What a great read! Lori Gottlieb is a columnist for the New York Times and The Atlantic (she’s the therapist in their Ask a Therapist series); I’ve been loosely following her writings there for a while and have always really appreciated her intelligence and empathy, so when she came out with a full-length book about being a therapist and going to therapy herself, I knew it had to be interesting.
The blurb makes it sound like a romcom or something, but actually it’s a really well-written and detailed account of four of her patients, as well as herself as she sought out her own therapist for issues in her personal life (i.e., a major breakup in her mid-40s). John, the Hollywood producer, comes in as a total asshole – he screams at everyone whenever things don’t go his way, thinks of everyone around him as idiots, and has virtually zero awareness for anyone else’s feelings. Julie comes in after being diagnosed with terminal cancer as a newlywed (I can’t even imagine). Rita thinks of herself as a failure for submitting to domestic violence and raising four children who hate her, and says she’ll end it all if her life isn’t better by the time she turns 70. Charlotte is 25 and deals with issues many 25-year-olds brush up against, namely controlling her drinking and dating the wrong guys.
What I liked about these four cases Gottlieb chose was how varied and representative they were of the kinds of problems any of us could face. A fair share of us resorts to anger and belittlement as a defensive mechanism when pushed that far; and lord knows there’s enough millennials out there figuring out their drinking and relationship issues. These four people were so just human, even John the asshole. I truly believe there are very few people in the world who wouldn’t benefit from someone genuinely listening to them and saying “I understand, and I care”. Not just unhappy people – anyone. Every single person in the world just wants to know they matter and that someone cares about them.
And it showed! John the asshole had experienced multiple traumas in his life that undoubtedly molded him into the angry, bitter person he’d become, but by the end after his work with Gottlieb, he’d softened substantially and was a much better father and husband all around. You couldn’t have written a better arc for a someone. Rita and Charlotte healed similarly too…while I cried buckets and buckets over Julie’s story.
Therapists do amazing work. I’m really happy that therapy and mental illness have come a loooong way and are no longer stigmatized the way they were even five years ago. There’s still a lot to go, to be sure, but it’s refreshing seeing mental health being deemed just as important as physical health in these times.
P.S. Gottlieb has had such an interesting life! She studied language and culture at Yale, started out writing for Hollywood, then switched over to focus on TV, then decided she wanted to have a direct positive impact on people so she went to Stanford Medical School, then missed writing so shifted over to journalism, then again missed helping people so went back to school again to become a therapist. If you have a few minutes, you can read her most popular/controversial articles of How to Land Your Kid in Therapy and Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Good Enough. No matter your opinion on each topic, you can’t deny she’s an intelligent writer.