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On the couch with Dr. Emanuel Bernstein

Friends & Neighbors: EVERYONE HAS A STORY.By STEFANIE? CHIPPERFIELD Special to the Enterprise Tucked away on Glenwood Estates is a private practice called “Adirondack Counseling.” While technically an office, it has a very cozy look and feel, with a larg

April 8, 2009
By STEFANIE?CHIPPERFIELD, Special to the Enterprise

Tucked away on Glenwood Estates is a private practice called "Adirondack Counseling." While technically an office, it has a very cozy look and feel, with a large couch in the waiting room, wood walls hung with small framed pictures and various papers, a carpeted floor, several shelves of books and a handful of colorful knick-knacks.

Though he shines best when working with people, Dr. Emanuel Bernstein, who prefers the term "psychotherapist" to the more clinical-sounding "psychologist," advertises his services as help for "all problems, all ages, all species."

From the age of 2, Bernstein grew up in the Adirondacks, on Kiwassa Road in a house tucked into the woods. He was born in Maryland, where his father was the president of a furniture company. The elder Bernstein came to the Adirondacks to cure his tuberculosis. When the trains were running, every couple of months he'd go back to Maryland to work. Bernstein and his mother would usually travel back with him.

Article Photos

Dr. Emanuel Bernstein
(Photo — Stefanie Chipperfield)

"I grew up on trains," he said. "It took about two days to get to Maryland, first stopping at Utica, then New York City, Washington D.C., through Pennsylvania, then up to Northern Maryland. "As a result, the only place I could go to sleep well was on a train, getting rocked to sleep."

In 1939, young Bernstein and friends would take a wagon down to Riverside Drive and feed the Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers. During World War II, they were aircraft spotters, observing and logging registration numbers and other key attributes of passing planes.

Before Bernstein began his life's work helping people, he helped the animals. Around 1942, he and his friends got together and started the Adirondack Animal Welfare Society (AAWS), which was the first of its kind in Saranac Lake. They found homes for animals, went out on cruelty cases and inspected farms; they acted as a regular humane society, and became the mascot of the American Humane Association (AHA). The AHA adopted the AAWS, and Bernstein and friends went to their convention, where they were the only humane society in the country run by kids. The society experienced a lull between 1948 and 1972, never having taken off after its original founders left town. When Bernstein returned, he helped start it up again, turning it into the Tri-Lakes Humane Society as it stands today.

He also met a lot of famous people during the "T.B. era." The village was very busy then. He fondly remembers grocer Charlie Green letting them taste all of his groceries, and recalls him saying, "Hey, these just came in, try them!"

Bernstein loved being outdoors in the Adirondacks, canoeing and hiking. "The woods were my playground," he said. "North of Lake George, you could start really smelling and feeling the Adirondacks - they're some of the last great wilderness, with fresher air than most places." He loved the area and missed it, becoming nostalgic for it during his twenty-five years away.

Bernstein went to college at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. After graduating in 1952, he went to New York City to find a job, working as the first male nursery school teacher, at Bellevue Hospital in the children's psychiatric ward, as a door-to-door interviewer for the Psychological Corporation and as a "kiddy receptionist" at a child-guidance clinic. He also went to night school at the New School for Social Research. Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis - but eventually healed, and went on to Plattsburgh State Teacher's College to get his teaching certificate. He taught the fifth-grade before teaching freshman English at Paul Smith's college for two years. In 1960, he went to Columbia University in New York and got his master's degree.

More than anything, Bernstein wanted to be an Elementary Guidance Counselor - a fairly new field of work. Unfortunately, he couldn't get a job as one. One day while camping in Provincetown, Mass., someone suggested that he ought to try being a social worker, which he did. After a few years working with 7 to 12 year olds in Boston, he finally landed his dream job in Rhode Island, feeling universally loved for two years before tearing himself away to get his Ph.D. at the University of Oregon in Portland. Bernstein said he was happy there, but he has been happy wherever he has been.

Returning to Saranac Lake for a visit in 1969, he found that there were no counselors or therapists at all in the area, no mental health clinic, nothing. Thinking it would be a great idea to start a private practice, he spoke to local physicians, who loved the idea of him setting one up. Two years later, Bernstein brought his family over from Portland. His daughter, her husband and their two sons all wanted to come because they loved being in the area.

He didn't get any patients his whole first year, and none of the physicians referred anybody to him, so he volunteered to be the school psychologist at St. Agnes in Lake Placid. The priest and he were old friends, and the clergyman gladly invited him in. There Bernstein worked with both children and parents and finally got his first referral. Then the referrals started coming in from elsewhere.

Inspired by his life's experiences, Bernstein wrote a book called "The Secret Revolution: A Psychologist's Adventure's in Education," published in 2007 by Trafford Publishing.

"The best teachers - the most excellent teachers - have to rebel against the conventional system, memorization and teaching to the test," he said. "The tests are the worst part of the current education situation."

He believes that the high-stakes academic tests measure little or nothing about progress, and says that if the purpose of schools is to prepare people for life, then memorization does not do this.

"It's insane," he says, "because insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting things to change. That's what's happened with education, there's more and more testing and they think they're going to make things change. It makes things worse."

The book is called The Secret Revolution because teachers have to do their rebelling in secret, not teach to the tests but teach to the individuals. The best teachers love their kids; that's the whole criteria - they're interested and they care about them, and love their work. "You can't be a good teacher unless you rebel against the tests." Bernstein has a very strong belief that the conventional education system and forced curriculums is against educational progress.

At almost 80 years old, Bernstein has worked in therapy well over forty years. He says that one of the most interesting and fascinating things about it is that no one is the same; the differences are immense. "You can't really diagnose anybody because they're so complex," he said. "It's so much fun to get to know people and to help them work through their problems and help them be happier and more fulfilled."

He deals a lot with marriage counseling, with anxiety, depression. After getting referrals from Dr. Cornelia Wilbur of Sybil fame, he began working with multiple personality disorders. Hypnosis is another of his specialties that he is also comfortable doing with patients. "It is an incredibly powerful tool with which you can do almost anything, including changing physical problems, though it isn't a hundred percent successful."

A vegetarian at heart, he has a soft spot in his heart for the Adirondack wildlife. "The animals are like people, with individual personalities and likes and dislikes, and should be respected as individuals."

He is also part of a six-member improvisational comedy group that has performed at several different venues, including the prison, the library, Will Rogers, Blueseed, and Pendragon Theatre. The group was previously known as Gag Reflex, but due to legal issues, they are considering changing it to Brrrzrk.

Bernstein's favorite hobbies are riding his bicycle, "one of my greatest pleasures," non-competitive sailing, and enjoying the company of his daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons who, he proudly noted, are the first Adirondack natives in the family.



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