My shrink stole my life: A psychiatrist took over patient's life

Shrink stole my millions, my mansion and my life: That’s the twisted story at the heart of a new TV drama telling how a psychiatrist who partied with stars like Gwyneth Paltrow took over a wealthy patient’s whole life… and claimed it as his own

The lavish parties held by Dr Isaac Herschkopf, one of New York’s most celebrated psychiatrists, had gained something of a reputation among his neighbours in the Hamptons — the elite East Coast community he called home.

After chartering buses to transport anything from 70 to 170 guests to his property, Isaac, or ‘Ike’ as he encouraged his friends to call him, would entreat his guests — who included Gwyneth Paltrow — to enjoy his legendary get-togethers.

As they quaffed champagne, enjoyed the free poolside massages laid on by their host, or toured the premises (filled with photos of Ike with celebrities from actresses Paltrow and Brooke Shields to disgraced U.S. sports star O.J. Simpson), few took any notice of Marty, the unassuming chap in the background, serving drinks or quietly grilling kosher meat on the barbecue.

And why would anyone pay attention to the hired help? Because, in fact, he owned the house — Ike was merely Marty’s therapist.

Yet, during three years of treatment, Ike had inveigled his way into his patient’s life to such a degree that he could take control not just of his home (he occupied the main house while Marty was relegated to the guest quarters), but also of his finances (Marty paid him around £2.5 million in fees and even ceded control of his business), his relationships and essentially, his life.

Dr Isaac ‘Ike’ Herschkopf (pictured) took over one of his patient’s life while rubbing shoulders with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brooke Shields  

The extraordinary true story of how psychiatrist Dr Isaac ‘Ike’ Herschkopf exploited the sacred therapist-patient relationship has been turned into a TV series, The Shrink Next Door.

Starring Paul Rudd, of the Ant Man superhero films, as smooth-talking Dr Ike, and Anchorman’s Will Ferrell, as his hapless patient Martin ‘Marty’ Markowitz, it will stream on Apple TV+ next month.

It’s based on the 2019 podcast of the same name, which was written by investigative journalist Joe Nocera — who had lived next door to Marty for a year before realising he wasn’t Ike’s handyman.

As Joe himself remarked: ‘It was as if there was a mystery unfolding in my backyard and it got more elaborate and confounding . . .’ With one in eight Americans receiving some form of therapy, the fact a professional such as Ike could so easily insinuate himself into the life of his patient makes Marty’s story particularly chilling.

But if you still think the tale is too outlandish to be true, you aren’t alone. Will Ferrell, who plays the beleaguered Marty, admitted his initial reaction to the story was: ‘That would never happen to me.’

Dr Herschkopf (left) took over the home of Marty Markowitz (right) after the latter started receiving therapy following a difficult time – including the death of his parents

But after speaking in depth with his real-life counterpart, he realised Marty’s fall was gradual — a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ — and the culmination of the ‘perfect storm’ of a vulnerable patient coupled with a therapist intent on exploiting those vulnerabilities.

When Marty first stepped into the office of Dr Herschkopf in 1981, he was a wealthy 39-year-old man at his lowest ebb.

His parents had recently died, an uncle was threatening to oust him from the family’s lucrative textile company and his fiancée had left him after he had asked her to sign a pre-nuptial agreement.

He was encouraged by his rabbi to visit Dr Ike — a charismatic shrink who, though only in his 20s, already claimed to have Gwyneth Paltrow and singer Courtney Love among his clients.

The two men struck up an instant rapport and soon Marty was seeing his therapist three times a week. But with Marty’s confidence already low, Ike proceeded to chip away at it further still.

As Marty explained in a recent interview: ‘Very quietly, over about 18 months, Ike started pouring salt into my open wounds.’

Dr Herschkop was recommedned to Markowitz by his rabbi and claimed to have Gwyneth Paltrow (pictured) and singer Courtney Love among his clients

That involved separating Marty from his family, including younger sister, Phyllis Shapiro, who also worked at the family firm.

Ike convinced his patient that no one cared for him — apart from Ike himself. According to Marty, some two years after their first session, Ike was already instructing him to lower his sister’s pay by $5,000, ‘which I did several times’.

For her part, and perhaps seeing what was happening with regards to the family fortune, Phyllis removed gold coins from a safe deposit box jointly held with her brother. She also withdrew money inherited from their parents from a joint account and took savings bonds from her brother’s apartment.

Marty subsequently fired Phyllis from the company (at Ike’s insistence) and sent a letter to her home (drafted by Ike), which stated that ‘no one in the family would ever inherit any of my money’.

If Phyllis left Marty a message or sent him a birthday card, Ike instructed him to show these communications to him, so he could ‘interpret’ their meaning. As Marty later admitted: ‘It seemed like I was in a cult. What does every good cult leader do? The first thing is separate you from your family.’

But if Marty was hurting from the estrangement from his family, Ike was on hand to provide the perfect solution. According to Marty, Ike reassured him: ‘Don’t worry. My family will be your family, my kids like your nieces and nephews and we’re going to make a social life for you.’ And he was as good as his word, creating a fabulous social life within the environs of Marty’s holiday home in the Hamptons. The only problem was that Marty played little part in it.

Although Marty owned one property in the moneyed town of Southampton, in 1986 Ike instructed him to buy the adjoining house and promptly took it over, starting to host his legendary parties.

The ordeal is being adapted into a TV drama titled The Shrink Next Door which begins streaming on Apple+ on November 12

The invitations came from Dr Ike and his family, ‘with no mention of me’, wrote Marty in the contemporaneous notes he at least had the foresight to keep during his association with the therapist.

Marty’s job during the festivities was to make drinks, serve food and clean up. ‘People thought I was the caretaker,’ he lamented.

Guests were treated to tours of the stunning property which featured koi ponds, a professionally designed 18-hole miniature golf course, a hot tub, a basketball court and swimming pool — all of which were installed at Dr Ike’s behest, and paid for by Marty.

Moreover, framed photos of Ike posing with assorted celebrities adorned the walls (Marty paid for the framing, too).

If they were particularly lucky, guests might have caught a glimpse of one of the 12 books Dr Ike had written, but which mostly remained unpublished. He had got Marty to type up each of the manuscripts.

As if all that were not bizarre enough, Ike took over the main property and affixed his professional name — Dr Isaac Stevens — somewhat brazenly to the mailbox. Marty, meanwhile, was relegated to the guest compound at the back of the house. He wasn’t even allowed to store his food in the kitchen, and had to keep it in his bedroom.

But if Marty’s capitulation regarding his domestic arrangements was bewildering, far more sinister was the vice-like grip Ike was starting to exert on Marty’s finances. Not content with using Marty’s money to buy tables at lavish Jewish fundraisers, Ike was commanding such a presence in his patient’s life that he was eventually made president of Marty’s fabric business.

Ike even managed to rub shoulders with disgraced former football star OJ Simpson

Ike had even managed to persuade him to rewrite his will, leaving everything to an organisation called the Yaron Foundation. The directors of the foundation? Ike and his wife, Rebecca.

Marty also made Ike joint signatory of his Swiss bank account, which contained almost $1 million. And in 1991, Marty rewrote his will again, leaving his entire estate to Rebecca and giving Ike power of attorney.

Ike, meanwhile, was busily warning Marty off relationships, accusing his dates — with quite staggering chutzpah — of being gold-diggers. As Marty was to later admit: ‘There was nobody, certainly, in my family that could slap me across the face and say: “What are you doing — are you out of your mind?” ’

Though he conservatively estimates a loss of an eye-watering £3.75 million during his association with Dr Ike (as well as the £2.5 million in therapist fees, Marty claims to have lost £1.25 million after investing in a Ponzi scheme), the penny finally dropped when, in 2010, Marty underwent a hernia operation.

Ike, his purported friend of 30 years’ standing, didn’t even bother to visit him in hospital. Marty later admitted: ‘I was devastated. I began to question the whole basis of our relationship.’

He cut all ties with Ike shortly afterwards and changed his will immediately. ‘That,’ he later admitted, ‘was the last straw.’

Not long afterwards Marty contacted his sister, Phyllis, to whom he hadn’t spoken in almost three decades, thanks to Ike.

When she answered the phone, she told her brother: ‘I’ve been waiting for this call for 27 years.’

Since then, the siblings have been catching up on lost time, taking holidays together to China and Italy.

Paul Rudd portrays the charismatic therapist in the Apple+ series which is being adapted off of Joe Nocera’s podcast about Dr Ike – his neighbour 

Indeed, it was after Marty introduced his sister to neighbour Joe Nocera, saying: ‘This is my sister, Phyllis — I haven’t seen her in 27 years’, that Joe’s curiosity was piqued.

Marty showed him all the documents and photos he had kept of his time with Ike. ‘That’s when I knew it was a story I wanted to tell,’ said Joe.

After the launch of his podcast (produced by Wondery, which also made the acclaimed podcasts-turned-TV-series Dirty John and Dr Death), other former patients of Dr Ike came forward, including one who said she had been asked to rewrite her will in favour of the shrink’s daughters.

Marty filed his first complaint against Dr Ike with the New York State Department of Health in 2012. It took seven years to investigate his claims, and finally stripped the doctor of his licence to practise medicine earlier this year. It found 16 specifications of professional misconduct, from fraudulence to exercising undue influence (according to Marty, when the Shrink Next Door’s cast heard the news, they celebrated).

For his part, however, Dr Ike has claimed Marty was a willing participant in his own actions and that Joe Nocera had ‘a vendetta against me for ten years’. He also claimed ‘90 per cent of the podcast is untrue or out of context’.

Quite what Dr Ike will make of the TV series is anyone’s guess, although as Will Ferrell admitted recently: ‘I don’t think there’ll be any reason he’ll want to watch it.’ As to why Marty agreed to open himself up to further public scrutiny after having suffered so much personal humiliation, Will Ferrell added: ‘He just said: “I’ve been through so much that I just didn’t care.”’

Marty, now 79, has managed to get his life back together, and after rebuilding the relationship with his sister, he also got back to running the family company ‘and getting my mojo back’.

Moreover, after having his love interests repeatedly scared away by Dr Ike, he finally found love on the Thai island of Phuket. After retiring, he plans to spend half the year there with his girlfriend and put the memories of being used for his wealth far behind him.

‘All I want,’ he said recently, ‘is a nice, quiet life.’

The Shrink Next Door is on Apple TV+ from November 12. The podcast is available on major platforms.

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