Dr. Isabel Gomez-Bassols didn’t choose radio. Radio chose her. For nearly 20 years, thousands of perfect strangers have been ringing her line every day to ask her for advice. As one of the most trusted and beloved psychologists in the Hispanic community, she even received a call from President Obama. Affectionately called Angel de la Radio, Gomez-Bassols sat down with HE to talk about giving advice and staying sane in the business of listening to desperate calls.
Q: What was your most memorable call? What stood out about it?
A: A man once called in because he was having nightmares. He declared himself a terrorist. He’d placed bombs in his country, Colombia, and stayed around to see the bodies of the people he’d killed. He said he wasn’t sorry because he did what he had to do, but he wanted me to tell him what to do. I tried to keep my cool. I told myself I had to continue to be compassionate. I told him he was having nightmares because he had a sliver of a conscious and that he had to recognize that what he did was wrong and then make amends. There have been many memorable calls, and I can categorize them many ways, but that was the most horrific.
Q: How do you maintain your composure in those situations?
A: I have had a few gut reactions. After 17 years on the radio—and three decades of working as a psychologist with school children who had come from really violent situations—I sometimes think I’ve heard it all, but trust me, every day brings something different. I try to remember that if I want to make a difference in the world, I can’t be a judge. I have to listen. While I have callers in a quiet way, I’m exercising the power of listening. I let them know my position, and hopefully they will do something different in their lives.
Q: If you could revisit one piece of advice you’ve given, what would it be, and how would you change it?
A: When I give advice, it’s coming from the best part of me. There have been times when the segment ends and people are off the air that I may go back to them and provide other options that only they can make happen. I have to be careful when I answer on air because I’m giving advice to 1,000 other people who may have the same problem. I have to make sure that what I give to one person can be universal.
Q: Who do you go to for advice?
A: Every year I take courses on every subject that I deal with on the show to expand my body of knowledge, and I do a lot of work on my spiritual being. I use meditation to clean my brain. I read a lot of spiritual masters. As I tell my callers, many of the answers are within you, and common sense can usually help you find them. You just have to clear your mind.
Q: How have you seen the issues of the Hispanic community change over the years you’ve been hosting your show?
A: I have seen a lot of growth in Hispanic parents and children, especially in the realm of education. Originally, most of the phone calls I got on my show were desperate. Every Tuesday, I dedicate the show to scholastic advice, such as how to go to college and how to find scholarships. I’ve seen the change in parents, who were once afraid to go to schools because they didn’t speak English, now being proactive in their children’s education.
Q: What’s the best piece of general advice you could give someone?
A: Realize that in your brain you may have thoughts that were placed there when you were a child. Some messages are good ones that will make you grow. There are others that will guide you the wrong way. You have to develop critical reasoning. Ask yourself, when you have a problem, “What can I do about this? What’s my way of trying to help the situation? If I do this, where will those actions take me?” You have to think through a process of steps and understand that whatever decision you make will have a consequence, and only you can tell what the consequence will be.
Q: If you had to pick, which source would you go to for advice: a Magic 8 Ball, a fortune cookie, or a horoscope?
A: Probably the fortune cookie. To me, if you’re strong enough inside, when you pick something at random like a fortune, it will have a message for you. Since I am in the business, I know that half of the horoscopes are bologna, but sometimes horoscopes are right. I like the gamble of the fortune cookie.
Q: What is your favorite Latin American dish, and where do you go to eat it?
A: I love to eat Mexican food. Some people may say, “But you’re Cuban!”—and I love Cuban food, too—but I can cook that at home. I love getting tacos del pastor at the restaurant Mercadito because it’s organic. The flavor of [tacos del pastor] in Mexico is different, and it’s incredible. It’s more garlicky. I also love avocados. I would put them on anything and everything.