Lori Gottlieb has done a great job of opening up the therapy room from both sides in memoir about a therapist getting therapy while seeing her own patients, being helped while helping others. Gottlieb writes the Dear Therapist column for The Atlantic magazine, so she's no stranger to writing for the general public. That journalistic experience helps the book flow quickly and easily; it's tender, funny, and tearful—everything you want in good stories. How do you give advice when your own life isn't going so well? The book answers that question, while engaging our hearts in the stories of ordinary people who could be our neighbors and relatives: a self-absorbed producer, a newlywed who's terminal, a woman who's always picking the wrong guys, a senior who thinks life isn't really much worth living anymore. Her own search for a therapist is catalyzed by her fiancé breaking up with her. These are some of the situations in life that can turn into problems, a minicosm of human experience.
It's a cliché in the coaching and counseling world that being vulnerable, i.e., honest, is the key to changing your life, and Gottlieb demonstrates this interpersonal truth gently and kindly, but clearly, even as she tells us about her own therapy. It's hard to turn that gaze inward in self-reflection; that's why Gottlieb herself gets help. She shows us that objectivity doesn't have to be cold, it can be kind. Some people haven't known a lot of kindness, and need that modeled. She shows us that other cliché, we're all alike under the skin: in the privacy of our own minds, we sometimes let rage and confusion take over—but we're also capable of great insight and compassion.
Maybe we should talk to someone when we need to be vulnerable with ourselves; maybe through the mirror of another's eyes we can see more kindly (this is, indeed, generally the case). Maybe we can talk to friends or family, maybe we can't. Gottlieb shows us that a therapist with the right training can help speed our recovery from emotional crisis, and she shows us what to look for. This has been one of my favorite books of the year, reminding me of the compassion and goodness in human hearts.
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