Therapy elicits odd reactions because, in a way, it’s like pornography. Both involve a kind of nudity. Both have the potential to thrill. And both have millions of users, most of whom keep their use private.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
I truly believe that everyone would benefit from therapy. Speaking personally, it’s as essential for my mind and spirit as eating healthy and going to the gym is for my body, and much more difficult than a Russian deadlift with no weight belt. This notion that people who are “weak” or “crazy” are the only ones that need therapy is utter bullshit. Would you also agree that only fat people should go to the gym? Or only people with learning disabilities should go to school? No, because that is something an idiot would think.
As a card-carrying member of the Counseled Crowd you’d think I’d be immune to these pernicious myths about therapy. But I can’t help but feel my sphincter clinch up anytime I’m telling someone I see a shrink for the first time. Afraid it’ll cause them to view me as “one of those people”, I seek to qualify my system of psychoanalysis…
“I see it as a workout for the mind,” I’ll say. “Most of the time, we talk about things that are going well and discuss the goals I have for myself.”
Underneath these words are the silent plea, “Please don’t think I’m crazy! Please don’t think I’m sad! Please don’t think I’m anxious!”
I’m saying it as much to the other person as I am to myself. Knowing you have multitudes and coming to grips with them are two very different things, and the gift of an introspective nature is thinking your self alternately cerebral and psychotic.
Meditation and creative endeavors tend to make me feel the former and mindlessly distracting myself by scrolling through news feeds the latter. Therapy seeks to reconcile these seemingly disparate aspects of myself.
Despite my years of proselytizing about therapy’s benefits I’d never endeavored to understand the mindset of the person with whom I was sharing my deepest desires and darkest secrets. That is, until I read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb.
In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, therapist Lori Gottlieb masterfully constructs a story featuring as captivating a cast of characters as you’ll find in any book, each with their own Hero’s Journey playing out over the course of the book.
If you’re at all struggling with the myriad issues that come with being a human, you’ll no doubt see aspects of yourself in all of them. And by watching them struggle and come to grips with their own issues, you can’t help but be incepted with certain ideas about how to deal with your own. However, the real joy of the book for me was getting a peak at the woman behind the curtain guiding these lost souls on their journey back home.
A Therapist’s Thoughts
As someone who’s always been fascinated by psychology and human behavior, I found the inside look Ms. Gottlieb gives us of what it’s like to be a therapist (and someone in therapy) fascinating. Below are some of my favorite musings from her memoir.
What determines success?
If you’re like me, you’ve gotten hung up Googling CBT, MBCT, EMDR, and any other acronym that can serve to postpone picking up the phone and scheduling an appointment. But apparently the method or therapy is far less consequential than we’ve been led to believe.
The most important factor in the success of your treatment is your relationship with the therapist, your experience of “feeling felt.” This matters more than the therapist’s training, the kind of therapy they do, or what type of problem you have.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
I’ve often told friends who are thinking of seeing a therapist that they’ll likely need to go to 4 or 5 before they find one they connect with. In the future, I imagine there will be a match.com for patients looking for therapists. Surely Facebook could cobble together something with all of the user data they have.
Why do people go to therapy?
When Lori started her practice, she assumed the majority of people that saw a therapist went because they wanted to feel less anxious or depressed.
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.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
This echoes recent research suggesting that millennials are facing a loneliness epidemic and what countless studies on happiness have been trying to tell us for years.
Therapists Sometimes Feel Helpless to Help
While there’s certainly a therapist out there for everyone, that doesn’t mean every therapist will be able to help you. After all, they’re human too.
I felt increasingly fatigued in our sessions—not from mental exertion, but from boredom. I made sure to have chocolate and do jumping jacks before she came in to wake myself up. Eventually, I moved her evening session to first thing in the morning. The minute she sat down, though, the boredom set in and I felt helpless to help her.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
I found this insight into the mind of a therapist so relieving. We often give them deity status in our minds and make believe that they’re infallible, but the truth that they’re people who make mistakes and get angry, bored, happy and sad is the reason they’re able to relate to our suffering and provide guidance. It’s also why they don’t always know the right thing to say, “which happens more often than patients realize.” Luckily therapists have been taught how to deal with this.
I do what therapists are taught to do when we’re having a complicated reaction to something and need more time to understand it. I do nothing-for the moment. I’ll get consultation on this later.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
Who do therapists turn to for advice?
Where does this consultation come from? After all, therapists work in a vacuum and aren’t allowed to discuss the particulars of their clients to the outside world. Are they just burying the heads in a Freudian tower of text? Maybe not…
Consultation groups are a fixture of many therapists’ lives. Working alone, we don’t have the benefit of input from others, whether that’s praise for a job well done or feedback on how to do better. Here we examine not just our patients but ourselves in relation to our patients.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
For some reason, this was one of the things that fascinated me most about the book. It made me picture a group therapy session full of therapists all talking about the issues they were having with helping people deal with their issues. It also just made sense. Why wouldn’t a therapist consult other therapists if they were struggling to solve a problem with their patient? The advice of someone who’d helped a patient through something similar would be invaluable.
There are no right answers, only better questions.
One of the things that surprised me as a therapist was how often people wanted to be told what to do, as if I had the right answer or as if right and wrong answers existed for the bulk of choices people make in their daily lives.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
The value of asking better questions is espoused by many experts in the self-help space. One of my favorite multi-hyphenates (author/entrepreneur/podcaster/etc.) Tim Ferriss has gone as far as writing an entire book around influential figures’ answers to the 11 questions that changed his life.
In her practice, Lori has found the process of getting people to ask themselves the right question the best way to initiate change.
Therapists aren’t persuaders… We can’t convince people not to be self-destructive, because for now, the self-destruction serves them. What we can do is try to help them understand themselves better and show them how to ask themselves the right questions until something happens that leads them to do their own persuading.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
Social Media Ain’t Real Life
I imagine anyone reading this has hung out with a friend in a miserable mood or a bickering couple whose online lives show them living and loving it up. Depending on your own mood this can be both funny and infuriating to witness. But if you think your friend’s Instagram selves are a much shinier version of their real lives, imagine what their therapist thinks…
If you ever want proof that what people present online is a prettier version of their lives, become a therapist and Google your patient… I saw images of her receiving a prestigious award, smiling at an event standing next to a handsome guy, looking cool and confident and at peace with the world in a magazine photo spread. Online, she bore no resemblance to the person who sat across from me in that room.Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)
This isn’t to say you should start posting arguments with your spouse in Stories or taking selfies of shitty situations, but I do think it’s important to consume media outside the sheen of social media. Something that’s got a little grit to it. Speaking personally, I feel more in common with almost any character in a book than I do with the characters my friends play online.
This was certainly true of Julie, John, Rita, Wendell, and Lori, and the rest of the people in this wonderful book.