For most people, running a private psychological practice for a few dozen patients and growing would be a full-time challenge in and of itself. For Dr. Daniel Selling, the Director of the Williamsburg Therapy Group at 38 Grand Street, it plays second fiddle to bigger work.
Selling is the Executive Director of Mental Health in the New York City jail system. Of the 13,000 pre-trial detainees in the system on any given day, 4,500 are in need of mental health care.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been sensitive to race as an issue in this country,” says Dr. Selling. “Jail is a place in society for the oppressed and the dispossessed. The majority of the people in jail are black or brown. And while some of these people have done some terrible things, most of them are there because they are poor. They’re addicted to drugs, or they’re selling drugs, or there’s a history of incarceration in their family… really, looking back, all the passion in my life points to that issue.”
Nevertheless, on top of the nine-to-five task of dealing with the mental health of those in jail, Selling opened his private practice. There, he works with two other psychologists (Dr. Maureen Lindmeier and Dr. Jacob Kaplan) and an in-house consulting psychiatrist (Dr. Jason Hershberger).
Hershberger works with the therapists and prescribes medicine in conjunction with the therapy. According to Selling’s philosophy, anyone seeking medication with psychotropic drugs must also be in regular therapy sessions; those looking to simply have a prescription filled need to look elsewhere.
Hershberger and Selling first met while working on Wards Island at the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a maximum security hospital serving the criminally insane. Hershberger was Selling’s supervisor, and eventually both moved over to the City jail system. Today, Hershberger works at the Long Island College Hospital.
Selling’s urge to start his new practice came largely from a desire to get back into one-on-one sessions with people seeking help. In the City jail system, Selling’s ascendency up the administrative ladder pushed him away from that level of intimacy and more towards big picture organization. Now, he’s able to get back to the human element that drew him into the field in the first place.
And, he admits, it’s nice to work with a healthier population. Unlike in jail, where many of those in treatment suffer severe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the Williamsburg clientele tend to be higher functioning.
“I also see a psychologist,” Selling freely admits. “And in Williamsburg, a lot of people coming to my practice are my age, and they’re my contemporaries. So they really could be [someone like] me.”
Which isn’t to say that only affluent, younger, white doctors are welcome at the Williamsburg Therapy Group. Dr. Kaplan is a post-doctorate fellow, which helps those in need of a more flexible sliding scale, and Selling hopes to have a fully bilingual, Spanish-speaking psychologist on staff by April for North Brooklyn’s Hispanic population.
But none of this is to say that Selling prefers the calm of the Williamsburg sessions to the chaos and high-need of the jails.
“I could never do just the private practice. Which isn’t to knock therapists who do only this. It just isn’t me.”