Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is Lori Gottlieb’s behind-the-scenes life as a therapist, as a patient, as a writer, as a mother, and as a person.
I began reading this book because I was curious to read more about therapy from the inside. And I was not disappointed. Lori takes us through the journey of four of her patients and how she dealt with them as a therapist. She also sits on the other side of the couch with her own therapist, Wendell.
Each patient’s story is written with thought-provoking insight and detail. Primarily, Gottlieb talks about four patients:
1. John: John is a self-absorbed, narcissistic, and judgemental Hollywood writer. He comes in with issues of insomnia, but later the reader discovers problems in his marriage and childhood traumas. I honestly thought I can never grow to like someone like John who calls everyone an “idiot” but as Lori herself said “It’s impossible to get to know people deeply and not come to like them”, I began feeling empathy for John as he opened up and became vulnerable in his sessions.
2. Julie: Julie is a newlywed who is diagnosed with cancer. I found her story the most difficult and tear-jerking. She comes to therapy to get help in living her remaining life fully – and she does that with the most authenticity. She begins working at Trader Joe’s (a job that provides her more life fulfillment than her tenured job at the university), visits friends & family, prepares for her death and asks her husband to find another epic love story after she dies.
3. Charlotte: Charlotte’s story was the least insightful for me but I liked how Gottlieb talked about struggling with her treatment because she saw her own reflection in Charlotte. Doing her best to be unbiased and keeping their journeys separate, the reader sees Charlotte’s struggle with her parenting, alcohol addiction, and attracting all the “wrong” guys.
4. Rita: I’ve saved my favorite one for the last. Rita comes for therapy as a 69-year old with a resolution to end her life at her 70th birthday if it doesn’t improve. Her regrets are huge and irreparable. I found her story to be the closest to my heart. The fact that she gets a surprise party from her boyfriend and her “newly made” family on her 70th birthday is nothing short of a miracle.
Outside of these patients’ stories, the reader sees Gottlieb’s struggles as a patient herself. She goes to therapy because of a sudden breakup and uncovers many pushed issues of health, mortality, and life purpose. Seeing her struggle just like her patients (finding defense mechanisms, seeking validation, self-sabotage) is insightful. The honesty and raw vulnerability of the author makes this book stand out.
The best part about this book for me is that it is not laden with cheesy, sappy, unactionable life advice. The universal human dilemmas and humanity evoked in Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is resonating for all readers.
A plus is the various psychology snippets in the book – like Erikson’s stages of development, repair and rupture theory of relationships, defense mechanisms, the ‘presenting problem’ in therapy, etc. I also enjoyed the various analogies used in the book (like a plane ride to Holland, a prison open from the sides) to make readers see how sometimes we get in our own way.
The key takeaway of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is how therapy helps you deconstruct the story you tell yourself:
“But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are powerful because they rule our perspective on our own lives. Lori also talks about this particular aspect in her wonderful TED Talk.
Shortcomings of “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone”
As much as I loved this book and would definitely recommend it as a read, it is not free of flaws:
1. The structure of the book is highly disorganized. The reader keeps jumping from Gottlieb’s patient’s stories, to her own therapy session, to her personal life, to her past life, to her consultation groups, etc. In the beginning, this lack of structure was especially annoying.
2. Lori’s story herself is the least interesting in the book. It is the weakest part of the novel and lacks the depth that Gottlieb provides for her patients.
3. The book can feel a bit long-winded in the beginning. It is slow and tedious to get to the point often and the first half lacks action. But this is a small price to pay for the heartwarming stories of all the patients.
Despite the shortcomings of the book, I’d definitely recommend it for a one-time read. The language is simple and the book quickly becomes addictive and easy to follow. I personally cried at the patients’ stories and grew deeply attached to their journeys.
Find this book on Amazon here.