize, is her ability to make her millennial clients feel safe without being coddled. One client said, “She’s very calm and straightforward. She really tells it like it is and isn’t trying to be liked. That’s very refreshing. I feel I can confide in her. She’s warm and open and understanding in a way that makes me trust her, but she’s also not just saying what I want to hear.”
Loneliness is pervasive in our modern world, and bombarded by projected perfectionism on social media, many millennials are left questioning what’s real. In her approachable, “impressively unimpressive” style, Merav models realness and true connection, and she challenges her clients to do the same. After learning more about her and her approach, we felt inspired to bring even more of those qualities to our own work.
Simone Humphrey, PsyD, is the cofounder of LOVELINK and a postdoctoral fellow at Therapists of New York.
Signe Simon, PhD, is the cofounder of LOVELINK, an online resource and podcast on modern love, and a postdoctoral fellow at New York University.