Jan 29

“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”: Therapy

In a previous post I introduced the 2019 highly regarded nonfiction book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb.

Now that I’ve actually read it, I’ve selected some Maybe You Should Talk to Someone quotes about therapy.

…(T)herapy is about understanding the self that you are. 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.

Whatever the problem, it generally “presents” because the person has reached an inflection point in life. Do I turn left or right? Do I try to preserve the status quo or move into uncharted territory? (Be forewarned: therapy will always take you into uncharted territory, even if you choose to preserve the status quo.) But people don’t care about inflection points when they come for their first therapy session. Mostly, they just want relief. They want to tell you their stories, beginning with their presenting problem.

Until you tell me what’s really on your mind, you’ll stay stuck exactly where you are.

Being silent is like emptying the trash. When you stop tossing junk into the void—words,words,words—something important rises to the surface.

Say what you will about the wonders of technology, but screen-to-screen is, as a colleague once said, “like doing therapy with a condom on.”

Right now it’s all about one foot, then the other. That’s one thing I tell patients who are in the midst of crippling depression, the kind that makes them think, There’s the bathroom. It’s about five feet away. I see it, but I can’t get there. One foot, then the other.

One of the most important steps in therapy is helping people take responsibility for their current predicaments, because once they realize that they can (and must) construct their own lives, they’re free to generate change.

Changing our relationship to the past is a staple of therapy. But we talk far less about how our relationship to the future informs the present too. Our notion of the future can be just as powerful a roadblock to change as our notion of the past.

But many people come to therapy seeking closure. Help me not to feel. What they eventually discover is that you can’t mute one emotion without muting the others. You want to mute the pain? You’ll also mute the joy.

Remember Sartre’s famous line “Hell is other people”?…But sometimes—more often than we tend to realize—those difficult people are us. That’s right—sometimes hell is us. Sometimes we are the cause of our difficulties. And if we can step out of our own way, something astonishing happens.

…(O)ne litmus test of whether a patient is ready for termination is whether she carries around the therapist’s voice in her head, applying it to situations and essentially eliminating the need for the therapy.

Unfortunately, sometimes people leave just as their symptoms lift, not realizing (or perhaps knowing all too well) that the work is just beginning and that staying will require them to work even harder.

A supervisor once likened doing psychotherapy to undergoing physical therapy. It can be difficult and cause pain, and your condition can worsen before it improves, but if you go consistently and work hard when you’re there, you’ll get the kinks out and function so much better.

Jan 17

“Bird By Bird”: All-Around Great Advice From Anne Lamott

One of my all-time favorite books is prolific author Anne Lamott‘s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995). Called “hilarious, helpful, provocative” by the New York Times, it’s filled with great tips for writers that apply to many aspects of life as well.

The concept she describes is a vivid example of the “one step at a time” philosophy. Below is an excerpt from her book’s introduction:

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard…
…(T)hirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

Three additional quotes from the book that are pertinent:

I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up.

What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.

Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.

You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too.

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.