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La Doctora is In

JOHNNY DIAZ Herald Staff Writer

It’s 1:20 p.m. on a recent Tuesday and Isabel Gomez-Bassols is standing by in the West Dade studio of Radio Unica as the theme song signals the return of her show.

A smile, a caress, open your heart, the lyrics encourage in Spanish.

“This is Dr. Isabel, how can I help you?”

The caller, a 32-year-old Hispanic woman from San Francisco, chokes on tears, her pain raw over the airwaves.

“I have been with the same man for 15 years,” she says . . . I am in love with him but he is married to another woman . . . . We have three children together. He has three children with her . . . . There are nights where he stays with me and other nights he is with her . . . . He said he would take away my kids if I left him,” the woman tells Dr. Isabel and thousands of listeners on Radio Unica (WCMQ-1210 AM).

Dr. Isabel takes a deep breath. She adjusts her headphones, fixes her eyes on the bulbous black microphone.

“You have to be honest with yourself. Wanting a man who is married is not going to work . . . . The situation is not real. It is not loving. Your kids must know their father prefers to be at someone’s else house. They are already hurting. You are hurting. The man does not love you or his wife. You need to go to therapy and realize you are a co-dependent. Be honest with yourself. Respect yourself.”

It’s that tell-it-like-it-is quality that has endeared Gomez-Bassols to thousands of listeners on Doctora Isabel, the national call-in advice show she has hosted since January on Radio Unica, the newly launched 24-hour Spanish-language news radio station. Spanish-language television watchers also know Gomez-Bassols from her guest commentaries on such local shows as Sevcec on Channel 51 and Cristina on Channel 23.

Radio Unica producers recruited the Morningside resident and full-time psychologist with Miami-Dade County Public Schools because of her longtime experience as a counselor and unique ability to connect with people.

“People really respond to her. She is personable. She is the type of person you want to have dinner with and talk to,” says Nickie Jurado, director of communications at Radio Unica, where an average of more than half a million listeners tune in to the show weekly.

“She is a has-been-there-and-done-that-but-let-me-help- you-because-I-know-how person. She is filling a very much needed void in the Hispanic community.”

For Gomez-Bassols, the radio show is yet another way to help people — a calling she discovered while working as a science teacher at Campbell Drive Junior High School in 1976.

“Students were coming to my class after school, but not for help but to talk to me. They were telling me their problems,” she recalls.

With a supportive push from then-principal Lemmie Deliford, Gomez-Bassols found herself studying counseling at Florida International University. She returned to Campbell Drive as a counselor and began to establish herself in the field of counseling and psychology in alternative education in Miami-Dade.

She worked with troubled Mexican immigrant youths adjusting to American life in the fields of Homestead. She counseled youth in the county’s jails and opportunity schools. She later pursued a doctorate in education with a specialization in early and middle adolescence.

For the past eight years, she has chaired psychological services for alternative education, overseeing a team of school psychologists and about 39 outreach programs and interviewing troubled youths. The public schools accommodate her new radio gig by allowing her to use accumulated sick time and personal hours.

A hectic schedule

Try to keep up with Gomez-Bassols on a typical work day and you may need a doctor of your own.

She works from 7 a.m. til noonish at her job in the Dade County Public School building in downtown Miami. Around 12:30 p.m., she stampedes into Radio Unica in Doral to start her show at 1, darting back to her full-time job shortly after the show ends at 3. By the end of the day, which for Gomez-Bassols is about 8 p.m. or so, she’ll be on the phone, counseling friends and family for a few hours.

Gomez-Bassols tends to keep her family life private, offering only that she is divorced and has four grown children, Carl, 33, Elizabeth, 31, Eric, 29 and Margaret, 27. But listeners heard a slice of the doctora’s own tragedy last month. Her son Carl was seriously injured in a car accident on the Florida Turnpike. He was hospitalized and remains immobilized.

She shared the news with her listeners to show that she, too, has problems and that with time and faith everything will work itself out.

Callers responded with flowers, e-mail, cards, even a plant from a California listener, as tokens of their love and support.

“I draw strength from helping people,” she says.

Overabundance of callers

On this day, a monitor shows a list of callers waiting to draw strength from Gomez-Bassols. An average of 8,000 calls come in for each show. Only a smidgen of those can be answered.

Gomez-Bassols must be quick on her feet, with just a few minutes to listen, diagnose the problem, dispense advice and offer places near the caller’s home for therapy.

She turns the interview on the caller, probing with questions, honing in on the voice to gauge the hidden pain. Next to her, a radio staffer flips through a fat book of help and support organizations across the country.

First, there’s Juan, from San Francisco, wrestling with child-abuse demons.

The doctor peppers him with personal questions.

“How old were you when you were abused? Is it affecting your marriage? Is your wife affectionate with you? Have you spoken to your children about sex? How do you feel about yourself?” asks Gomez-Bassols.

The man’s voice seems wobbly.

He tells her in Spanish that he is worried that his past is affecting his present. He doesn’t want his family to know of his past. He wants to protect them but he still carries the pain.

“What should I do?” he asks Gomez-Bassols.

Her answer, “The fact that you are calling seeking help shows that you are a noble person who wants to better himself, not just for you, but for your loved ones. You need to go to therapy. Here are the numbers in San Francisco you can call. Take care and call me again and let me know how everything goes.”

Maria, from Houston, says her husband drinks too much.

“I found out through a relative he also uses drugs. I asked him and he said yes. I’ve been married to him for 10 years. He said he would change.”

Isabel interrupts her.

“Maria, the fact that he uses alcohol or drugs shows that he is troubled on the inside. He needs to go to therapy. You need to go to therapy. I am going to refer you to a group called Al-Anon. You need to get therapy. Go with or without him. You have to help yourself.”

During the commercial break, there’s no sign of exhaustion. In fact, Gomez-Bassols appears invigorated.

“Everybody has a sense of belonging to something,” she explains in her soothing, how-can-I help-you tone. “I have no doubt that I was meant to do this. It complements me. It is part of me.”

The theme song plays again. Gomez-Bassols readies herself to reach out.

A smile, a caress, open your heart.

CUTLINESPATRICK FARRELL / Herald Staff TIME FOR RESEARCH: Producer Marcella Gomez points out an item in newspaper at Radio Unica as Miami psychologist Isabel Gomez-Bassols prepares for her call-in advice show.

Illustration:color photo: Isabel Gomez-Bassols (a); photo: Producer Marcella
Gomez points out an item in newspaper at Radio Unica with psychologist Isabel
Gomez-Bassols (a)

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