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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone will teach you about yourself. Sure, it details author Lori Gottlieb’s journey with her therapy patients and her attempts to sort out her own mental health conundrums. But, as the subtitle implies, it’s also about “Our Lives Revealed,” because under all our class, ethnic, religious, educational, political, gender, and vocational differences, we’re all just struggling to paradoxically both know ourselves and hide from this knowledge at the same time.
Although this book is presented as a series of stories involving the author, it’s really a teaching tale about how we create, assign meaning to and, if we’re lucky, change our own stories. Telling hers and those of her beloved patients, Gottlieb bares her soul often enough to make us cry, while also making us laugh as she offers herself up as a prime example of someone maneuvering the mind-bending ups and downs and in and outs of relationships, both romantic and therapeutic.
For a book that is several therapeutic layers deep, it’s quite humorous, which may be one of Gottlieb’s first teaching points: Stop taking yourself so seriously. Yes, you’re a person and therefore think you must take things personally, but that doesn’t mean you need to always take them with such gravitas. Read about what Gottlieb goes through with her patients and her significant other—and what she thinks about it—and notice that she may wince but also tries to find humor or an upside in whatever is going on.
Another point she makes loud and clear is that most of us are aghast at appearing vulnerable and asking for help. We have our stories and we’re sticking to them: I’m the victim here. Paradoxically, being vulnerable and asking for helping is often our way of begging to not be the victim, even while we cling to this identity, in order to find a better way to manage our currently miserable lives. If you want change, you will need to go through what Gottlieb and her patients do (and what I’ve done as well)—dig deep, sit with the feelings, accept reality, and think and behave differently in the future.
Yet another point she makes, that therapists are human and have many of the same problems that their patients do, needs to be said more often. Our profession is partly to blame in that most of us have been taught old-school to avoid self-revelations for both helpful and unhelpful reasons. But the truth is that we’re always learning from books, workshops, each other, our patients and our successes and failures. We’re sometimes one step ahead of you, sometimes one behind, and occasionally neck and neck.
And when we can’t get out of our own way and our friends and family can’t help us, if we’re smart, we find a therapist and stay with her or him until we’re healthy enough to leave. I know of only two therapists who have not been in therapy themselves and I wouldn’t let them treat me or refer anyone to them. My view is that you need to have experienced being a patient and resolved your major issues to help the people who come to you for help. At our best, when therapists look or say something wise, it’s because we’ve come to illumination the hard way, that is, the only way.
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