Book Review: Maybe You Should Talk To Someone
December 21, 2020
Maybe you should talk to someone Ranjani Rao

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone


Lori Gottleib

Perhaps you have heard Gottleib’s TED talk or read the advice she doles out on the weekly Dear Therapist column in the Atlantic. What you may not know about this New York Times bestselling author (other than the fact that she puts on her pants one leg at a time) is that she isn’t always the know-it-all who can ‘fix’ people’s problems. Her own inability to make sense of an unexpected breakup in her life throws her so far off-base that she seeks out a therapist herself.

The chapters alternate between her sessions with four of her patients, each of whom is at a different stage in life and grappling with a wide range of issues that require thoughtful responses and a great deal of listening. Each case/client is extremely interesting but the part that kept me intrigued was when Gottleib herself was at the receiving end during her therapy sessions. 

Small servings of large problems make them more palatable

Through snippets of her 50-minute therapy sessions we get to look into the lives of each case (Gottleib included). We are allowed to meet the people, feel the experiences, and struggle with the choices that have brought them to the proverbial couch. Although each story brings with it its own drama and baggage, there is an endearing quality to the sections where Gottleib tries to piece together her handling (or lack thereof) of her current situation with her own life. We find out that her path to psychotherapy has come by way of a long, interesting stint in Hollywood and Stanford medical school. 

While it is easy to judge her for being unable to deal with an unexpected breakup, her honest disclosure of reluctance to tackle what she sees in the mirror that her therapist holds up to her (something that she does routinely as part of her job) makes her seem as human and as vulnerable as her own patients. 

Although the book is 400-pages long, the nature of the non-intersecting narratives manages to keep the reader not just interested but also vested in the ultimate wellbeing of every person who is featured whether that includes Gottleib’s patients, Gottleing herself or even her own therapist, the enigmatic Wendell.

Over the course of the book we come to understand how a breakup in midlife can mean more than the loss of a present relationship but also a future.

“Uncertainty doesn’t mean the loss of hope – it means there is possibility.”

Science behind psychology

As a reader and non-psychiatrist, the book mentioned well-known concepts by Jung and Freud, but also introduced me to the theories about grief by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) and the 5 stages of change as per the transtheoretical model of behavior change by James Prochaska. 

Viktor Frankl’s famous quote in “Man’s Search for Meaning” – “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,” was a welcome reminder at a time when the everyone is suffering from the prolonged battle with a pandemic that won’t end. 

But I had not encountered Irvin Yalom and his four ‘ultimate concerns” – death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness. Perhaps it’s not a mere coincidence that I found myself reading the book in the year of Covid-19.

Death features in all of the cases in this book – impending death, memory of loved ones who died early, aging and it’s associated angst. Regret – for things accomplished and those that remain undone. Guilt – for acts of commission and omission. Basically, the stuff of life, served in palatable servings of 50 minutes each.

Gottleib points out that “One on one, therapists get depth but not breadth, words without illustrations” because they do not get to see the side of their patients that play out outside the office. In fact, the awkwardness of acknowledging your patients in public itself feels like an invasion of privacy, of unwittingly disclosing the secret to the world, even if the secret is the simple fact that the person is seeing a therapist. 

What makes a story interesting

What makes this genre-bending book unusual is that it reads like a memoir whenever the author sits in her therapist’s office, reluctant but still keen to make to make sense of her life, and like a self-help book when sits on the other side of the couch, as a certified therapist who helps her own clients. 

What makes the book interesting is the way Gottleib manages to remain grounded and sane as a therapist while simultaneously struggling literally and metaphorically as a patient. 

Gottleib describes certain areas of her life in detail – about her decision and route to having a child, her path to psychology but there are loose ends that remain unexplained at the end of this long book. Her ability to neatly tie up a story, while exemplary when it came to her patients, was not as satisfying when it came to her own personal journey,

While the road to understanding may be different for each patient, every reader can take away one key lesson – “At some point, being a fulfilled adult means taking responsibility for the course of your own life and accepting the fact that now you’re in charge of your choices.”

So choose wisely. Read the entire book if you have the time. Otherwise, just watch the TED talk.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Are there other books in this genre that you liked?

Photo credit: Ranjani Rao’s personal archives

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