In this podcast (episode #297) and blog, I talk to N.Y. Times bestselling author, podcast host and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb about her new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, the power of agency, how to let go of the narratives of the past, therapy as a process of self-understanding, and so much more!
As Lori notes, therapists have the privilege of seeing humanity on a deeper level. Most people don’t talk about their lives in such an honest, raw and authentic way as they do with their therapist. Many people assume that a therapist’s work is depressing, but the reality is very different. You get to see someone as they grow and progress and learn—you get to see those heroic moments when someone does something they have never done before. Therapy is intrinsically hopeful.
Lori wanted to show this hope in her new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. She wanted to bring people into the therapy room and let them see what she sees: the power of humanity to heal, learn and grown.
Indeed, we tend to see ourselves most clearly through the lens of other people’s stories, which Lori shows in her new book. It is a way to take away the shame, to realize “Oh yeah, I do that too!”, which helps us grab the lesson behind the experience. She didn’t just want to write a book about happiness, which is a byproduct of living our lives well, not an end goal.
Yet a lot of people don’t get therapy because they don’t understand what it is—they think it is just not for them. Yettherapy is a very intentional and direction-oriented process. It is about looking inside yourself, who you are, what your patterns are and what is holding you back. Therapy is different to counseling, which often is just about giving advice on specific issues.
As Lori points out, we often have the answers to our issues within ourselves. Therapy helps us discover those answers and unlock those truths. It helps you access your unique place of knowing.
However, it is important to understand that therapy is not a magic bullet. It is about learning how to navigate through the world more smoothly and manage the things that have been tripping you up. It is not about making all your troubles go away—it is about finding peace even when “life” happens.
The key reason therapy can be so helpful is because it is, at its heart, relational. Indeed, several studies have shown that the most important factor in therapy is the person’s relationship to their therapist!
As Lori discusses in her book, we change in relation to others. We are inherently relational. We cannot just be alone, regardless of what our culture tries to sell us—consumerism tells us that it is all about bettering yourself individually. The question most people struggle with in life is “How can I love and be loved?”
Social media has unfortunately made our need for deep, meaningful relationships more complicated. Let’s look at the popularity of boundaries, for example. Boundaries are not about controlling or changing other people. It is something you set with yourself. It is about what YOU will do to keep yourself in a healthy place if someone acts or speaks in a certain way. You cannot control or change what others do or say.
The same can be said for vulnerability. True vulnerability is not just about sharing your story with all your social media followers. It is about sitting face-to-face with someone who is important to you and sharing something about yourself based on the trust you have in the relationship. Yes, the stakes are high because this person matters to you, but this is how you create meaningful connection—you take off the mask.
Social media and our culture can also make us feel like we have no ability to change our lives. Yet our reaction to the difficulty is just as important as what the difficulty is. Yes, there are nasty people out there who hurt others, but this doesn’t mean we are devoid of agency. You may not have every opportunity in the world but you do have some choices.
Of course, with freedom comes responsibility, which is why many people find it scary. It means that you can no longer blame others for your choices—that you are responsible for how you think, speak and behave. But we shouldn’t let the fear of messing up stop us from embracing freedom. As humans, we will mess up; we all make mistakes. But growing up means taking responsibility for our own choices. It means recognizing that we can change our relationship to our traumas—to our past. What happened to us no longer has to imprison us!
Change is hard because we are giving up the unfamiliar and stepping into the realm of uncertainty. Many of us would rather stick with something that is hurting us because it is, as the saying goes, “the devil we do know”. Change often involves a level of loss or grief as we learn to let go of these familiar parts of our narrative, which is almost like giving up a piece of our identity.
We also tend to forget that change is a process. As Lori points out, true change happens in stages. First, there is the pre-contemplation stage, the inner, below the surface realization that you want to make a change. Then comes the contemplation stage, where your desire to change comes into your conscious awareness. This is followed by the preparation stage, where you make a plan to start change. Then, you take action: you do the thing to make the change. The last stage is the most important one: the maintenance stage. This is about maintaining the change once you have made it. During this stage, you should expect that you will have hard days and that you will fail at times. In these moments, you need self-compassion. Rather than feeling shame for failing, give yourself grace so that you can pick yourself up and continue trying.
For more on mental health, the power of therapy and self-understanding, listen to my podcast (episode #297), and check out Lori’s book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, her TED talk, her Atlantic column and podcast Dear Therapist.
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4:00 Lori’s work as a psychotherapist
4:40, 24:11 Why Lori wrote Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
6:00 Why therapy is intrinsically hopeful
7:15 The power of hearing other people’s stories
7:45 Happiness is a byproduct, not an end goal
9:20 The difference between counseling & therapy
13:33 How therapy helps us discover the truths in ourselves—our knowing
14:30 How we change in relation to other people
18:35 The epidemic of loneliness
19:20 What is vulnerability?
20:25 The most important thing in therapy
23:00 The one question we all ask ourselves
24:50, 57:50 Therapy is not a magic bullet
26:15 The power of discovering our own agency
28:50 Why freedom can be scary
31:00 How we can become our own jailers
32:00 Why change is so hard
32:25 The different stages of change
38:00 How some of our relationships can help us back
39:50 How to change
45:30 Change & grief
50:30 Why we need to stop putting men & women in emotional boxes
52:00 Why everyone should go to therapy
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