In this memoir by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, the author finds herself in therapy after a personally devastating crisis. She proceeds to honestly and engagingly chronicle her experiences of being a therapist, and of being in therapy. This was a book I truly enjoyed reading, both in the capacity of a therapist, and simply as myself.
As a therapist, the author’s experiences of therapy with her clients resonated with me, and I felt as though I were in actual conversation with another therapist. When she described a client whose inappropriate behaviour served as a defence against his deeper, more shameful feelings, I was reminded of a client who, realising that therapy was ending, began to project her fears of being abandoned though desperate accusations, “You probably don’t give a damn about your clients; you’re just here to do your job”. And when the author described how a general litmus test of a client’s readiness to be discharged from therapy was when they had internalised their therapist’s voice and were able to apply it to various situations, I recalled a client who had long struggled with strong negative emotions and harsh self-criticism. After a year of therapy, he began telling me about how his mind would automatically remind him to ride out his negative emotions instead of acting impulsively, and to be kind towards himself when he felt most disappointed in himself – these thoughts almost verbatim from our earlier therapy sessions. I felt a sense of camaraderie with the author as both positive and negative experiences with my own clients to mind, and this made for a very engaging, and interactive read.
As myself, I appreciated how the author normalised everyone’s struggles with losses, even the loss of our insecurities. It made me wonder whether I would grieve when the day came that I no longer worried about being awkward in group conversations, or stopped obsessing over whether my writing was good enough. By chronicling her own relationships and those of her clients, she has helped me to see that while we seldom are able to make others in our personal lives change – even if we wished they would, had set out trying change them, or were able to help clients attain change through our therapeutic work – living a meaningful life means taking responsibility for our own lives and choices. Finally, while navigating through the dark night of her soul resulted in her confronting her own fears and insecurities, it also showed me how the experiences that scar us also create opportunities for new and different choices in future. Lori Gottlieb’s book reminded me of our common humanity – and this what made reading it so valuable to me.