“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” is an original and totally fascinating book. The author, a psychotherapist, talks extensively about her own therapy offered to others. As she clarifies in an initial note, all material about particular patients is included only with written permission of the patients and only with a change of names, some details and some consolidation of multiple patients into one. Lori Gottlieb is throughout this book extremely scrupulous about adhering to professional ethical standards such as confidentiality.
We meet several patients in numerous sessions. Abrasive “John” finds everyone else to be “idiots” but bemoans his own martial problems. Gottlieb struggles with even liking him enough to be his therapist but eventually discovers a deep secret that changes everything and allows a way forward. The young woman Julie is dying of cancer before she can even complete a pregnancy. Rita is a 70-year-old who has made repeated poor life choices, is currently estranged from her grown children, and is lacking love in her life. Charlotte is a young woman too quick to gets involved with the first warm body who comes along. Gottlieb’s work with each of these is a fascinating story in itself. Each achieves some degree of ”success” in the therapy, though clearly not without struggles along the way. Moreover, Gottlieb honestly notes her own struggles as a therapist in dealing with each of these patients.
What truly sets this book apart is the inclusion of Gottlieb’s own experience as a patient in therapy, which happens throughout the book along with her work with each of her own patients. The precipitating event in Gottlieb’s own life comes when her long-time boyfriend, whom she fully expected to marry, suddenly tells her that he does not want to continue the relationship because he does not want to live with a child. She had an eight-year-old son through a sperm donor at the time. This apparently sudden announcement completely blindsided her and sent her into deep personal questioning, to say nothing of extended spells of crying and anger. Encouraged by friends and colleagues to seek a therapist herself to help work through these issues, she eventually finds “Wendell.” Her progress as a patient and her reactions to this process, both as a patient and as a therapist, forms a large part of the book. Along the way we learn something of her personal and professional history.
The reader can learn so much about psychotherapy from this book. If you have been a patient (or a therapist!) or perhaps are considering seeking therapy for yourself or a family member, this book will be very insightful. The author is very clear on what one can expect, and what is not fair to expect, from the therapeutic process. She also talks a lot about professional ethics and the need to observe boundaries during the therapy process. If you have ever wondered exactly what was involved in these issues, this book will clearly explain that.
Perhaps surprisingly, this book also has a lot of humor, as Gottlieb is insightful at seeing the humorous side of awkward situations. For example, she serendipitously discovers that John’s wife is also a patient of her own therapist, though none of the parties can be made aware of that or discuss it. Charlotte picks up a fellow patient in the waiting room every week when she shows up for her appointment. Even terminally ill Julie occasionally finds a few moments of humor in her tragedy. On several occasions, Gottlieb notes the irony of realizing the similarities of some of her patients’ behaviors in therapy with her own.
More striking than anything else, however, is the raw honesty of the author. With extraordinary (though not always immediate) self-insight, she shares her own struggles to move beyond the initial rejection (and the other issues it raises through therapy). Although her therapy, and that of the other principal patients she discusses, is “successful,” she does note that therapy does not always work out that way. You will laugh and you will cry reading this book, but you will not be bored.
Richard Harris is a professor emeritus of psychological sciences at K-State.