A book that I had on my reading list for last year that I’ve pushed into this year is Lori Gottlieb’s “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.” I’ve already started reading it and am pretty hooked. It IS a bit self indulgent, so I thought it would be like a “guilty pleasure read” for me to begin the new year with. Lori Gottlieb is a real-life therapist who, encountering her own life’s troubles, decides herself to see a therapist, so you get an interesting view from two different perspectives: how a therapist sees and treats her patients, and how as a therapist, a therapist can receive treatment. Part of a therapist’s training, as you can probably imagine, is to get therapy in order to increase understanding and empathy on both the parts of the therapist and the patient, but she provides an interesting perspective on how therapy can not only affect and shape the patient, but also the therapist herself.
As someone who had been in therapy for about two years, I can say that it was definitely helpful, but a lot of the burden of responsibility really sits on the patient’s shoulders, and not everyone who thinks about therapy or even seeks therapy thinks about that. During that time, I managed to distance myself from my dysfunctional emotions around my parents and my family a lot more, which was helpful for me to develop into a more independently minded human. I also was able to break free of some of the thought processes my mom had instilled in me which, frankly, are just not productive and good when you want to actually have real relationships with people that are not transactional (e.g. I no longer feel compelled to immediately give a gift back to someone when someone else unexpectedly gives me a gift. I no longer feel like I need to immediately treat someone to a meal just because they may have paid for me yesterday. Life is not about “quid pro quo” the way my mom seems to think it is. I also do not “expect” anything in return when I do kind, generous things for people I care about. That definitely generated some resentment in previous friend encounters that I didn’t quite understand at the time, but in retrospect, I realize I was being a dangerous mini of my mother). Some people erroneously believe that the therapist should just “fix” all the patients’ problems and lead them directly into their epiphany sooner rather than later, but that’s not really how therapy works. In Gottlieb’s words:
“What makes therapy challenging is that it requires people to see themselves in the ways they normally choose not to. A therapist will hold up the mirror in the most compassionate way possible, but it’s up to the patient to take a good look at that reflection, to stare back at it and say, “Oh, isn’t that interesting! Now what?” instead of turning away.”
“Insight is the booby prize of therapy” is my favorite maxim of the trade, meaning that you can have all the insight in the world, but if you don’t change when you’re out in the world, the insight — and the therapy — is worthless. Insight allows you to ask yourself, Is this something that’s being done to me or am I doing it to myself? The answer gives you choices, but it’s up to you to make them.”
But I do wonder, based on this, how many people actually use therapy as a “crutch” for life, and instead of taking action on the insights they may be learning in therapy, do absolutely nothing differently while holding that insight in their hands when leaving to go out into the world? I have a friend who may fall into this bucket. She’s been in therapy for years, but if anything, I only see her life outlook seeming to regress, and she seems to examine things less deeply than she once did.
Therapy is a balance of expressing compassion, empathy, and also confrontation. That’s why, when your friend says the exact same thing your therapist does, you may lash out and get defensive, but when your therapist does it, you end up holding your tongue and actually… THINKING about it.