BC-HEALTH-SELF-SHRINKDRINK:MW – lifestyle (750 words)
Psychologist’s advice is easy to swallow at coffee shop
By Tom Kertscher
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WAUWATOSA, Wis. – Julie Helmrich had answered questions about sleep problems, chronic lateness and an obsession with masturbation when she paused to read aloud the next query from a customer at Cranky Al’s Bakery and Pizza.
What is up with female hormonal swings? someone, presumably a man, had written on a card.
Hormones can be like gasoline on a fire, Helmrich calmly explained.
“I know you think they’re bad on the outside,” she said into her wireless microphone. “You should feel what it’s like on the inside.”
Then Helmrich, a clinical psychologist of 29 years, offered some advice.
“This is going to sound like a joke, but I think it’s wise for you to monitor your wife’s periods,” she said. “You talk about stuff later.”
So it goes at “Shrink ‘n’ Drink,” a Q-and-A session convened by Helmrich one evening each month at Cranky Al’s.
About 40 adults buy themselves a little beer or wine, maybe some pizza, and take in 90 minutes of wise counsel.
There aren’t any couches, but the doctor doesn’t bill, either.
“It’s more fun than therapy,” said Lisa Waitrovich, a regular. “Sometimes you feel better about your problems by the end because they’re not as bad as everyone else’s.”
I’m habitually and chronically late. What is wrong with me and how do I fix it?
“You can go down the psychiatry route,” Helmrich answered, noting some therapists connect tardiness with passive-aggressive behavior. “Or you can set the alarm.”
Humor is an important part of “Shrink ‘n’ Drink,” said Helmrich, 52, but the purpose is serious.
“People really deserve high-quality, scientific psychology that they can use right away,” she said. “My profession should be doing this all over the place. We should be giving away what we know. What good does it do living in my head?”
Helmrich was drawn to psychology at age 14, when she and her younger brother were in charge of her family’s 40-cow dairy operation in Iowa. The trigger was the suicide of a seemingly contented family friend.
After completing her doctorate in clinical psychology at Georgia State University, Helmrich eventually opened an office in Milwaukee, focusing on interpersonal relationships.
“Shrink ‘n’ Drink” was the product of a roughly four-minute conversation with Alex Brkich, who with his wife, Susie, owns Cranky Al’s. Helmrich said she was always being asked marriage and family questions in social settings, so she thought she would take them on at a neighborhood hangout like Cranky Al’s.
It seems the sessions are filling a need. “Shrink ‘n’ Drink” is celebrating its first anniversary this month.
At the March session, more than half of the tables were filled by customers who had made reservations. In answering their written questions, which are submitted anonymously, Helmrich could get a bit academic. But mostly she kept a quick pace, sometimes reading and answering a question in less than a minute.
What should I say to my friend who wants to complain to me about a crummy sales job when there’s 8 percent unemployment in Wisconsin?
“Usually what complainers need is somebody to say ‘Aww.”‘
My husband has a fantasy of going to a bar in his pajamas and robe. What does this mean? Should I be concerned?
“This is not the kind of fantasy that I’d be worried about.”
I love my husband dearly, could not live without him. But why am I not happy?
“Happiness is a byproduct of extending yourself to a goal that is really important to you and is a little bit beyond your grasp. … It’s an inside job, as we say in the biz.”
The questions, and the advice, just kept coming.
For good sex, be sure to exercise and eat healthy, and put on clean sheets and nice music.
To the person who has to be competitive about every little thing, show compassion.
And if you always wake up at 3 a.m., you might want to get help for depression.
None of it was life-or-death stuff, to be sure.
But a psychologist who’s working a “Shrink ‘n’ Drink” isn’t so much trying to save lives as to make them a little happier.

Free Advice
“Shrink ‘n’ Drink,” which is free, is held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at Cranky Al’s Bakery and Pizza, 6901 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa. Tables may be reserved by calling (414) 258-5282.