Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Lori Gottlieb took a circuitous route to becoming a therapist. A stint as a production assistant in Hollywood led her to become a script reviewer who developed a love for storytelling. To enhance her editorial understanding of a promising new show she was editing, (ER!) she began shadowing doctors in a local emergency room and grew so enamored she decided to leave the show and go to medical school. Rather than complete her medical studies, she chose a late stage pivot to psychology. One of the many enjoyable takeaways from her popular new book is that the professional journey need not comprise a short, straight shot between two clear points. When career paths wind and twist, each pit stop carries the potential to enhance performance at the final destination. Gottlieb’s gift for storytelling and her diligence as a medical student deepen her grasp of psychotherapy and make for a rich and enlightening read.
The book begins with Gottlieb’s unexpected and devastating breakup with a symbolic character known mostly as “boyfriend” and occasionally as “the child hater”. Readers are thrust behind the scenes of the therapeutic process to delve into the dilemmas of practicing as a therapist, helping patients navigate their relationships, if the clinician’s world is simultaneously falling apart. Gottlieb is exquisitely self-deprecating. The day following the breakup with “boyfriend” she admits to discovering, after a full day of office hours, that she accidentally wore a pajama top to work stating “Namaste in Bed”. It’s her clever patient, Julie, who points this out. The colorful passages of the therapy patients intersperse Gottlieb’s personal quest to enter therapy and process her breakup. There’s Rita, a sixty-nine year old woman who has had multiple marriages and divorces and whose children won’t speak with her. There’s Julie who is dying of cancer. And John, a savvy television producer with insomnia who is convinced that the world is full of “idiots.” There are others, but these three memorable characters shape the plot and mirror Gottlieb’s personal and professional journey.
Gottlieb weaves theoretical definitions and insights through heartbreaking and inspiring tales, referencing Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl, Erik Erikson and several other pioneering leaders in psychology and literature. I especially enjoyed her exploration of Frankl’s quest for “meaning” and probing of Frankl’s words: “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Gottlieb acknowledges that the patients are fabricated, but their tales do bring to life the slow but steady process through which individuals change and evolve through self-reflection. Therapy patients don’t create new selves or get personality transplants. They learn to respond differently to life stressors and adversity. They smooth off their rough edges and create a healthy degree of emotional space to access their more mature selves.
I wish readers collected a deeper view into Gottlieb’s decision to use a sperm donor to conceive and what it meant to practice as a therapist while raising a son as a single mother. So many people seek therapy to delve deep into their romantic relationship patterns, and Gottlieb seems to gloss over this despite the fact that her therapeutic journey is triggered by a breakup. But maybe that’s the point. Perhaps Gottlieb is intentional in her neglect to give voice to her romantic choices. Maybe she chooses to emphasize the individual self over the relationship self to fully celebrate her individuality and her remarkably independent voice. As she grows and discovers deeper meaning in her life and her work, she becomes a more fulfilled woman and a more grounded clinician. The book is best suited for readers who are interested in psychology or for individuals going through adversity, but it is an entertaining read for anyone interested in the human connection.