What Is Therapy? “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”

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 quotes by the author 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.

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