The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

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Josh Srebnick: From Clinical Psychologist to Stand-Up Comedian

“I think ultimately I did what I was supposed to do with my life,” Josh Srebnick said, sinking into his sofa. “If you asked me what my ridiculous fantasy job would be, the only other thing I might’ve been good at would’ve been to be a talk show host.” He mutes the Late Show with David Letterman in the background.

For the past 18 years, Srebnick has lived three lives. In the mornings, he’s a clinical psychologist, subwaying into Greenwich Village at the crack of dawn, piling in meetings with kids, evaluating them for learning disabilities—ADHD, autism, dyslexia. In the afternoons, he treks back to Brooklyn Heights, also where he resides, to the Packer Collegiate Institute, a K-12 private school, of which he is the school psychologist. He continues to meet with kids, talking them through social dynamics, familial struggles, and learning disabilities. Around 4:30, when the school day winds down, Srebnick returns to his apartment on Montague Street, firing up the stove to prep dinner for his wife, son and daughter, and Cooper, their Norwich Terrier.

Srebnick began his career in the entertainment business, writing for the New Yorker and working for Paramount Pictures. “My colleagues were giving everything to it,” he explained. “I was just kind of mailing it in.” However, Srebnick remembered his long standing passion for working with kids. In high school, he had worked as a camp counselor, and when he attended Vassar College as an undergraduate student, he worked in a child center, counseling on a regular basis. “I knew I didn’t wanna be a teacher, so ultimately I decided on psychology because it was the most interaction with kids and their lives. It felt meaningful.” 

With the World Health Organization reporting that about 12% of teenagers experience an anxiety disorder or depression, Srebnick’s role has continued to grow in importance. “I think that with mental health—anxiety, depression, social issues—since we can’t see them, I think there’s still this belief and stigma that if kids just plow through, it’s all gonna be okay,” he shared. And this stigma is real, as a survey from Verywell Mind, an online publication for mental health and psychology, stated that 61% of Americans spend more time working on their physical health than mental health. “I worry that those kids that are actually struggling are being lumped in with those kids who are just having a [bad] day. That’s problematic because you’d never lump in a kid who’s a little under the weather with a kid who has cancer.”

Despite the heroism Srebnick has provided for these kids—saving them from self-harm, diffusing abusive families—he finds the less heroic acts the most satisfying. “I had a kid about ten years ago who was a real pain—he would push limits, he was a bit of a bully, he was more precocious than the other kids,” Srebnick said. “Over the years, I worked very hard with him, and he graduated, went through college, and now has a very great career…If you sat through some of our sessions, you’d be bored out of your mind. But it’s like driving a car where the axle isn’t great. You just keep moving it back into the middle of the road so it doesn’t steer off. It’s not particularly interesting driving, but you’re keeping the car from crashing.”

As much of an advocate for mental health Srebnick is and as hard as he works with his clients, he’s also had to learn to balance the difficult weights his job often brings. “There are times I come home with things that are just so sad or upsetting. Like a kid who was taken away from their parents because he was found with two broken wrists, or a one year old abused in foster care.” As time passed and he’s grown his own family, Srebnick has had to detach from constant therapizing. “You have crises where a family calls you at 11:30 at night, and you have to drop everything because a kid has locked themselves in their room. Once I had kids of my own and also a school-based job, I had to give up on that. It was just so all-encompassing.”

As a kid, Srebnick was an avid magic lover, taking weekly magic lessons at the local Manhattan shop and performing for friends at school. Over the years, he’s learned to bring a lightheartedness into his work life with his love for magic. “One thing I often do with kids in my office is magic tricks as a way of getting them comfortable,” he shared. “I’ll promise to teach them a trick at the end so it keeps them focused.” At home, in his social circles, and with his family, Srebnick is the local comedian. Talk shows and sitcoms are constantly running on the television, and he has cracked so many jokes that his family has begun to find him unbearable. “I think that’s my outlet, or my defense,” he said, chuckling to himself. “All that kind of stuff where my wife is like, ‘Ok Josh, enough jokes about farts and body parts. You’re not 11 years old.’”

Living the triple-life that Srebnick does, balancing the hundreds of other lives of his clients, he’s learned to ground himself in entertainment. “I’ve never had the courage to write up all of my little bits into something and go onstage; I think that takes a tremendous amount of courage,” he said. “I love being silly and funny, and I do it in smaller things, like I’m a big one to give speeches at people’s birthdays that go on forever and are basically stand up routines. It’s my way of being really narcissistic.”

While his life is ever-moving, his sense of humor stays the same, and he’s found an incredible link between his two worlds. “I think entertainers are able to touch on some part of the human condition that we can all relate to. I think that they’re a vessel, and I think a good psychologist can also be a kind of vessel. They figure out how to reach people in different ways, but in both cases they make people feel understood.”

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About the Contributor
Eleanor Brown is the current Features Editor for the Polygon. She began writing articles since her sophomore year, and served as the Features Editor as a junior. Her passion for journalism often leans creative, as she particularly enjoys profile writing and, of course, co-writing the Devil’s Advocate, the school advice column. In addition to her time on the Polygon, Eleanor co-founded The Poly Record, Poly’s literary magazine and co-leads Women’s Affinity. Outside of school, she enjoys tutoring and playing piano, sitting on Ticketmaster presale lines, and making lists upon lists of restaurants in her Notes app.

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