Therapy isn’t like it used to be, and neither are the books written about it. At least not Lori Gottlieb’s books.
“Therapy elicits odd reactions because, in a way, it’s like pornography,” Gottlieb writes. “Both involve a kind of nudity. Both have the potential to thrill. And both have millions of users, most of whom keep their use private.”
Gottlieb’s career path was a winding and circuitous one that took her from Hollywood, where she got her start as a television writer, to medical school to journalism to psychoanalysis. Now a licensed therapist with her own practice, she's ending up back at Hollywood, where her new book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” is being adapted into a television show with Eva Longoria and ABC.
Part autobiography and part self-help book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” is shot through with candor and humor. It takes readers from the therapist’s chair to the patient’s couch, first as Gottlieb helps her patients navigate their lives and implement solutions to improve them, and then as she herself seeks professional guidance to cope with an unexpected breakup. Yes, even therapists need therapists, one of Gottlieb’s many insights she hopes will shatter readers’ preconceived notions about therapy and get them to, well, talk to somebody.
Gottlieb spoke by phone with USA TODAY to discuss her book, which has spent 15 weeks on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list since its publication in April.
Question: Do you think a lot of new patients come in with the wrong idea of what therapy is?
Lori Gottlieb: I think some do, and I think that they’re pleasantly surprised when they find out what it really is. The biggest misconception out there about therapy is you come into therapy, you’re going to talk about your childhood ad nauseam and you’ll never leave. That sort of keeps people from wanting to seek help. … Some people think that therapy is a place where you go, you download the problem of the week, you leave, you don’t think about it during the week, you come back, and it’s almost like your sessions are in amber, they’re not connected to the outside world. We always like to say you have to be both vulnerable and accountable in therapy.
Q: Instead of waiting until there’s a catastrophic life crisis, do you think people would benefit from treating mental health like physical health and seeking preventive care?
Gottlieb: I think that we look at our physical health differently from our emotional health and we shouldn’t. With our physical health, if there’s some pain or something feels off in our bodies, we’ll generally go to the doctor to get it checked out. We’re going to go to the cardiologist if we have chest pain before we have a massive coronary, right? But if something feels off emotionally ... then usually what happens is we wait until we’re having the emotional equivalent of a heart attack, and that’s when people land in therapy. And by then, you’ve suffered unnecessarily for a long time without needing to.
Q: Do you hope your book chisels away at some of the stigma attached to therapy and encourages people to seek help?
Gottlieb: I very much wanted to show people what therapy really is and what it isn’t. When I titled the book “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” partly it was maybe you should talk to a therapist, but partly it was maybe you should talk to someone, someone in your life. Maybe we should be talking more to each other, and we would feel better. ... One of the things I really wanted to show by including my own story in the book is that nobody is immune from suffering, nobody gets through life and doesn’t at one point or another suffer in some way. And I think when we’re going through that, we feel like we’re the only one … we feel completely isolated. And I wanted people to know that they aren’t alone and that that’s normal, and hopefully, that will make them less afraid to go and talk to somebody.
Q: How can people be better patients? Is there a mindset you hope people come into your office with to help them get the most out of the experience?
Gottlieb: When I go to my therapist – you can see in the book, I do with him what my patients do with me, which is – I want him to like me. I want to present the prettiest version of myself in those first sessions. I’m trying to present myself as not as depressed as I am, not as devastated as I am. I’m trying to get him to validate my side of the story. Those are all the things people do when they first come in, and what we’re doing is we’re hiding the truth of who we are. And I always want people to know that it’s the truth of who we are that draws people toward them, that I’m going to like you more if you show me who you really are and aren’t performing for me. Therapy is not a cocktail party, it’s not a barbecue. Your job is not to entertain me. Your job is to help me see you, and the more that I can see you, the more that I can help you.
Q: You’ve always been a storyteller. Do you think your experiences as a television writer, journalist and author have made you a better therapist?
Gottlieb: I think when I’m sitting in the therapist’s chair, I feel like I’m an editor. Someone comes in with a story, and the story is told from this very specific perspective, so I’m always interested in not just what their story is, but how flexible they are with that story. Because what we’re going to do in therapy is, we’re going to edit that. Who are the protagonists and who are the antagonists in this story? Is the protagonist going in circles or is the protagonist moving forward?
These stories that we carry around influence the way that we interact in the world every single day, so if you can revise that story so that things can run more smoothly for you, you find that this new story opens up all kinds of possibilities for what the next chapter can be.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lori Gottlieb dishes on therapy in 'Maybe You Should Talk to Someone'