This review was originally posted on my previous blog, Muses of a Mom in July 2022. It has been updated and reposted here for Stress Awareness Month.
What happens if you are a professional therapist
with a life crisis and you need help and support?
You visit a therapist.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb is a New York Times bestseller, but it isn’t a non-fiction book I would select on my own. Thanks to my neighborhood book club. I’m glad I did.
Lori is a therapist who has an unexpected breakup with a boyfriend she thought would soon be a life partner. Falling apart, she seeks a therapist recommendation “for a friend” from another therapist-friend.
When she meets Wendell the Therapist, she isn’t sure what to think, and wonders why he would be so highly recommended. Some of his assessments annoy her, yet she also knows the psychology Wendell uses is spot on — it’s the same advice she would use for her patients. Her future therapy sessions offer a few surprises, and she discovers that the breakup isn’t the real crisis she is dealing with.
In addition to her story, Lori also shares narratives of four patients in her practice (all identities concealed, of course). John is a narcissistic TV writer and producer. He comes to therapy because everybody else is an idiot. John will get on your nerves when you meet him but keep reading: Lori helps John get to the heart of the matter, revealing an unexpected, heartbreaking problem. Julie is a newlywed who has everything going for her, except health. Cancer has returned and is now terminal. At 69 years young, Rita is a retiree who continually punishes herself because of her past and wants to end her life at 70. Finally, there is 20-something Charlotte, whose upbringing causes her to constantly sabotage herself in everyday relationships.
As Lori works with these patients and goes to therapy for herself, she shares the different paths to reconciliation and healing and what it takes to get there. Even for herself.
There is one word that begins most of this book’s published reviews: funny. Reading this book, I believe that is a bit misleading. It can be described as warm, often witty, and completely honest. It reads like a memoir, yet, Lori shares the pages with other insightful characters, allowing the reader to see how therapy works on both sides.
How Therapy Works
Lori describes various aspects of therapy and why she uses them with different patients. She writes that to do their job, “therapists try to see patients as they really are, which means noticing their vulnerabilities and entrenched patterns and struggles. Patients, of course, want to be helped, but they also want to be liked and admired. In other words, they want to hide their vulnerabilities and entrenched patterns and struggles.” Therapy isn’t hard work just for the patient – but for the therapist too.
Therapists are there to be supportive, but the support is for growth. A patient is asked to be both accountable and vulnerable. “Rather than steering people straight to the heart of the problem, we nudge them to arrive there on their own because the most powerful truths – the ones people take the most seriously – are those they come to, little by little, on their own.” The patient must be willing to tolerate discomfort because some discomfort is unavoidable for the process to be effective.
Not all the stories Lori shares end happily ever after. It is a fine line of how personally involved a therapist should be with clients. Lori describes the struggle of when or if it’s appropriate.
There are other insights I bookmarked. One such instance is when Lori is at a therapy appointment and constantly cries and drones on about her ex-boyfriend. At one point, Wendell comes over quietly and kicks her foot. Not hard, but it startled her. “Why do that?” she asks. He answers: “There’s a difference between pain and suffering. You’re going to have to feel pain – everyone feels pain at times – but you don’t have to suffer so much. You’re not choosing the pain, but you’re choosing the suffering.” It was like an “aha” moment for Lori. She understood that if she was clinging on to suffering so tightly, she must have been getting something out of it. It must have been serving some purpose for her. Something we all have done, indeed.
Another time was when Lori was an intern. She was commiserating with other interns at a busy clinic about the hours required, calculating how old they would be when they finally got licensed. It was discouraging for Lori, one of the most senior interns in the group. An instructor in her sixties overheard the conversation and said, “What does it matter what age you are when that happens? Either way, you won’t get today back.” A reminder that we need to make the most of each day.
A successful therapist for a few years, Lori muses: “If you’d asked me when I started as a therapist what most people came in for, I would have replied that they hoped to feel less anxious or depressed, to have less problematic relationships. But no matter the circumstances, there seemed to be this common element of loneliness, a craving for but a lack of a strong sense of human connection. A want. They rarely expressed it that way, but the more I learned about their lives, the more I could sense it, and I felt it in many ways myself.”
Interestingly, the book she was supposed to have been writing during this life crisis period was to be one on happiness. She finally realizes, after therapy, that particular book was not meant for her to write. Eventually, this book evolved. It could, perhaps, still be a book on happiness. Read the book and decide for yourself.
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