Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Dear Therapist- Lori Gottlieb Answers All My Questions

May 27th, 2020
Calling All Authors

Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb’s New York Times bestselling book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is not a self-help book, or if it is, it’s super subtle. Her book follows the real lives of five very different people, including Gottlieb herself, as they struggle to change, to overcome self-defeating habits that don’t help them.

Gottlieb’s book is funny, riveting and very relatable. I got hooked on page one. And that was before I found out that the book is being adapted into a television series by actress Eva Longoria and the creators of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series The Americans.

The book’s opening paragraph:

Patient reports feeling ‘stressed out’ and states that he is having difficulty sleeping and getting along with his wife. Expresses annoyance with others and seeks help “Managing the idiots”.

Have compassion, Deep breath. Have compassion, have compassion, have compassion… I’m repeating this phrase in my head like a mantra as the forty-one year old man sitting across from me is telling me about all the people in his life who are “idiots”.

The forty-one year old man is called John, and his exchanges with his therapist – also the book’s author – throughout the book had me either in stitches or tearing up. Gottlieb’s book traces  the lives of  John, Julie, Rita, Charlotte and Gottlieb herself who, suffering from an unexpected  breakup, also ends up on a therapist’s couch.

In real life LA-based Gottlieb juggles two principle careers- therapist and writer. She writes about what she sees every day. She is bursting with material.

In addition to her clinical practice, she writes the Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to the New York Times and many other publications. Her recent TED Talk is one of the top 10 most-watched of the year. She has appeared on The Today show, Good Morning America, CBS’s Early Show, CNN’s Newsroom, and NPR’s Fresh Air. Her new iHeart podcast, Dear Therapists, produced by Katie Couric, will premiere this year.

I think that the joy of this hybrid career that I’ve cobbled together, says Gottlieb, is that every single thing I’m doing, I love doing. I love writing my column, I love doing the podcast, I love seeing my patients, I love doing these books, I love being a mom.

No sooner does Covid help me get over FOMO than suddenly I’m afflicted with EOAC (envy of another’s career). Here are some questions I asked Gottlieb as I was developing a serious case of EOAC:

Do your two professions – writer and therapist – complement one another? Does therapy help your writing?

Yes, definitely. When I read a novel, the ones that I really connect with are the ones where I feel there are deep psychological truths that are revealed. Anybody who is a writer has to have a really good understanding of the human condition, psychology, because otherwise you won’t write about people that will live inside the reader.

The fact that I’m a therapist, and I do have an inside view of the human condition is a privilege that I think a lot of writers don’t have. They don’t get to see this every day. I’m using my own life experiences but I’m also using the life experiences of all of the different kinds of people that I see. That really contributes to the psychological truth of what I’m writing about. And readers relate to that.

And does writing help your therapy?

Oh absolutely, I feel like I’m an editor when I sit in the therapist’s chair – I think in therapy, we’re all unreliable narrators. We’re telling a story as seen through our lens. Usually, there are a lot of missing pieces to that story. We carry around lots of stories that shape how we view that story, stories like I can’t trust anyone, I’m unlovable, nothing will ever work out for me, or whatever the story is. We create villains and heroes in the story that are often very distorted. My job is to take those first drafts that people come in with and help them to craft a story that is more accurate, and also help them navigate through the world in a way where they don’t get stuck the way that they did when they first came into the room.

What are the most common issues with Corona that come up in your practice?

I get a lot of questions about isolation which is a real stressor, but we’re not actually isolated. We’re just physically distanced. We can connect with anybody anytime on a screen.

So, I think what people who are sheltering with other people, what they really mean is privacy. I need privacy. I can’t be around people all the time. I need those spaces to myself where there’s nobody else around. There are people who do their therapy sessions from the closet, the car, the bathroom, wherever they can get some privacy.

Note to readers: I’ve done car and bathroom and bathroom wins. Stretch needed to use the car mid-session which was  disruptive- That’s when I moved to the bathroom. Stretch’s son came in looking for a towel, spotted me sitting on the toilet and scurried out. Privacy achieved.

I know a lot of people who have not gotten sick, but are still anxious or depressed.

I’m seeing a lot of loss and grief in a big way. I wrote in the NYT about people feeling there’s this hierarchy of grief, that if it’s not about somebody died, somebody’s sick and somebody lost a job, then it’s not ok to feel your loss.

And people are feeling all kinds of loss. Somebody might be the first in their family to graduate from college, and they don’t get to walk across the stage. That’s a significant loss. Even my kid who doesn’t get to see his friends. That’s really hard. He’s an only child. He doesn’t get to be around any kids his age at all.

The loss of our daily routines is very hard. I think we don’t realise how much we’re in contact w other people in the normal course of a day. Now we’re relying on our partners to be everything to us. No chatting with co-workers, or even the barista at Starbucks who knew you.

Touch also. We’re all experiencing skin hunger. We used to hug people. You get touched a lot in the course of a day.

I see a lot of dealing with uncertainty- how long is that going on? This illusion of safety that we all had has been punctured.

Are there any silver linings to Corona?

If I could snap my fingers and make the Corona virus go away, I would in a second. But one of the silver linings  is that I get to see so much of my son now. We’re not rushing around to get to his basketball practice, getting him to this and me to that. We’re just here.

It’s been an amazing experience to have something that normally most of us don’t have because we have such busy schedules. To be in the same place for a prolonged period of time.  I’m really glad that we have this time together. But I do hope it ends.

For those of you who would like to read the rest of my interview with Gottlieb, it’s here on 26’s May newsletter to inspire the love of words in business and in life. And don’t forget to buy the book. You’ll love it.


May, 2020