It seems fitting to discuss a book about therapy the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday that raises so many complicated family issues — though hopefully yours was lovely! This book has plenty of buzz already without my review, but I loved it. It’s unlike most books I’ve read, in that it’s an inside look at the world of therapists, told through the eyes of someone who is both a therapist and a patient. It’s a meaningful read for anyone who’s ever thought that talking to a therapist might help them – and that’s probably most of us.
The book begins with Gottlieb starting her day by meeting with a difficult patient (or client). She then reveals that her own day began with catastrophe – her fiancé just ended things, and for an infuriating reason. He loves her, but doesn’t want to be a parent to her son.
Gottlieb is angry, and wants validation. So she seeks out a therapist. This begins her exploration of herself, her relationship with the fiancé, and a number of deeper issues. It’s also an exploration of what led her to become a therapist and how her practice has evolved. And what it’s like to be a therapist seeing a therapist.
… therapy is about understanding the self that you are. But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.
I came away with a good sense of what it’s like to see a therapist, and what a patient should expect. Gottlieb wants us to know there aren’t any easy answers. There’s no magic healing point, but there are breakthroughs. She writes about the kinds of things she says to her patients to challenge them, which will be helpful for many readers.
Gottlieb also writes about the things she struggles with as a therapist, like how to act when you see your patients out in public, and how to be close with patients but not share too much of yourself, and how to avoid giving patients criticism or answers they aren’t ready for.
I found myself fascinated by some of the complicated ethical issues that arise. For example, at one point Gottlieb has a client with marital issues, whose wife is seeing a different therapist. It turns out the wife is actually seeing the same therapist that Gottlieb is seeing. Is it ethical, then, for Gottlieb to talk to her therapist about her difficult client? Also at one point, Gottlieb starts to wonder if she’s developing feelings for her therapist – or is she just beginning to recover from her breakup?
Throughout the book, Gottlieb tells heart-wrenching stories about some of her long-term patients. One is dying from cancer, another is elderly and has no relationship with any of her adult children, and a third is experiencing a marital crisis and thinks everyone around him is an idiot. I found these stories really compelling, although I was surprised Gottlieb was able to tell so much about her patients (I’m sure there were permissions involved, as much of the information is very personal).
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Gottlieb is entirely upfront about her own struggles and weaknesses, although she does portray herself in a very positive light as she tries to help her patients. I imagine this book is meant to show us her best moments as a therapist, and I’m sure there were plenty of times when she said the wrong thing or completely missed an issue.
Gottlieb is an engaging writer and easy to read, and I found her story fascinating. I also felt I learned a lot, and it made me think of my own issues and whether a professional ear might help. If you’re someone who could never imagine seeking guidance from a professional, this book won’t be for you. But I think most of us can learn a lot from this book.