Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
by Rachel Cunningham, Circulation Supervisor
Many of us have sensitively said these words to a friend, family member, or co-worker. Although the stigma surrounding mental health and asking for help have begun to improve, many people reach out to friends or family before beginning the process of finding a professional. Because they’re often the first place we turn, it’s imperative that each of us finds our family, tribe, herd, team or other support group. In “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond,” Lydia Denworth discusses research suggesting social relationships can increase survival by over 50%, surpassing healthy weight, exercise, or dropping a smoking habit. These relationships allow us to be seen and heard by others, and offer a built-in safety net. These are the people with whom we share our daily joy, turmoil, annoyance, and stress. These are the people who see our struggles and may lovingly say to us, “maybe you should talk to someone.” A therapist herself, Lori Gottlieb reached out to friends and some of her colleagues before scheduling her first appointment with her new therapist, Wendell. Yes, even therapists need a therapist.
In her memoir, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” Gottlieb encounters cardigan-sporting Wendell after her partner of two years, flatly referred to as “Boyfriend” throughout the book, reveals he wants to break off the relationship. Blindsided by his decision, Gottlieb initially attempts to carry on as usual. She conducts her scheduled therapy appointments with the patients at her practice and discusses the event with a friend, who is also a therapist. However, as her breakdowns become more frequent and difficult to control, Gottlieb recognizes she must enlist the help of a professional, if anything, to prove that Boyfriend is indeed a narcissistic sociopath. After consulting colleagues to find a good therapist for “a friend,” she’s referred to Wendell, an experienced therapist, to provide “crisis management” for her unexpected breakup.
Unfortunately, therapy turns out to be much more challenging than Gottlieb hopes it will be. Instead of providing a Boyfriend-Is-A-Narcissistic-Sociopath stamp and supplying steps to mend, Wendell questions a key statement Gottlieb makes. Between sobs she explains, “You have to understand, I was expecting that we would spend the rest of our lives together. This was how things were supposed to go, and now it’s all up in the air. Half my life is over, and I have no idea what’s going to happen.” As Wendell begins to unpack this statement, it becomes clear that Gottlieb might not be mourning the relationship as much as she is grieving the time she feels she’s lost in a life that has more years in the rearview mirror than awaiting her. This was not the work Gottlieb signed up for when she made her appointment, but as is often true for therapy, the presenting problem isn’t always the most important one.
The remainder of the book interweaves Gottlieb’s own therapy journey with her patients’. Readers meet John, an egocentric TV producer; Julie, a newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness; Rita, a senior resigned to end her life on her next birthday; and Charlotte, a young woman battling unhealthy relationships with alcohol, her family, and men. While preserving their privacy, Gottlieb supplies scenes from her patients’ lives that add depth and vulnerability to their character. At each small breakthrough, the reader feels a cathartic release and with each slip, the reader feels equally disappointed and frustrated after being tightly intertwined in the patient’s wavering progression forward. Unconcerned with painting perfect patients, Gottlieb shows the victorious and weak moments alike; yet, she leaves the readers with hope that each one is a little stronger than they were before walking into the therapist’s office. As Gottlieb writes, “Most big transformations come about from the hundreds of tiny, almost imperceptible, steps we take along the way.”
With her background as a therapist, Gottlieb shows how difficult the process of self-healing can be, even for those who understand the value of the work that needs to be done and have the determination to do it. Therapy can be a stressful place; yet, with her wonderful balance of empathy and humor, I often found myself chuckling as I listened to the book while walking my dog. Small attributes of each character, including the author, were relatable, which served to remind the reader that ordinary people, just like you, go to therapy. Think you might want to talk to someone? Psychology Today provides a free search tool for therapists in your area at psychologytoday.com/us/therapists.