Ok, everyone, pull up a chair and grab your beverage of choice: This is Cup of Jo’s first book club meeting! Our book is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (here’s the initial invitation), and I’m excited to discuss it with you. Here’s how this will work…
Below, in this post, I’ve interviewed the author, Lori Gottlieb, and then in the comments section, we’ll discuss the book together. I’ll post questions in pink and you can answer them in the comment threads. Does that make sense? We’ll see how well this format feels, and we can always switch it up for future book club meetings! Please give any and all feedback. xo
Ok, here goes! Here’s my chat with Lori…
Joanna: When people search for a therapist, they often describe it like dating. Do you think people generally have to try out a few to find ‘the one’?
Lori: Yes, I always tell people that the first session is a consultation. It’s not like the first person you go on a date with, you get married to. You should think: Do I feel understood? Do I feel like this person ‘gets it’? And then go back for a second session. It could take a month before you really feel like, This is my therapist.
In the book, I couldn’t believe how layered and thoughtful your side of therapy was. To be honest, I always assumed therapy was essentially just talking.
I used to be a competitive chess player, and I think the strategic part of therapy is a lot like that. You make a move, and your patient will make a move, and maybe it wasn’t the move you expected, and then you have to adjust your strategy and make a different move. Therapists are planning several moves ahead — when I say something, I’m going somewhere. But just because it’s strategic doesn’t mean it’s not authentic. I’m always thinking, how do I get this person to hear what I want them to hear?
What’s it like at cocktail parties to say you’re a therapist? Do people freeze up or start telling you their biggest secrets?
You get the range! Some people immediately want to find a way to get away from you because they think you’re going to psychoanalyze them. But if you meet an ob-gyn, it’s not like they’re going to give you a pelvic exam right there!
In the book, I loved how you grew to care so much for each patient, even if they were rude or downcast or frustrating. Why do you think this is?
When I was training, a supervisor said, ‘There’s something likable in everyone, Lori, and it’s your job to find it.’ As a therapist, you find the universal struggles that we all have underneath whatever kind of presentation they bring to you. Someone like John, who’s very abrasive and insulting, you think, WHY does he have to keep everyone away through that behavior? Out in the world, it’s hard to give someone a chance, but in the therapy room, I know they’re communicating with me through their behavior. I need to find a way to have them communicate with me through their words.
That’s so compassionate.
In the end, the relationship with the therapist is the most important part of therapy — more than the training, modality of therapy, etc. You’re having this very rich relationship with your therapist that serves as a microcosm of the relationships you have outside the room.
Is it satisfying to see people change?
It really is. It’s a hard job but I think it’s the best job in the world. It’s so gratifying to be with people as they transform themselves.
Do you miss patients when they leave?
I do! I do. But sometimes I’m the one who tells them that it’s time. I think there’s this myth that you go into therapy, talk about your childhood ad nauseam and never leave. But we want you to be able to leave, to have an experience here and be able to take that experience into the world. It’s like having kids — you want them to grow up and be independent.
What were some surprising reactions you got from people after they read the book?
When I started writing, everyone told me that no one wanted to read a book about therapy. But it was a book I felt like I had to write, so I thought, whatever happens happens. I never would have guessed how many people would read it — we’re still on the New York Times bestseller list! I’m surprised by how people have embraced the book because they recognize themselves in the characters.
I recognized myself in the characters, too.
A lot of people feel unique in their struggles, but it helps to see that their particular struggles are actually universal. The patients I follow in the book look very different on the surface, but underneath it all we’re all very similar: How can I love and be loved? What does it mean to connect? What does forgiveness mean? How do we stop shooting ourselves in the foot and end up in the same place over and over? How do we look at the parts we’re not proud of without shame so we can do something differently? I hope people reading the book see how normal they are and how connected they are to everyone else.
Julie, the young cancer patient, decides to spend Saturdays working at Trader Joe’s, and you talk about how that’s important to her. What do you have on your own bucket list?
It’s interesting — it actually wasn’t on her bucket list. She was instead thinking about what, on a day-to-day basis, will feel meaningful and bring her joy. And that’s what we all need to do — we need to have that kind of intentionality not always about those big, long-term things, but instead, what is my goal about how I want to live right now? Most people, we don’t think about the fact that life has 100% mortality rate. It’s good to have this uncertainty about how long we have — who or what is important in my life, and what can I do about that right now? Because what I have is right now.
One thing I’ve thought a lot about since reading the book is silence. You talk about the value of sitting with someone in silence. Can you talk about that?
People — when driving or walking to therapy — often rehearse what they’re going to talk about and find a topic or agenda like a meeting. It’s like the first things that we say out loud in therapy are like emptying the trash. But once they say something and then sit in silence, I want to know what happens in that silence because that’s what they haven’t been able to think yet. They can hear themselves so much more clearly when they aren’t talking over themselves. You have these voices all the time, like a radio on in the background, and it isn’t until we’re quiet that we can hear what the voices are saying.
Soon, there will be a TV adaptation of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. Can you tell us about it?
It’s being produced by Eva Longoria’s company. The show will be about regular people who happen to go to therapy and regular people who happen to be therapists. You see all their personal lives and all the ways the stories are interwoven.
What do you hope people take away from your book?
There’s nothing more important to the quality of our lives than our emotional lives. It affects everything — our intimate relationships, our friendships, our professional goals… Therapy isn’t ‘extra’ in the same way that our physical health isn’t ‘extra.’ I want people to realize that therapy is really important.
Thank you so much, Lori! Now, everyone, let’s discuss the book in the comments below…
P.S. How to be a good listener, and wise words.
(Top photo design by Maud Passini for Cup of Jo. Book cover and author photo courtesy of Lori Gottlieb.)
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