Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Therapists as Writers: Interview with Lori Gottlieb

[Episode 124] Today's episode of the Social Work Podcast is an interview with Lori Gottlieb - NY Times best-selling author, advice columnist for The Atlantic, and therapist. We talked about how her experience as a writer influences her work as a therapist, and how her therapy informs her writing. We talked about how she takes a client’s story out of the therapy room and turns it into something that therapists can appreciate, and non-therapists can get excited about. Lori reads from her 2019 New York Times bestseller and Amazon Best Book of April 2019Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. We ended our conversation talking about how difficult and necessary it is for therapists to be the client.



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Transcript

Introduction

Hey there podcast listeners, Jonathan here. Have you ever had this experience? A friend who is not a social worker tells you about scene in a movie, or story in a book that they find completely shocking. And you, instead of being shocked, just think to yourself, “that’s nothing compared to the client I just saw.” I remember working with a family early on in my first job out of grad school. It was a big family. The oldest daughter had shot and killed the father after years of abuse. The courts not only acquitted her, but they said the family was eligible to use victim’s compensation fund to pay for therapy. Then there was the 13-year old honor student who fried her brain on whippets. There was the family who lived in a compound at the edge of the city; a dozen double wide trailers and four generations on several acres of land. They made money by running an illegal trash dump on their land and selling scraps. There was the mom who blurted out in session that her son’s father was his grandfather. The mom who left her husband after starting an affair with her step-brother. It is sort of an open secret among social workers that if Hollywood ever tried to make a movie about what we actually see in therapy, no one would believe it. The truth would be dismissed as “Hollywood fantasy.” Meanwhile, Hollywood’s version of what social workers do and what therapy is usually comes off as fiction rather than fact.

This disconnect between what I did and Hollywood’s version of what I did was in large part because the shocking tabloid headlines weren’t the most important or interesting parts. It was the little moments. Like the moment that the victims comp family said that they missed their dad because he was the only one that could keep the family in line. It was sitting with the 13-year old’s mother as she was stroking her daughter’s hair. It was the abuela who insisted that I stay for dinner on my last visit to the compound. These were the moments that Hollywood usually got wrong. I don’t really blame Hollywood. How would they know? Social workers, psychologists, and counselors promise not to talk about our clients. We intentionally do not share these moments.

And yet, I know lots of mental health professionals would love to write about their experiences. So, how do you do that? Well, in today’s episode I spoke with Lori Gottlieb - NY Times best-selling author, advice columnist for The Atlantic, and therapist about how she turned her client’s stories into a bestselling book that has been optioned by Eva Longoria. We talked about how her experience as a writer influences her work as a therapist, and how her therapy informs her writing. We talked about how she takes a client’s story out of the therapy room and turns it into something that therapists can appreciate, and non-therapists can get excited about. Lori reads from her 2019 bestseller, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. We ended our conversation talking about how difficult and necessary it is for therapists to be the client.

A note about today’s episode: I recorded this interview in April 2019 while Lori was on a multi-city book tour promoting Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. She was kind enough to come to my office at Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work. You might hear an occasional car horn but nothing that should distract from the interview.

If you listen to the Podcast on iTunes I would be grateful if you left a rating and comment. If you want to participate in our ongoing survey, please click on the link at the top right side of the website where you’ll also find a transcript of today’s interview, links to Lori’s books, and lots more. Speaking of transcripts – if you would like to donate your time to transcribe this or any other episode that doesn’t have a transcript, please contact me at https://www.facebook.com/swpodcast.

And now, without further ado, on to episode 124 of the social work podcast: Therapists as Writers: Interview with Lori Gottlieb

Interview
Jonathan Singer: Lori, thank you so much for being here on the Podcast and talking with us today.

Lori Gottlieb: Oh, thanks for having me.

Jonathan Singer: What are some of the things that you have learned as an author that have helped you to be a better therapist?

Lori Gottlieb: I use my experience as a writer all the time in the therapy room. In fact, in some ways I feel like what I’m doing in the therapist chair is I’m being an editor for peoples’ stories. So when people come in they’re gonna tell me a particular story. And the story is very much mediated by their perspective and also what they want me to validate. And I’m not there to validate their story. I’m there to understand their story, but don’t necessarily have to endorse their story. I really want to see when someone’s telling me a story - how flexible are they with the story? Because I’m listening to not just the lyrics, but the music under the lyrics. What is the pattern or struggle that this person is telling me about by telling me about what happened with their boyfriend or what happened with their boss or what happened with their mother? I really want to understand that better. Who are the major characters and who are the minor characters? Is the protagonist going in circles or is the protagonist moving forward? Who are the heroes and who are the villains? What would the other character say if they got to write this story from their perspective? So I’m doing a lot of editing, usually the story someone comes in with at the beginning of therapy will be very different from the story they leave with, just like your first draft when you’re writing is very different from the final product.

Jonathan Singer: Now as a journalist, you were responsible for looking at all sorts of different material, right? That’s part of what journalists do is they research. Do you ever find that you feel limited by having just one source in front of you in the therapy room? When you’re doing individual therapy obviously, when you’re doing couples or family it’s different. Do you ever feel limited like you wish you could go out and get more information?

Lori Gottlieb: I think my job is to get more information from the only source that I have in the room. And so my source isn’t just what they’re telling me but what are they going to say when I ask certain questions? Or when I challenge them? Gently, but because I’m genuinely curious and I want them to get curious. I should never be more curious about my client than the client is about him or herself. And I think that that’s a problem if I have more questions than they do. Because they’re there to understand something about themselves that they can’t yet see. What are their blindspots and how are they shooting themselves in the foot in these ways that end them up in this same place over and over? And I think in terms of my source, since I only do have that one source, I’m also looking at things like body language. I’m looking at how they react to certain parts of the conversation. Where did they go off on a tangent? Where did they run away from me? Were they able to connect with me? That’s all information and another source of information is me. I’m a source in the room. How am I feeling in response to this person? What is my reaction to this person? So I feel like there are really two sources in the room.

Jonathan Singer: Do you think that clients come in wanting to understand their story? Or wanting you to understand their story? And how do you think that affects therapy?

Lori Gottlieb: I think often clients first come in wanting me to validate their position. That something external is creating their misery. So I think what happens is they have a particular agenda - without realizing it by the way. I mean we go in and we say “I want to talk to somebody about this, this is really causing me distress and I want to be understood” because we all have this deep, human yearning to be understood. So I think what happens is they come in and they want me to agree with them and I should say, just to be fair here, that when I - in the book, I’m the fifth patient. There are four patients that we follow, or main patients that we follow, and I’m the fifth. Because I’m going to therapy too. And the first thing I do when I go to therapy is I want him to validate my story. I want him to say “your boyfriend - you dodged a bullet. This was - your boyfriend is a jerk” and all of that. And he doesn’t do that. And that is upsetting [laughs] because you feel like “no, you don’t understand, let me re-explain this story to you”. But it was the best thing that could possibly happen. I talk in the book too about the difference between idiot compassion and wise compassion. And I think what our friends will do is they will give us that thing that we want when we come to a therapist, or we think we want. Which is we want someone to say “yeah! you're right! that person is awful!” or “you’re right, you were wronged in this situation!” But I think that it’s not very helpful and it might feel good in the short term, but in the long term, what’s really helpful is wise compassion, which is what a therapist will do. A therapist will say “hey I want you to kind of zoom out for a minute and look at this from a broader perspective and it will help you because you’ll see something that you can’t see right now”.

Jonathan Singer: I think that’s so right on. For a long time, I was part of sort of a personal growth community, used to be called Life Training, then it was called Mortal Life and they have this concept called Bold Support, which is what I think of when I read what you wrote about with wise compassion, which is in the moment it might feel like I’m not on your side, but the reason why I’m pushing back is because I’m totally on your side. In fact, whatever it is that’s going on that’s going to help you be a better person, that’s what I want for you.

Lori Gottlieb: And that’s so interesting because I think when people out in the world say to somebody “I want to point this out about you, they get very defensive because they take it as a judgment or a criticism. And by the way, for good reason sometimes, because the person wants to change the person that they love. Partly because they want that person to relate better in the world and not be in such distress. But partly because it will make that person’s life easier - the person who’s asking for the change, it makes their life easier. As a therapist, I don’t have that agenda. My goal, like you said, is to help this person struggle less. And I need them to see certain things so they don’t end up for the tenth time doing this thing that causes them to suffer.

Jonathan Singer: I think one of the great things about your book is that your writing is so accessible and is so engaging. And as someone who has read tens of thousands of pages of notes about clients, I know that it’s not easy to write about clients in a way that’s interesting [laughs]. So I really appreciate that about you book and I was wondering if you could read a passage of your book that talks about this idea of story?

Lori Gottlieb: Sure. So this is a scene where I’m with my therapist and he says “nobody is going to save you” and I don’t understand why he would bring that up because I feel like I’m a very independent, self-sufficient person.

“But I don’t want to be saved” I insist, though this time part of me wonders “wait, do I?” on some level, don’t we all? I think about how many people come to therapy expecting to feel better, but what does better really mean? There’s a magnet that somebody stuck on the refrigerator in our office’s kitchen. It says “peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” We can help patients find peace, but maybe a different kind than they imagined they’d find when they started treatment. As the late psychotherapist John Weakland famously said, “before successful therapy it’s the same damn thing over and over. After successful therapy, it’s one damn thing after another.” I know that therapy won’t make all of my problems disappear, prevent new ones from developing, or ensure that I’ll always act from a place of enlightenment. Therapists don’t perform personality transplants. They just help to take the sharp edges off. A patient may become less reactive or critical, more open and able to let people in. In other words, therapy is about understanding the self that you are, but part of getting to know yourself is to un-know yourself. To let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them. So that you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life. But how to help people do this is another matter.

Jonathan Singer: I think that’s so wonderful. I think it’s wonderful on multiple levels. One because you bring in some of the masters of the field, John Weakland, and the quotes that we see floating around the internet these days. But also this idea of story - can you talk us through that passage a little bit about what that means to you?

15:05

Lori Gottlieb: Yeah, so we usually walk around with stories that we don’t realize we’re telling ourselves and a story might look like “I’m unloveable” or “nothing will ever work out for me” or alternatively “I’m so much better than everybody else”. So those are some stories that either we used as protection when we were kids and we no longer need that protection, or we internalized a message that was distorted. And we don’t realize that when we have those stories in our heads, we act as though those stories are true about us. And we relate to the world and people around us through that story. So we need to change that story because if you walk around and think “nothing will ever work out for me”, well guess what? Nothing will ever work out for you. You won’t try to achieve certain things. Every time you get disappointed, you will say that that reinforces your story even though there are other reasons that things don’t work out. They don’t work out for everybody. So we need to look at your story and say “what is a distortion and what is the truth?” And I think people think of therapy as sort of dredging up people’s childhoods. And I look at it very differently. I look at it as we’re looking at your childhood to help you understand what - how that impacts the way you move through the world now. And then we want to write the next chapter. So once we can get clear about how the past is impacting the present, then we can work on how to change the present to change the future. And I know that sounds a little bit convoluted, but I think that we’re not here to just spend years talking about your childhood. And some people I think are worried about going to therapy because they imagine that they’re going to get to therapy and they’re going to be stuck there for years and they're going to have to talk about their childhood for years and what’s the use of that anyway? And we’re very much forward-thinking in therapy, not backward-looking.

Jonathan Singer: Yeah and I think that’s a really important point and I will say that there’s the therapy that you’re writing about in the book, which is kind of an individual therapy in an office and I know a lot of the folks that listen to the podcast are like traveling out to people’s homes or going to juvenile detention facilities or whatever. But I know that in my work with suicidal youth, understanding how parents were parented, understanding what happened early on in somebody’s life is critical in understanding what’s going on with their current suicide risk. And so this isn’t just something that is kind of a privileged standpoint - although possibly having the time and resources to go to therapy for years speaks to some privilege that there is real value in being able to understand the connection between how the story was told and how it’s unraveling as you move forward.

Lori Gottlieb: Yeah, absolutely and I think going back to that question about privilege - when I was working in a nonprofit clinic, I saw the same kinds of problems. I think at our core, we all have the same desires, yearnings, insecurities, vulnerabilities, shames, secrets. So I saw that all the time, but I think you’re so right about the way that we carry around our - the way our parents were when we become parents, even though we probably say to ourselves, if it didn’t go so well, “oh I’m not going to be that kind of parent”. And yet there’s this great paper Selma Fraiberg, it’s called “Ghosts in the Nursery” and it’s about the ways that when we have kids all of those dormant issues that we hadn’t really thought about get almost brought up again in our consciousness because you see your child at a certain age and it reminds you of you, your history at that age and all of the sudden, all of this stuff comes flooding back and we may or may not be aware of it but sometimes we find ourselves doing things with our kids that we vowed we would never do. Or thinking or feeling certain things even if we don’t act on them. And so I think it’s really important for people to understand that you really do need to be clear about separating the past, the past story from the present story. And that’s why I feel like so often the benefit of therapy - sometimes people think the benefit of therapy is X, Y, or Z. The benefit of therapy is really knowing who you are so you’re not walking around blindly in the world and doing things that where someone else is driving the car. you want to be driving your own car.

Jonathan Singer: I think you brought up a really important point, which is that there are a lot of similarities between people in terms of core experiences of love and loss and feeling belonging, like you belong, or like you don’t. And I think that when people have the privilege of pursuing therapy, really at that point, there’s little excuse not to. And there are some people for whom they would really benefit but don’t have the resources.

Lori Gottlieb: And I think the other barrier though is shame. I think that there’s so much shame especially in certain cultural contexts, in certain communities, there’s so much shame around getting help for something emotional. It’s interesting because if you have a problem with physical health, you will probably - if you’re feeling chest pain, you’ll go to the cardiologist and get it checked out before you have a massive heart attack. But so many people feel like if something feels not right emotionally if something feels off, if they’re having pain, that they don’t go and get help until they have the equivalent of an emotional heart attack. And that’s when they land in therapy. And then it’s so much harder to treat and you’ve struggled unnecessarily for all that time. So I think it’s interesting that we place a different value on our emotional health. And I think there’s another shame too - even if you’re in a cultural context where therapy is accepted, I think there’s the shame that we impose upon ourselves that we feel like “well what do I have to complain about? I have a roof over my head and I have a job so I have enough food to eat, so what’s my problem?” And then there’s another layer of shame, which I think is these secrets that we - I think that we are so afraid of revealing ourselves, not only to the world - you know there are secrets that we keep from the world and there are secrets that we keep from the people close to us, but there are secrets that we keep from our therapists. And then there are secrets that we keep from ourselves. And those lost two - the ones that you keep from the therapist and the one you keep from yourselves - are the ones that sometimes prevent people from coming to therapy because they don’t even want to acknowledge the secret to themselves or they do acknowledge it to themselves, but they’re afraid to say it to the therapist. And one of  the beautiful things about being able to talk about these sources of shame is that you realize that they’re not so shameful after all, especially with men. I’ll say men come into my practice and they'll say, kind of in a whisper, “I’ve never told anybody this before” and I sort of wait on the edge of my seat - what is this big revelation?

Jonathan Singer: Like do I have to call the police after this or whatever?

Lori Gottlieb: Or also just like what is this thing that is going to be really really embarrassing for them? And they’ll say something so mild - in my opinion. But they don’t have anyone to talk to because men won’t - there’s so much shame around men sharing anything that feels even remotely vulnerable and women, by the way, have shame too, but it looks a little bit different. Women will come in and say “I haven’t told anybody this before...except for my mother my sister and my best friend.” And to them that’s not having told anybody. but I think we have so much shame And what people find out is they try to hide it from their therapist - I did in the book you can see I come in for one thing, which is this unexpected break-up, but I end up hiding these other things from my therapist partly because I’m kind of telling myself they’re no big deal and partly because I want him to like me and respect me and I’m afraid that if I tell him the truth of what these other things are, he will lose respect for me. But what happens is when we tell the truth of who we are, we draw people toward us. There’s a patient in the book whom I call John and he hides himself and he’s very abrasive, he’s very difficult to get to know, he’s insulting to me, he’s very difficult, but as I get to know him, everything he was hiding from me is what makes me like him. So what’s interesting because the things he was hiding - he was hiding because he didn’t want me to see him, but once he actually let me see him, I actually - that was what made me really really develop a strong, strong liking for him. And I really adored him and I think readers do too, I think he’s one of the people that people really don't like at the beginning, but then they come to really love. And that’s because he reveals himself to me and ultimately to the reader.

Jonathan Singer: And I think this idea of being vulnerable is something that most social workers, most therapists, are intellectually very well acquainted with. We know that in that moment when we’re, as therapists, when we’re like “should I go there?” like that’s the moment when connection is made. When you risk that, when you’re on that edge and I think that we know that being vulnerable is the thing that opens us up so that others can come in and give us ultimately what we want, so why is it that you think that - that you and that therapists, mental health professionals in general, are so hesitant to do their own work? To seek therapy and I’m not talking about the financial side, which you know is reasonable, but to actually do the thing that we know is so valuable for our clients.

Lori Gottlieb: Because it’s hard. Therapy is hard work and not just for the therapist, it’s hard work for the patient. And so that’s part of it and I think part of it is that we may imagine that people expect us to kind of have it all together because of what we do, and yet what I say in the book is that my greatest credential is that I’m a card-carrying member of the human race, that I know what it’s like to be a person in the world. I use my humanity in the room every second of every session. And nobody wants to go see a robot. Nobody wants to go see the brick wall. If your therapist doesn’t have a deep inner life, your therapist probably is not going to truly understand you in a way that you want to be understood. So part of it is that we need that, we use that, but the other part of it is that people expect us to sort of - not to, they don’t want to see that. I talk in the book about this colleague of mine who was - she and her husband were trying to have a baby and she was going through all of this fertility stuff and it was very harrowing. She finally got pregnant, she was standing in a Starbucks, when she got a call from her physician saying that the pregnancy wasn’t viable. And she burst into tears right there in the Starbucks. And a patient happened to walk in, saw her, made eye contact with her, apparently was very put off by the sobbing therapist from afar, left, and never came back. And so when people see our humanity sometimes they leave us or they feel very uncomfortable by knowing that it’s there, so they kind of want to put up blinders, that yes you use your humanity to help us, but please don't show it to us. And yet we need to walk the walk, we need to go to our own therapy and understand ourselves because the more that we understand ourselves, the better that we will understand our clients.

Jonathan Singer: And I think that I’ve heard you on other podcasts when you’ve told that story say, and I would want to go to a therapist that broke into tears hearing that their pregnancy wasn’t viable because that says that they’re human.

Lori Gottlieb: Right, of course we don’t want her to take that call in the office during my session, but I think the fact that she had a normal human reaction, that she’s not a robot. I would be concerned by the person that didn’t have a reaction to that. So I think knowing that she was human in that way would make me feel safer with her. It would make me trust her all the more to understand my pain because she understands her pain.

Jonathan Singer: Since we’ve been talking about the idea of people’s narratives and, of course you have this great experience in journalism and writing, one of  the things that I had the experience of in my very first job back in the mid-90s, first job as a social worker, was I wanted to write a book about the experience of what it was like to be a front-line crisis worker for children and adolescents. And it was about the stories, but it was also about like the system, and some of the things that I was seeing for the first time - I was like “this is amazing”. And I never did it. Like I just, I couldn’t figure out how to do it, I couldn’t figure out how the time - but you’re doing it. Would you be willing to let us in on like the magic? How do you write so beautifully about your clients without violating confidentiality? What’s your process? Talk  to us.

Lori Gottlieb: I knew I wanted to bring people into the therapy room with me because I didn’t think that there would be any other way to talk about some of the main themes in the book that we grow in connection with others, that we’re more the same than we are different. And also just letting people see how others’ get through their struggles. So I chose the people that I was writing about for a lot of reasons and I’ll go through some of them. One was that I wanted to choose people that I was not currently seeing. I didn't think that I could do the work of writing about people as I was seeing them, I thought it might contaminate the work and I didn’t want to risk that. I thought I could maybe compartmentalize in that way, but I wasn't going to risk that when somebody’s coming to me for help. So that was part of it, so these were people that I was no longer seeing. Secondly, I wanted to pick people who were very different from one another. So you have different ages, different genders, different family histories, different personalities, you’ve got this forty-ish sort of I would say, without labeling, I would say, somebody who has narcissistic traits, and he’s a Hollywood producer and he thinks everybody else around him is the problem. You’ve got - and he’s married with kids and is dealing with some issues in his marriage. You’ve got a woman who’s about to turn 70 and she’s made a mess of her life by her account, her estranged adult children don’t talk to her, she’s had some marriages, she’s the most isolated person I’ve ever met. She’s said that if things don’t change in her life in one year, she wants to end it. And I should say one tangent on that is that I think people come to therapy when there’s a readiness. I think that it sounds like a daunting task with this woman, but I think that - I always ask when people come to therapy, not just why are you coming here, but why now? Why this week did you call me? Why this month, this year? When you’ve been dealing with this for years or months or however long you’ve been dealing with it. What prompted you now? What’s that readiness about? Because I’m scanning for strengths in addition to looking at what’s not working, I’m looking at what is working. But the other two main clients that I follow are a woman who, on her honeymoon, she’s in her 30s, she just got married, and she feels something in her breast and she comes back and realizes she has breast cancer and ultimately she asks me, when it becomes a terminal diagnosis, if I’ll stay with her until she dies. And the last person is a woman in her 20s and she keeps hooking up with the wrong guys and doesn’t see how her attachment issues are making her choose men who will continually disappoint her. So I think I chose very different people on the surface, but I feel like we can see aspects of ourselves in all of these people, including in me, because again I’m a patient as well as a therapist in the book. And I think that that’s something that is really eye-opening for people is to say “these people feel really different from me” or “I relate to one of them but the others look very different from me” but yet we can relate so strongly to all of them. I as a therapist could relate so strongly to all of them, even though they looked very different from me on the surface.

Jonathan Singer: And so when you were thinking back about your clients, what was your process of...did you review your therapy notes, did you keep a second notebook, like a process notebook about stuff? What was your process for thinking about “these are the folks that I’m going to write about” and how did you start writing about them?

Lori Gottlieb: I think they were the stories that stood out to me for different reasons, they all have different psychological processes that I wanted to show how those unfold. They all have different struggles. I was very careful, I should say by the way, I got permission and I was very careful to protect their privacy, but I also used a lot of my experience in the room, I wasn’t going back and saying “let me transcribe their chart notes”. I feel like that would be intrusive in a lot of ways. I was really talking about the human experience. I think therapy is such a rich human experience and I’m writing from that perspective as opposed to a very clinical perspective of “on this day, on this chart note, this is what happened”. I think our clients stay with us. I think they live inside of us and it was very easy to write for that reason.

Jonathan Singer: And so if somebody’s interested in writing about their clients, I know that you said that you - in another interview that I heard that you were on, you talked about how your consent form has language in there saying that you’re looking for their permission to write about them in an anonymous way. Are there other things that you do to either cover yourself or, as a therapist, for doing this kind of writing?

Lori Gottlieb: Well I’m in a unique position in that I was a writer long before I was a therapist. So most people who come to me know that I’m a writer, they’ve read what I’ve written in some way. They’ve seen how I’ve handled writing about patients so I think that they know that I handle it with respect and that I very much am careful to a fault almost of protecting their confidentiality. But I also have, I think when you’re writing for a publication, and when you’re writing for a publishing house, both of which I’ve done with patients, they very much vet the material, meaning they protect you too. I mean by “you” I mean they protect you the client, not me the writer, although they obviously protect me the writer because they don’t want to get sued. But I think they very much - nobody wants any problems and so while their interest is more of a cover-your-butt, my interest is more of “I want people to feel comfortable coming to see me”. And the people whom I’m writing about, I don’t ever want them to feel like they were violated in any way. So I think we have a lot of checks and balances that are already in place just because of the position that I started as a writer and then I became a therapist as opposed to being a therapist and then being a writer. But I think there’s so many models for this too, I mean Irvin Yalom of course revolutionized this idea of you can write about what goes on in the therapy room when you take those precautions. So, and there are many other models out there.

Jonathan Singer: Yes, Yalom is amazing and I saw that he wrote a blurb for your book!

Lori Gottlieb: He did! He wrote a blurb for my book and that was so thrilling, that he read the book first of all. And then that he, that it resonated with him and that he wrote that blurb. So that was a thrilling thing and I actually have had this ongoing correspondence with him since then and it has been - it has moved me beyond anything I could articulate to him or to anyone. He was so influential to me when I was training and even beyond and I still, I reread him just because I learned something new at a different stage in my career every time I reread him and there’s so much to read because he was so prolific. So to have him on board with this book was a thrill.

Jonathan Singer: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So you mentioned that your fifth character in the book was yourself. What was it like to write about yourself as a client?

Lori Gottlieb: That I think was the hardest part of the book to write because my clients are anonymous so they - nobody knows who they are. Everyone knows who I am because I’m writing the book. So I can’t hide, I can’t be like “and then there’s this therapist” unless I was writing a novel, but even then, it would be thinly veiled. So I think that when I was first writing it I had to imagine that nobody would be reading this boo,  that it would just me writing the story that I wanted to write. The real story that I wanted to put out there. And then it was time to turn it into my editor and I got very nervous because I thought - for the same reason that we want to present the best version of ourselves to our therapist - I was really worried about what she would think, because at the beginning of the book, I am very raw and very open and I’m not that enlightened at the beginning of the book. So I sort of had this instinct that I wanted to kind of pretty it up, clean it up a little bit. But I didn’t because that would defeat the entire purpose of writing this book. I couldn’t - it would feel fraudulent to have my patients be so vulnerable and be so open and honest and to have me kind of present a cleaner version of myself. So that was really hard and I think there was another - it was sort of step by step because then my editor saw it and then my editor actually told me I needed to go deeper. And she is the daughter-in-law of a therapist by the way. And she said “you know I still think you’re not really revealing yourself”. And I thought I had revealed myself so much, far more than my comfort zone normally would allow. So I thought ehhh…. [laughs] really? but I went back and I did that. and I am very very - it’s not the pretty version. I say in the book, there’s a chapter called “The Snapshot of Ourselves” and I talk about, when you come to therapy, you present a snapshot of yourself and usually when people come in it’s not usually the pretty snapshot, unless they’re faking it, but it’s like the snapshot where your eyes are closed and you have a weird expression on your face, it’s not the one you’d want to necessarily present to the world. But I think that as therapists, we realize that we see lots of different snapshots of our clients. We see the heroic snapshot where they’re doing something that they never thought possible or they’re taking a risk or they did something in a relationship they never imagined they could do. There are all these heroic moments, we’re not just “listening to problems all day”, we’re seeing wonderful, transformative experiences and people don’t realize that about our work. But we’re also seeing people going through very difficult things. And I wanted to show both and I had to show myself doing both of those things in the room. You see me doing heroic things and you see me doing really moronic things in the room. And I had to do both. So I think that was the hardest part of the book to write, but I’m so glad that I didn’t chicken out in the end.

Jonathan Singer: Well Lori, I wish I could talk to you for another ten hours, but I know you’re incredibly busy. Right now you’re on this book tour and getting great publicity and I’m so happy for you. So thank you so much for being on the podcast and talking with us.


Lori Gottlieb: Thank you so much. I am such a fan of your podcast and to be able to be on it was so exciting for me. 

~~END~~
Transcription generously donated by Angela Harris, LMSW serving clients in private practice in McKinney, Texas.


APA (6th ed) citation for this podcast:

Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2019, April 23). #124 - Therapists as writers: Interview with Lori Gottlieb [Audio Podcast]. Social Work Podcast. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkpodcast.com/2019/04/gottlieb.html

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