JFCS-sponsored talk show focuses on mental health

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"Every heterosexual relationship feels to me like a multicultural relationship," the first caller said.

And so began "Family Life Hotline," a new weekly call-in therapy talk show on Berkeley-based radio station KPFA. The show is sponsored by Jewish Family and Children's Services of the East Bay. Its cohosts, mental health counselors Ruth Fremes and John Thompson, invite two guest counselors each week to discuss diverse topics ranging from domestic violence to pets and their impact on the family.

Based on that first caller's provocative lament, four on-air therapists began fielding questions and comments from callers around the Bay Area.

The topic for that first episode one recent Wednesday was interethnic relationships. But the first caller felt her problems were more complicated than that.

"Sometimes I wonder if the differences between my Southern Baptist husband and my Jewish self is because I'm a first-born and he's a last-born, or because I'm Jewish and he's Southern Baptist, or because I'm female and he's male," she said.

A subsequent caller, however, reported that his parents disapprove of his marriage simply because it is intercultural. He and his parents "don't talk for awhile, then we talk on the phone, then it becomes a fight," the caller said.

Guest counselors Joel Crohn and clinical social worker William French offered supportive though often plainly pragmatic advice to him — and to the other callers already involved in or even contemplating an intercultural relationship.

"Have you talked about how it would be [for you and your partner] to go through the life cycle together," said Crohn, a psychotherapist and author. "It's easy to fall in love. It's a lot more difficult to walk through life in love…The bloom of new love always wears off by itself."

The calls kept coming in, even after the show was over.

"At all times, we had three calls on hold," co-host Ruth Fremes said.

A Canadian Broadcasting Company personality for 25 years. Fremes relocated to Berkeley 11 years ago and entered the mental health field. She now works as a clinical intern at Jewish Family and Children's Services. She started assembling the radio show after the services' counseling center moved to a new location and a growing number of would-be clients clearly needed help.

"No one knew where [the center] was" after the move, Fremes recalled. "I sat there by myself and said, `Why not go on the air and tell them?'"

Fellow mental health professionals recommended John Thompson when they learned Fremes was seeking a co-host. Thompson has been a social worker for 25 years and now heads the family violence counseling program at West Oakland's mental health department.

The show is scheduled to run for 14 weeks. Guests have included representatives of Men Evolving Non-Violently (MEN), a Santa Rosa-based support group for men who have committed domestic violence and/or who recognize violence within themselves.

A Thanksgiving show featured the topic "Do you dread the holidays?"'

The hotline is open to all callers although Fremes and Thompson encourage callers with specific troubles. One of the main goals is to let callers and listeners know about the range of mental health services available in the Bay Area.

"We want to tell people there's help out there," Fremes said. "We want people to know that psychotherapy helps."