Some say doctors make the worst patients. But can the same be true of psychotherapists? Marriage and family therapist Lori Gottlieb found out for herself when a personal crisis propelled her into treatment and inspired her to write a bestselling memoir, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.”
She will discuss her book, now in development for a TV series starring Eva Longoria, at the Scarsdale Adult School’s “Books and Bites” series on Jan. 21.
A nationally recognized journalist and author of the weekly ”Dear Therapist” column for The Atlantic, Gottlieb invites readers to be a ”fly on the wall” during sessions with four of her patients: a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a depressed senior citizen estranged from her children, a newlywed stricken with cancer, and a woman with questionable choices in men. The fifth patient in the book, a psychotherapist blindsided by a painful breakup with her boyfriend, is Gottlieb.
“A lot of us think we are struggling alone and imagine that we are the only ones going through something difficult or who experience anxiety, depression, loss, grief or relational problems,” said Gottlieb, in an interview with the Inquirer. “I wanted to show real people going through those things what those experiences are like, and how transformative therapy can be.”
Gottlieb said that for therapy to be transformative and for breakthroughs to occur, our experiences should be recognized as stories. “How we change our stories is how we change our lives,” she said in a recent TED Talk. “You do that by becoming your own editor and rewriting your narrative from a different point of view.”
As she embarks on an emotional journey with her therapist, Wendell, Gottlieb herself realizes she is perpetuating the same kind of incomplete and misleading narrative she identifies in her own patients.
“All of us are completely changed by the end of the book. How we present our stories, how we view our problems, how we view ourselves and how we view others.”
Gottlieb’s approach to psychotherapy seems the culmination of a patchwork of education and career choices. A graduate of Stanford University with a degree in French language and literature, Gottlieb began her career in Hollywood working in film development and later as a dedicated story executive for NBC series like “ER,” where she shadowed the show’s medical consultant, who demonstrated how to insert an IV or read an X-ray, all of which ignited Gottlieb’s interest in studying medicine. Feeling a stronger pull for writing, she later gave journalism a shot, but ultimately landed in the place where personal narratives and health — at least, mental health — intersect: clinical psychotherapy.
In stories, as in real life, “there are characters, a setting, and a plot, right down to the familiar dialogue that we get stuck on: ‘You never do the laundry/I did it last time!/Oh yeah? When?’” said Gottlieb in a mock argument she recites in her TED Talk. In those stories, Gottlieb said, the protagonist, or the hero, is essentially the patient, who must accept change in himself.
“Therapy allows people to have an editor in the room with them. Somebody who hasn’t heard this story before who says, ‘Here are some options in terms of how this story might be edited.’ They will suggest how you may see your story differently. Not that your story is wrong, just that your version is limited.”
Why did Gottlieb include herself among the patients profiled in her book?
“It was really important for me to be part of the story,” she said. “To not be just the expert, but a therapist being a patient in the world, too. I think that normalizes our struggles even more. Once we can see our role in the story more clearly, that’s when change happens. That’s when our lives get better.”