Psychoanalysts Play Matchmaker

It was a match made in therapy.

That's the diagnosis the psychoanalyst founders of TheraDate want from their new coupling service.

Launched last month in the therapy capitals of New York and Los Angeles, TheraDate is a team of shrinks playing Cupid — matching mates based on all the usual commonalities, and then some.

"I've been through the ringer in terms of dating services and the bar scene," wrote one 53-year-old prospective client in an e-mail sent through "I'm a guy looking to have a relationship that’s meaningful. My therapist thinks it’s a great idea."

Unlike other dating services where clients fill out personal questionnaires themselves, this one requires their psychologists to do extensive surveys for them; patients never see what's been written.

A team of three TheraDate analysts then pores over the information and matches up the subjects, calling both and urging them to meet.

"We want to know everything the other services ask plus we want to know psychodynamics," said F.B. Levenson, a psychoanalyst and co-founder of the service. "We need to get that from therapists. We can’t get it from clients."

For those out of the "analyze this" loop, psychodynamics can include anything from defense mechanisms and obsessions to personality and psychological traits, according to Levenson.

Some singletons are uncomfortable with a clinical approach to love.

"They're trying to take the human element out of picking a mate and boil it down to a science," said New York venture capitalist Scott Werner, 29. "I doubt I would go for it."

"You can't put chemistry on paper," added Baltimore marketing associate Kristen Bloom, 31. "Whatever happened to bumping into somebody on the street and going from there?"

Apparently fate isn't working for everyone. Levenson said that since the service was unveiled last month, the Web site has gotten 6,000 hits and the company has received a couple hundred e-mails and phone calls from people interested in signing up.

Lonely hearts in therapy and on the prowl for love must pay the company $2,000 a year for eight introductions; their own psychologists don’t get a cut.

They do get patient fees. The service requires those in therapy in the past two years to return to their psychologists for a consultation. Psychoanalysis virgins or those out of therapy longer than two years must go for at least two months before TheraDate will take them on.

Some bristle at the psychologist-required rule.

"You are cutting out a huge portion of the population by saying you have to have gone to therapy," Werner said. "A lot of nice people go into therapy because they have other issues they need to work out before they give themselves to someone else."

Critics in the psychoanalysis circuit agree that new therapy patients might not be the best candidates for lasting romance, which TheraDate promises to try to find for its clients.

"You wouldn't be in a good position to make those kinds of decisions — you'd need to get your head straight first," said J. Michael Faragher, a relationships psychology expert at Metropolitan State College of Denver. "There are going to be some disastrous long-term commitments to come out of this."

Levenson believes no one knows a person's relationship issues better than a shrink. "We're much more likely to have the truth than anyone else," he said.

The seeds for the company were sown years ago, when a patient asked Levenson to introduce him to a compatible woman. Levenson did have someone in mind — but couldn't set them up because of ethics. He has since discovered his was a common frustration among therapists.

Though Faragher believes the service could have some success, he cautions buyers to beware of its limitations.

"We're thinking that therapists are somehow professionals in matching people up. Show me the evidence," he said. "We're going to have people make wrong decisions because they're going to think therapists know more about this than they do."

Other skeptics say involving shrinks in matchmaking their patients could be dangerous from a professional standpoint.

"It puts the therapist in a dual role," said psychologist Michael Cunningham of the University of Louisville. "There are professional ethics issues there. Will this lead to: See me for a hot date?"

Levenson admits TheraDate does promote psychotherapy, but says the analysts involved have a genuine interest in making lasting love matches.

"We're selling therapy — it's not a panacea but it has been demonstrated to be very helpful," he said. "We're not just going to send people out on dates. We want them to get married, stay married and be absolutely happy about it."

More traditional singles would rather rely on their own devices to find romance.

"Maybe we should just go back to arranged marriages," Bloom said. "The person who knows me best is me."