Meredith Eaton

Meredith Eaton
Actress Meredith Eaton has been in a number of shows with roots in the law: She started out on Family Law, and recently has been featured on Boston Legal. But her professional roots are in psychology, where she worked as a therapist for many years. Some of those were with United Cerebral Palsy, which her grandmother, Nina Eaton, helped to found in in the 1940’s after her son—Meredith’s father—was born with the condition. Today, UCP affiliates serve more than 170,000 children and adults with disabilities, and their families, every day. Here Eaton talks with ABILITY Magazine about the unique path her life has taken so far.

ABILITY Magazine: Your background is in clinical psychology.

Eaton: I worked for many, many years in the field, often with people with physical disabilities. That was in New York when I was a therapist for United Cerebral Palsy. I was always interested in working with people with disabilities, and in high school I worked with people who had Down syndrome. That was for an agency called AHRC, Association for the Help of Retarded Children. Then I went to college, and throughout college I volunteered for AHRC. After that, I was hired to work at United Cerebral Palsy as a program administrator and I did some therapy.

When I moved to California, I got my first series, which is what brought me here. Paul Haggis, who’s now a big movie guy, cast me as a lawyer in Family Law. When that series ended, I thought that I would be going on more auditions and booking more jobs, but everything just came to a screeching halt. So I had to figure out a way to make money, and I went back to my roots as a therapist in a locked psychiatric unit, working with people who were criminally insane. I did that for a year-and-a-half, and I had to leave, because it just was not safe. I had been assaulted several times, and I said, “I can’t do this any more.”

I did a little bit of acting—some guest spots here and there. I got a job working as a therapist doing individual and group crisis intervention and family therapy. I did that for two years. I left to do Boston Legal. So my psychology career has been interwoven into my acting career, and it’s my safety net and fallback. But again, it’s not where my heart is. I was dealing with every type of mental illness: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder--you name it. I was exposed to every type of mental illness. I was trained to do that. Although I haven’t been practicing for about three years now, so I can focus on acting.

AM: What’s the difference between a psychoanalyst and a psychologist?

Eaton: My mom is a psychoanalyst. They have a different school of thought. A lot of psychoanalysts practice classical psychoanalysis. They follow a Freudian model. It’s a much more strict, regimented therapy, where you see the patient three times a week. It’s very free-flowing, analytic thoughts. A psychologist, on the other hand, problem solves and helps you to get through a certain crisis in your life, which is quicker.

AM: So when someone says they’re a psychologist, they don’t typically do psychoanalysis?

Eaton: You could, but it’s very hard to do psychoanalysis in this day and age, because insurance companies won’t pay for it; they consider it a luxury. You’re really getting to the primary root of all problems. You go back to childhood. Whereas psychology is much more here-and-now oriented. You focus on a problem you can fix in 12 sessions. As opposed to psychoanalysis, which can go on for years and years.

AM: So the psychoanalysis goes back to the date of birth, where psychologists go back to last Tuesday?

Eaton: Exactly. Literally, what brings you here? Let’s troubleshoot how we can fix it. And it’s much more contained. The sessions are pretty much spelled out by the insurance company.

AM: As a psychologist you had something of a safety net. But as an actor you don’t. How do you feel about that?

Eaton: My first and foremost love is acting, so I’m excited about the possibilities of where my career is going to take me. I’m realistic about the limitations that I continue to face because of my (short) stature, and because of a lack of willingness to explore non-traditional casting. But for now, I want to focus on acting.

AM: Your stature has grown on Boston Legal?

Eaton: My stature? I’m not any taller, if that’s what you mean! (laughs) Do you mean my notoriety has grown?

AM: (laughs) Yes.

Eaton: Oh, OK. (laughs) Yes, it definitely has because the show is so popular, and everywhere that I go, people respond to me and acknowledge my work. It’s wonderful. So certainly, publicly, I’ve definitely seen a difference. But still, industrywise, not that much has changed. My activity level, in terms of getting interviews, has not really changed.

AM: What’s going on with Boston Legal?

Eaton: This is our fifth and last season. I’m in the premiere episode in September

AM: Tell me more about your connection with UCP.

Eaton: My grandmother, Nina Eaton, founded United Cerebral Palsy. At the time that my father was born with it, there were no resources for people with the condition. So my grandmother and grandfather, who lived in Brooklyn, tried to reach out for some type of resource or support, and people just told them to institutionalize my father. There was no help, no hope. But my grandmother, who’s very headstrong and assertive, didn’t like that answer, so she founded the organization that would become UCP in the basement of a firehouse in Brooklyn.

AM: Did the firehouse know she was down there?

Eaton: (laughs) Yes, they did. It started as a parent-support group. And then it evolved into what it is today. She has many, many, many buildings and structures named after her. She’s still alive. In fact, she recently had her 93rd birthday, and I went to New York to celebrate with her.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Robert Patrick issue include Headlines — Voting Gains; Help with Medicare; Humor — Run for Office? Run the Other Way!; Green Pages — Water by Computer, Solar Flashlight; DRLC — Make Polling Places Accessible For All; Best Practices — HP & Boeing; Anita Kaiser — Finding Innovative Ways to Mother; JR Martinez — Soldiering On; Managing Pain — Ear Aches, Tooth Aches; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

Vol 2008 Oct/Nov

More excerpts from the Robert Patrick issue:

Robert Patrick -- Interview

Kennedy Legacy — Anthony Kennedy Shriver - Best Buddies; William Kennedy Smith, MD - iCons

Asst. Secretary of Labor — ‘Everybody Needs to Work’

Meredith Eaton — From Therapist to Actress

The Scent of Cancer

JR Martinez — Soldiering On

Best Practices — HP & Boeing

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