Is it just me, or does everyone at some point or another think that going to a therapist is for other people?
That’s what I used to think. I thought I was normal and that people who went to therapy were not.
In college, my doctor recommended counseling to learn to cope with the anxious and depressed feelings I had. I told her it wasn’t as bad as all that. I was “normal” and didn’t need therapy.
Five years later, I was in her office again with more intense feelings of anxiety and depression. My skin always felt like it was on fire — like my soul was trying to leave my body. I finally conceded: yes, I would go to a therapist.
I felt so ashamed, sitting in the therapist’s waiting room before my first appointment. There was something wrong with me. I was one of those people.
“No matter how open we as a society are about formerly private matters, the stigma around our emotional struggles remains formidable.”Gottlieb 8
It’s been eight and a half years since my first therapy appointment, and my outlook could not be more different. I’ve worked with a variety of therapists, too! I can understand why someone might try to go with one therapist, not mesh, and never return. But, having seen multiple therapists, I cannot express enough how important I believe it is to keep trying.
“however you do it, you may need to meet with a few before you find the right one. That’s because clicking with your therapist matters in a way that it doesn’t with other clinicians.”Gottlieb 35
I would be lost without therapy.
Now, I realize that we could all benefit from some time in a therapist’s office. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
“It’s with this discovery that we can create a different relationship with our demons, one in which we no longer try to reason our way out of an inconvenient inner voice or numb our feelings with distractions like too much wine or food or hours spent surfing the internet (an activity my colleague calls ‘the most effective short-term non prescription painkiller’).”Gottlieb 9
I hear that this internal conflict is pretty standard amongst people who decide to try therapy and even those who think about going but never allow themselves to.
Therapist, Lori Gottlieb, explores this conflict in her book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: a Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. Gottlieb tells the stories of some of her most memorable patients — all protected by pseudonyms — to make a strong case for the idea that therapy is for everyone.
It’s not for other people.
It’s for you.
It’s for all of us.
She tells us about young Charlotte, a woman in her twenties who just can’t seem to let go of Mr. Wrong or find Mr. Right. She struggles to resolve the Intimacy versus Isolation conflicts so many young people grapple with. Gottlieb shares the inside scoop of what she really thinks about Charlotte’s actions and how her bond with this patient fills holes in Charlotte’s family life. In many ways, therapy is an excellent way to combat isolation and ward against the poor decision-making that sometimes comes with extreme isolation and loneliness.
“So many of our destructive behaviors take root in an emotional void, an emptiness that calls out for something to fill it.”Gottlieb 135
We also meet Rita, an older woman who battles suicidal ideation. She believes she does not have anything to live for since her children ostracized her.
“What makes therapy challenging is that it requires people to see themselves in ways they normally choose not to. A therapist will hold up the mirror in the most compassionate way possible, but it is still up to the patient to take a good look at that reflection, to stare back at it and say ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting! Now what?’ instead of turning away.”Gottlieb 125
Lori helps her realize how unresolved traumas from domestic abuse affected Rita and the childhoods of her children. Slowly, Rita learns to love other people and herself again, helping Lori realize some things along the way, too.
Most heart-wrenching are the conversations Gottlieb has with Julie, a pregnant woman who just learned of terminal cancer ripping through her body. Julie knows she will die, and her illness causes a miscarriage. Her situation leaves Gottlieb speechless.
“There’s nothing like illness to take away a sense of control, even if we often have less of it than we imagine. What people don’t like to think about is that you can do everything right — in life or in a treatment protocol — and still get the end of the stick.”Gottlieb 32
Nevertheless, Julie deals with her fate in such a graceful way that Gottlieb and the readers all learn something about the cyclical beauty of life and death. Julie makes it known that we are allowed to feel angry, grieve, and recognize the beauty, and feel fortunate, perhaps all in the same breath.
All of Gottlieb’s patients reflect back to her revelations about her own concerns and personal transformation. However, Julie’s contributions might be the most poignant.
And then . . . there is John.
John is one of Lori’s most challenging and reluctant patients. He believes everyone except his dog is an “idiot” and lets Lori know what he thinks of her and therapy in general. As she continues working with him, though, Lori discovers grief simmering beneath John’s constant anger.
“During an initial burst of pain, people tend to lash out either at others or themselves, to turn the anger outward or inward.”Gottlieb 19
“I get the sense that, despite all the people surrounding him, John is desperately isolated — and that this is by design. Something in his life has made getting close seem dangerous, so dangerous that he does everything in his power to prevent it. His arsenal is effective.”Gottlieb 50
Awkwardly, she discovers that John’s wife’s therapist is her therapist, Wendell.
That’s right! The therapist sees a therapist.
Gottlieb confesses all. When her long-time boyfriend unexpectedly breaks up with her, she seeks a therapist. She cannot, after all, treat herself.
“Breakups tend to fall into the category of silent losses, less tangible to other people. You end a marriage, but you didn’t lose a baby. You have a breakup, but you didn’t lose a spouse. So friends assume that you’ll move on rather quickly.”Gottlieb 112
(That’s a myth, by the way. I’m known for my long periods of grief after breakups.)
Despite using tactics that often frustrate her, Lori faces some brutal truths about her own life and even her work as a therapist.
“change and loss travel together. We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want to change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”Gottlieb 6
“In this room, I’m going to see you, and you’ll try to hide, but I’ll still see you, and it’s going to be okay when I do.”Gottlieb 47
It just goes to show that all of us — even if we are therapists — could benefit from some time in therapy at least once in our lives.
“Therapists, of course, deal with the daily challenges of living just like everyone else. This familiarity, in fact, is at the root of the connection we forge with strangers who trust us with their most delicate stories and secrets.”Gottlieb 7
Why go through something alone? Why stew over the super judgy, if well-intentioned advice your friends and family give you and let that corrode your relationships with them?
My ex used to express frustration when my therapist would advise me to do something he had already suggested. He thought it was silly that I’d pay to have a dialogue with someone when he could tell me the same stuff for free.
“As much as I want validation, somewhere inside, I know that Wendell’s load of garbage is precisely what I’m paying him for, because if I just want to complain about Boyfriend, I can do that for free, with my family and friends.”Gottlieb 48
But my loved ones are a part of me. When I go to therapy, my counselor relates from the exterior of my person. The dialogue allows me to travel outside of myself and look at things differently. Maybe it is how my ex wanted me to envision things in the first place, but it was harder for me to really look at the situation through a new lens because it came from him. It’s not that his advice was terrible or given harshly, even. I just didn’t have the tools in that environment to do the work.
“Sitting-with-you-in-your-pain is one of the rare experiences that people get in the protected space of a therapy room, but it is very hard to give or get outside of it.”Gottlieb 21
Therapy allows me to do the work I need to do to feel better, cope with anxiety and depression, and continuously transform into who I’m meant to be.
I won’t lie, It’s often uncomfortable and scary.
“therapy will always take you into uncharted territory, even if you choose to preserve the status quo.”Gottlieb 11
But it’s so worth it.
I think Gottlieb’s book has the potential to help people quelch some of their fears about therapy. I hope this book will enter many hands and grace the presence of many an e-book screen.
Don’t overthink it.
Just go to therapy.
“A lot can happen in the space of one step.”Gottlieb 22
Trigger Warnings: abuse (domestic); anger issues; anxiety; death; depression; divorce; guilt; loss of a loved one (child); mental illness; pregnancy (miscarriage); suicidal ideation; terminal illness (cancer); toxic relationship