Lori Gottlieb on Experiencing
Therapy as a Therapist
Lori Gottlieb in Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Lori Gottlieb is the guest on this week’s Otherppl. Her new memoir, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, is available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author who writes the weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column for The Atlantic. She has written hundreds of articles related to psychology and culture, many of which have become viral sensations all over the world. A contributing editor for the Atlantic, she also writes for The New York Times Magazine, and appears as a frequent expert on relationships, parenting, and hot-button mental health topics in media such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Dr. Phil, CNN, and NPR.
From the episode
Lori Gottlieb: The experience of getting to know someone and be able to hear them breathe, and you can hear you breathe. You don’t ever wonder if something is going to ping or vibrate, and there’s not going to be a notification that comes up. There is just the space between you. To feel that energy in the room is something that is so rare outside of that room today. It reminds me of when I was training, we were rushing, rushing, rushing to meet the requirements that are 3,000 hours in order to take our exams, and a supervisor came by and said, You know what, the speed of light is outdated; now everyone operates at the speed of watt. We weren’t paying attention to it. We aren’t going to get today back. We kind of go through our days, and we’re not very intentional about it. One thing that happens when you stop and pay attention is not only do you listen to someone else but you can hear yourself better too.
Brad Listi: That’s the thing about it: nominally, you’re there in the role of the therapist and the person there is your client and patient, but it has to be nourishing for you too and educational. There’s reciprocity, whether the person who comes to see you intends for it to be that way or not.
LG: Right, there is reciprocity, and it’s not as though we’re doing our own therapy while we’re in with a client, but we can’t help but be changed by these interactions. We can’t help but ask ourselves the same questions that our clients are grappling with about how do I love and be loved and what do I do with regret. What do I do with uncertainty, and what can I control and can’t control. What’s going on in my family relationships, my intimate relationships, and my professional relationships? How am I living my life, is what it comes down to.
BL: Maybe it’s always been this way, or it’s increasingly this way because of myriad circumstances, whether it’s cultural or technology or political. Everybody has work stuff. Everybody has a lot bearing down on them. I wonder how often people are available to one another. There is a lot of loneliness, and there is a lot of need to actually have somebody to have dialogue with and listen to them. It even seems among friends that can be lacking. I wonder if we’re really here for one another or are we just texting while standing around the party and having intermittent conversations that last 30 seconds. It’s hard to find meaningful exchanges, and I think too people are so caught up in their own stuff that it’s hard for them to be compassionate. I speak for myself too. Am I really available to other human beings? Am I really focused? Am I doing the necessary self-care that I can be open to other people and be there for them? It feels that the world is sorely lacking in that a lot to me.
LG: Right, and we don’t have the same sort of organic opportunities to connect with people in the ways that are emotionally nourishing but also physiologically there have an impact on us. We’re having this conversation right now. I can feel very relaxed, and my heart rate is down. When you’re texting and multi-tasking and all those things, you might be connected with different people in that moment because you’re interacting with them though your technology but you’re not really there. A part of you is there, but you’re not fully there. Of course, life is life, so we can’t always be fully there, but you’re not fully there enough. It creates depression, and it creates anxiety. No matter what people came in with and why they came in initially to me, what I find is there is an underlying loneliness.
BL: That is the part of the book that struck me. Obviously, people come in with their depression, and they come in feeling anxious and feeling sad, but underneath it all they feel kind of isolated and lonely.
LG: They feel isolated and lonely in their experience too. They feel that they’re the only one who feels that way, and they don’t understand why they feel that life because if you look at their life from the outside it looks like they have a lot.
BL: So why do they feel that way and what can they do about it?
LG: I think it’s because they don’t have what’s important. They’re neglecting it. They could have it but they’re neglecting it. Going back to this idea of compassion too, when people get so focused on the task at hand they become less passionate with themselves. If you listen to how unkind people are to themselves, if you listen to the voices in your head, so much of the time these voices are like a bully. The self-criticism doesn’t stop. You would never talk that way to a friend or someone you care about, a family member or child. When we can stop to slow down and be compassionate with ourselves, we become more compassionate with other people.