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The Psychotherapist Is In

May 2000

"The door's open. Come in and talk as long as you want."

Stuart Altschuler is a licensed psychotherapist, hardly a rare breed in Los Angeles. It's his office that's unusual.

It's not really an office at all. It's an odd room in the middle of Flex, a sprawling, popular L.A. spa. Just outside his office door, men stroll by, wearing next to nothing.

"As far as I know, I'm the only one in the world doing this," says Altschuler, a thin, studious-looking man who warmly welcomes all types of men into his makeshift office.

"Some of them are a bit sheepish when they first come in," he says. "They say, is this for real?" Others are hitting the bottom. Hitting bottom may be a chemical bottom where they've just been binging so much. Hitting bottom might be a relationship that is on the verge of breaking up. Hitting bottom may be the fact they're so depressed and they realize they're at a bathhouse to deal with the depression."

"There are some guys I talked to at the bathhouse who are married to women. Some of these guys are in their 50s and 60s and have never talked about this to anyone. There are guys that are in gay relationships, and don't understand why they're doing this secret stuff on the side."

Three bathhouses in L.A. County pay Altschuler to counsel once a week, at no charge to their customers.

The unprecedented, unconventional, unorthodox presence of a counselor in a bathhouse is as important as condoms in preventing HIV infection, Altschuler believes.

"To me, AIDS prevention is not just about teaching people about condoms," he says. "To me, AIDS prevention is about teaching people how to heal their blocks about intimacy and having relationships and stuff. That's AIDS prevention. When people are feeling good about who they are, they tend to have a better quality of relationship."

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
See Also
Guide to Conquering the Fear, Shame and Anxiety of HIV
Trauma: Frozen Moments, Frozen Lives
More on Coping With Mental Health Issues