As a psychology major (but not a practicing psychologist), I was drawn to Lori Gottlieb’s new memoir of her career as a therapist for its glimpse into the road not taken. But as one reviewer said, “This book is for anyone with emotions.”
The book is framed around the therapeutic journeys of four of Gottlieb’s patients and Gottlieb herself. In between these timbers, stuffed like insulation, are discussions of some of the more interesting concepts from psychology, such as personality disorders, logotherapy and transference.
Through the story of John, the Emmy-award winning television writer, we see firsthand the trials of treating a true narcissist. Gottlieb answers, when asked if she likes all her patients, that you cannot truly come to know someone without coming to like them. But in the case of John, who keeps insisting that he’s surrounded by idiots and even mockingly calls her “Sherlock,” we are not so sure. By the middle of the book, as Gottlieb continues to patiently—so patiently! How can she do it?—probe into John’s lack of self-awareness, we begin softening. When John pauses his therapy session to answer the door for his Chinese food delivery, we just laugh. By the end, when he has faced the real tragedy in his life and has begun to make changes—well, if you haven’t developed a new respect for therapists, you’re never going to.
The author’s intelligence and talent come through—after years working in television, she decided to go to medical school—but just as evident are her thoughtfulness and compassion. We see in the case of Charlotte how a skilled therapist deals nonjudgmentally with a person in denial who’s been drinking too much. With Rita, she leads a 69-year-old recluse to change lifelong behaviors rooted in regrets.
However, the memoir isn’t self-aggrandizing. Gottlieb includes the unfinished story of Becca, whom she had to refer to a colleague because something wasn’t clicking between them. And it turns out that even the most insightful of therapists can’t apply what they know to their own lives. The fifth patient in this memoir is Gottlieb herself, who initially seeks help for difficulty getting over a breakup, and gets surprisingly stuck in this stage.
Gottlieb’s humor and empathy will cause readers to cheer for the ordinary people who were able to turn their lives around, and maybe find a little inspiration themselves.