Book Review: Maybe you should talk to someone (A therapist, her therapist, and our lives revealed)
by Lori Gottlieb
Published by Scribe 2019
Reviewed by Mary Lynch, MIAHIP
Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author who writes the weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column for The Atlantic, where she is also a contributing editor. She has written several other bestselling books.
I was given this book by a friend and trainee psychotherapist, as she thought I might enjoy it and she also wanted my feedback. I was intrigued!
It is quite a large book, reaching to just over 400 pages (58 chapters) but I was not bored for a second; in fact, I wanted more. It reminded me of the writings of Irvin Yalom and how he weaves tales about clients, whilst at the same time imparting wisdom and knowledge. In fact, Yalom is quoted on the book cover as saying: “So bold and brassy, so packed with good stories, so honest, deep and riveting.”
Now that’s worthy praise from a world-renowned writer and therapist!
The writing is light and humorous, and interspersed with gems of theory explaining to the reader what therapists are trying to do from a clinical perspective. Gottlieb knows how to plot her stories, as before becoming a therapist she wrote for TV shows such as ER and Friends.
In the author’s note Gottlieb herself says that this is a book that asks: ‘How do we change?’ and answers with: ‘In relation to others.’
How often in our respective trainings, were we taught that the therapeutic relationship was sacred? That it was within the relationship that change happens. Regardless of the training modality or how many tools you have in your tool-box, eventually it is the relationship with your client that will effect change. Gottlieb demonstrates this throughout the book by sharing her experiences of this relationship both as client and therapist.
So, what is the story of the book?
Firstly, it is autobiographical, with Gottlieb going to great lengths to disguise identities and any recognisable details to protect her clients. Gottlieb is a single mom who is hoping to marry her current boyfriend but when this plan goes awry, she falls apart. Her friends are full of compassion for her and validate her feelings of anger and disgust at how her boyfriend has treated her. They offer what she later calls ‘idiot compassion’ (Gross, 2019), just agreeing with her, as opposed to the ‘wise compassion’ (Gross, 2019) which she eventually gets from a therapist who holds up the mirror to her and assists her to reflect on herself and her relationships.
Initially she thinks she just needs a few emergency sessions to help her express her grief. Gottlieb brings us into the world of the client as she enters the therapist’s room. She experiences all the anxieties that many people face when they begin therapy.
She wonders where she will sit when faced with a choice of chairs. Will her therapist like her more than his other clients? Does he find her interesting? Is he judging her? Will she Google his name and try to find out more about his personal life? Gottlieb has the ability to reflect on her behaviour and share her thoughts with us.
The ‘emergency sessions’ become much more and as the work progresses, her therapist wonders if she is grieving something much bigger than the loss of her boyfriend. This angers Gottlieb and she privately questions the therapist’s competence.
Interspersed with all of this, Gottlieb is also bringing us into her world as a therapist. She introduces us to four of her clients and the dilemmas they face.
There is the self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newly-wed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen who feels she has nothing to live for, and a self-destructive young woman who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys.
While working with these clients, Gottlieb discovers that the questions they are struggling with are the very questions she is bringing to her own therapist. She is the fifth client in the story, and she discovers that therapists are not that much different to clients. She discovers that we are, in fact, more similar than different. She acknowledges that, like all clients, she hides aspects of herself from her therapist. She explains how we often hide the truth of who we are from ourselves and from others as a way to protect ourselves. The book is full of compassion for the struggle of being human. We watch the lives of her clients unfold and even the most unlikeable narcissistic client transforms as his relationship with Gottlieb develops.
Gottlieb says that as a therapist she is looking for: ‘The music beneath the lyrics’ (Gross, 2019).
Whilst acknowledging that change for all humans is difficult Gottlieb shows us that through compassion, insight, understanding and courage, we all have the ability to change for the better. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.
I would recommend this book to all therapists and students of psychotherapy, as light but insightful reading. People who are fearful about entering therapy would also benefit by reading this, as it is honest, humorous, educational and entertaining.
My friend, the trainee therapist, was delighted that I agreed with her assessment of the book!
Mary Lynch MIAHIP is a psychotherapist/family support worker, currently practising with Barnardos Children’s Bereavement Service in Dublin.
Gross, T. (Host). (April 1 2019). A therapist goes to psychotherapy – and gets a taste of her own medicine. [Radio program]. Location: Troy, NY, WEXT radio.