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A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
Feeling bad and frustrated?
Lori Gottlieb says:
Who Should Read “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone”? And Why?
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is about everyone who believes that his/her problems will disappear by themselves. As you’ll find out in this book, even therapists need therapists.
Read this book to find out whether you need one yourself. Read it also if you merely want to find out how therapy works in practice: as we implied above, it is a unique book in that it is written from both the perspective of a therapist and a patient as well.
About Lori Gottlieb
Lori Gottlieb is a bestselling American writer and a popular psychotherapist.
She is most famous for her weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column which she writes for The Atlantic, where she is also a contributing editor.
She has written for the New York Times Magazine and makes regular TV appearances, whether on The Today Show, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, CNN, NPR, etc.
Gottlieb has authored and co-authored a few more books, including Marry Him and Stick Figure.
Find out more at https://lorigottlieb.com/.
“Maybe You Should Talk To Someone PDF Summary”
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is a book which asks, “How do we change?” and answers with “In relation to others.”
Author’s words—not ours.
But it’s difficult to say much more than that: a unique type of memoir, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is an exceptional book by an exceptional therapist about the nature of the relationships with her patients, but also a book about her own relationship with her own therapist, i.e., a chronicle of how she became a patient herself.
To reveal our shared humanity so that we can see ourselves more clearly.
Throughout the book, Gottlieb zig-zags between her experiences with her therapist Wendell, and the experiences of four of her patients (John, Rita, Julie, Charlotte) with herself as the therapist.
We’ll mainly focus on Lori in our summary, but we’ll mention some of her patients as well.
What Lies Beneath the Presenting Problem
“It all starts with a presenting problem,” says Lori Gottlieb.
And a presenting problem, by definition, is “the issue that sends a person into therapy.”
“It might be a panic attack, a job loss, a death, a birth, a relational difficulty, an inability to make a big life decision, or a bout of depression,” writes Gottlieb. “Sometimes the presenting problem is less specific—a feeling of ‘stuckness’ or the vague but nagging notion that something just isn’t quite right.”
The problem with the presenting problem?
Well, it’s not the real problem!
We can illustrate this with quite a few of Lori’s patients’ stories, but you know this already from one of our recent summaries.
Allow us to remind you of that one once more.
If you remember well, when Chelsea Handler went to see Dr. Dan Siegel, she merely wanted to talk to him about her frustration with the election of Donald Trump.
“People don’t care about inflection points when they come for their first therapy session,” inform us Gottlieb. “Mostly, they just want relief. They want to tell you their stories, beginning with their presenting problem.”
However, they end up somewhere else after a few months—namely, they end up finding out that their problem was merely the first layer, the curtain under which something much darker lies buried.
For Chelsea, the real problem was the never-gotten-over death of her beloved 22-year-old brother Chet when she was just 9.
Trump’s election merely repeated the sequence: things were going great, and then—boom!—the whole world was out of its joint.
Carl Jung said that “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”
But he also said this: “Who looks inside, awakes.”
The Interesting Paradox of the Therapy Process
We’ve already talked about how irrational we are and how much energy our brain spends to rationalize our irrational behavior.
We constantly lie to ourselves so that we can feel that we’ve done nothing especially wrong and that the whole world is to blame for our misfortune; everyone—but us.
The interesting bit?
Well, even if you know this, there’s no way you can prevent it. It’s just the way we’re built.
Take it from the author of this book.
She’s a well-known psychotherapist—in fact, she writes the weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column for The Atlantic—and, yet, she wasn’t able to help herself when she faced a serious problem. On the contrary: when she went to a psychotherapist, she did precisely what she had advised all of her patients not to do—i.e., lied to herself to look better in her story.
And, as she informs us, that’s the interesting paradox of the therapy process:
In order 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. That’s not to say that therapists don’t look for a patient’s strengths and try to build on those. We do. But while we aim to discover what’s not working, patients try to keep the illusion going to avoid shame—to seem more together than they really are. Both parties have the well-being of the patient in mind but often work at cross-purposes in the service of a mutual goal.
#1. Death: “Let Me Fill You In On the Boyfriend Incident…”
What was Lori Gottlieb’s problem, you ask?
One of the most common ones: A Boyfriend.
The guy we’re talking about here—for obvious reasons, Lori refers to him as nothing more but the Boyfriend—was going out with our therapist for two years, and then, out of the blue, put an end to their relationship, just around the time when Lori was making plans for a wedding.
Well, Gottlieb had an eight-year-old child, and the Boyfriend deemed this an unnecessary complication in his life. It was a problem he had never mentioned before, so, of course, in Lori’s eyes, all of this made the Boyfriend either selfish or a liar—or both!
And that’s what she wanted her psychiatrist—a certain Dr. Wendell (of course, his name is changed too)—to confirm. She felt life would be a lot easier of someone as qualified would back up her story.
However, Dr. Wendell wouldn’t admit that the Boyfriend was a sociopath.
He just listened and listened, picking up cues. After all, he did know that the Boyfriend was actually the presenting problem. The only way he could reach the real problem was by listening—and very carefully.
And one day, he picked up the real cue: Lori said that her life was half over.
Wendell realized: the frustration over her ex-boyfriend was merely an external symptom which masked something rooted deep within Lori—her pretty tangible fear of death.
You see, Lori was already in her late 40s, and, not that long before her therapy session, had begun experiencing a mysterious illness which none of her doctors could diagnose.
The Boyfriend—and the imagined future built around him—served as a kind of curtain covering this fear. His going away left Lori to face the fear alone.
#2. Isolation: The Importance of Human Connection
Wendell told Lori that, with the loss of her Boyfriend, she had lost more than her relationship in the present: she lost her relationship in the future as well.
“We tend to think that the future happens later,” he went on, “but we’re creating it in our minds every day. When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it. And having the future taken away is the mother of all plot twists.”
Unfortunately, if we spend the present trying to fix the past or control the future, “we remain stuck in place, in perpetual regret.”
Lori couldn’t do anything else but Google-stalking her Boyfriend because she felt that her life had ended. Moreover, that, due to her age, she would never find another partner to be with her.
There’s nothing worse than loneliness, is there?
That’s why the worst kind of punishment is solitary confinement.
Unfortunately, sometimes, we pass this judgment upon ourselves, by being not open enough to meet new people, by treating poorly the ones who are around us, or, simply, by being afraid that we won’t be accepted.
That was the story of Rita, a divorced patient of Lori who came to her expressing regret over her “bad choices” and a life poorly lived. She even thought about ending it if she doesn’t find a way to better it through her therapy sessions.
In a way, it was the therapy sessions themselves that did the trick: Rita needed someone to talk to. She had been isolated for a decade, coming to the point of splurging on pedicures just so that she could feel some human touch.
It came from a woman named Connie who didn’t speak “a lick of English;” but her touching her feet was enough to keep her alive.
#3. Meaning: Happiness Is an Abnormal Condition
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone starts with an eye-opening epigraph, which has haunted us ever since we opened it for the first time:
It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains—that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.
Before you scoff it off, let us tell you that this is not merely a philosophical rumination over the nature of happiness.
It’s the author’s abstract of “A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder” by Richard P. Bentall, a Professor of Clinical Psychology, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 1992.
What does this tell us?
For the simple reason that nobody ever has been permanently happy. Happiness, in other words, is temporary, has a lot to do with your biology, and is, thus, all but unattainable.
What you should strive for, instead?
We get nothing out of meaningless things, and, as Frankl so memorably told us, it is only when we find some meaning that we can fight through things.
Lori’s Search for Meaning
Lori experienced this herself.
During her therapy sessions with Wendell, she realized that her Boyfriend was not merely a way to hide her fear of death from herself, but also a great distraction from something which had made her anxious for a while.
Namely, Lori had a book deal with a publisher to write something on the subject of helicopter parenting. She felt utterly disconnected from the topic, and every time she would sit down to write something, she felt uneasiness that struck her to her very core.
Because, you see, Lori had received an advance for that book. Moreover, she had already spent it. And the fact that she was obliged to return the money wasn’t the most frightening part. It was the fear that, in the future, she wouldn’t get another deal (at least that’s what her agent had told her).
However, through her therapy sessions with Wendell, Lori realized that all of this was, once again, just a complex distraction.
The real problem was that Lori didn’t want to write that book: she found the work meaningless and wanted to write something else.
Encouraged by her therapist, she returned the advance and started writing this other book.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.
#4. Freedom: Unstuck Yourself
According to the person-centered approach to therapy, there are four reasons why one seeks the help of a professional.
We went over three of them—death, isolation, meaning in life—so it’s time to round things up with the fourth one: lack of a sense of freedom.
That’s precisely what Lori felt due to her book deal and the advance that came with it. Simply put, she wanted out of it, she wanted to find a way to unstuck herself.
True, it seemed complicated, but Lori did have a choice; unfortunately, a patient of hers named Julie didn’t.
A thirty-three-year-old university professor diagnosed with cancer upon returning from her honeymoon, Julie was objectively trapped in her situation.
In a way, there was no way out of it: she had no choice but to face the inevitable.
However, how to do that is an entirely different matter. And that’s where therapy and Lori proved helpful.
Over time, Julie decided that crumbling beneath the weight of the news is pretty much the same as dying before your time. Embracing the new kind of freedom meant living to your last breath.
And she did just that!
She started risking the way she had never risked before, for the simple reason that she had nothing to lose. And she learned that switching from professorship to being a cashier was a great decision at that time in her life: she craved for social contact, and as a professor, she barely had one.
If that sounds like another version of the plot of Ricky Gervais’ After Life, it’s because it is. Embracing your freedom may be existentially dreadful, but it’s also what makes life worth living.
So, no matter how painful it is—rip off the band-aid sooner rather than later.
Key Lessons from “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone”
1. The Presenting Problem Is Merely a Curtain for the Real Problem
2. We Rationalize Too Much to Be Able to Trust Ourselves
3. There Are Four Reasons Why People Go to Therapy
The Presenting Problem Is Merely a Curtain for the Real Problem
When someone goes to a therapist, usually, the first question that he/she hears is the one Lori Gottlieb considers the best ice-breaker out there: “So, tell me what brings you here today?”
However, Lori—and all good therapists, in fact—are aware that the answer to this question is never the answer to the real question: what is actually troubling the patient?
The answer to the question above is always something therapists refer to as “the presenting problem.” The “real problem,” however, lies much deeper, and can be unearthed through hours and hours of discussion.
We Rationalize Too Much to Be Able to Trust Ourselves
The reason why therapists need hours and hours to unearth the real problem underneath the presenting problem is simple: as a species, humans are exceptionally good at lying.
And, as Richard Feynman said once, the easiest person to fool is yourself.
Unfortunately, even if you know this, there’s no way around it without the kind and carefully directed words of another person.
Put otherwise, when you go to a psychotherapist, you’re already prepacked with a narrative which gives an explanation about all of your decisions, making you a nice person in his/her eyes.
It is his/her job to dig around these stories and, like a modern Sherlock Holmes, pick up a clue which would redirect the discussion to a territory you’ve never trodden before.
Because, let’s face it, that’s the only territory you’d want to go if you want to sort out your problems.
There Are Four Reasons Why People Go to Therapy
As Irvin D. Yalom has already taught us, there are four ultimate concerns, i.e., four givens of existence: death, isolation, meaning in life, and freedom.
In a way, all of your problems, frustrations, and anxieties boil down to one—or even all—of them.
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“Maybe You Should Talk To Someone Quotes”Therapists tell their patients: Follow your envy—it shows you what you want. Click To Tweet In therapy we aim for self-compassion (Am I human?) versus self-esteem (a judgment: Am I good or bad?) Click To Tweet Change and loss travel together. We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same. Click To Tweet The inability to say no is largely about approval-seeking—people imagine that if they say no, they won’t be loved by others. Click To Tweet The inability to say yes—to intimacy, a job opportunity, an alcohol program—is more about lack of trust in oneself. Will I mess this up? Will this turn out badly? Isn’t it safer to stay where I am? Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone has already earned enormous amounts of both critical and popular acclaim.
Katie Couric has called the book “absorbing,” and Susan Cain “wise,” People magazine went with “addictive,” and Kirkus Reviews with “irresistible;” O, the Oprah Magazine described the book as “heartwarming,” and Washington Post used an adjective you don’t see thrown around very often “searing.”
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is all that—and maybe even more!
Read it before everyone starts talking about: the book is currently being developed as a TV series with Eva Longoria and ABC!