Even Therapists Need Therapists

Mar 11, 2020

Most psychotherapists spend their day listening to other people’s problems. But that job becomes complicated when a psychotherapist is dealing with their own, catastrophic life events. So how do they handle all of it?

Writer and psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb, talks about her own journey dealing with a difficult breakup and her day-to-day work in her newest book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.

Gottlieb tells the stories of four of her patients and how they dealt with psychological issues. Then she turns the book on herself as a fifth patient.

In the book, Gottlieb explains how she spent a lot of time struggling in her professional life before finding therapy. She worked in the film and television industry, tried out medical school, and took up journalism before falling into psychology.

“I went from wanting to help people tell their stories to helping people to change their stories,” says Gottlieb.

As a former journalist, Gottlieb brings her humanity into the room with her patients. But like journalists, she is careful to make sure the people she serves are the center of their stories.

During a life-altering breakup, Gottlieb returned to therapy for herself. Thinking that she knew what was best for her, she tried to find someone who would validate her experiences and she would feel better.

“Even as a therapist, you might know better, but you do all of the things people might do when looking for a therapist,” she says. “You’re just a regular person when you’re on the other side.”

Sometimes, Gottlieb believes, people need to be able to hear things that are challenging.

“A lot of people go to therapy because they want to tell their story, and they’re so sure that their version of a story is an accurate version of the story, and yet, we’re all unreliable narrators,” Gottlieb explains. “And often those faulty narratives are the things that are tripping us up.”

Often faulty narratives are the things that are tripping us up.

Friends, unlike therapists, are most willing to validate experiences because they risk a happy relationship. Friends will, for example, say their friends deserve something they haven’t worked for, or defend their friends’ behavior out of loyalty instead of the facts. Therapists, Gottlieb said, can serve as a mirror that shows what’s really happening in a person’s life.

“The beauty of being outside of someone’s life is you have the advantage of zooming out and not living so close to the issues so you can see them more clearly — and that’s what good therapy does for people," says Gottlieb.