Do you know how difficult it is to whisper an ugly cry? I do. There I was at 3:30am, relaxed and enjoying the insight and surprising humour of this book, caught up in a ‘just one more chapter’ loop. Then, out of nowhere, I was ugly crying as quietly as possible so I didn’t wake up the sensible people in my home, those who actually sleep when it’s considered an acceptable time to do so. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly ‘out of nowhere’; I knew it was coming at some stage with that particular patient but I wasn’t expecting it right then.
That wasn’t the only time I cried during this book (there may have been another four tissue grabs and some very dignified sniffling involved) and it wasn’t the only time my tears caught me off guard (who knew I’d cry about the patient I initially loved to sneer at!) but it did remind me of some of the reasons why I never formally used my psychology degree.
Reason #1: Although I don’t cry a lot about my own stuff, I am a champion crier when it comes to pretty much anything else. Movies. TV shows. Songs. Books. When you cry about your stuff. When I think about your stuff and consider how brave, resilient, [insert any number of adjectives here] you were, are or are going to be. Who wants to come to therapy and feel like they need to console their therapist about their reaction to their patient’s problems?!
Reason #2: There would be certain types of people and life experiences where I just know I couldn’t remain impartial. ‘Oh, so you’re a child molester? Allow me to introduce you to another patient of mine, the one that keeps getting imprisoned for assault. I’m sure you’ll get along just fine.’
Reason #3: The goodbyes. See Reason #1.
Full disclosure: I started reading this book while my own therapist was on leave. Besides confirming my decision to not actually be a therapist (you’re so welcome, all of the people whose lives would have crossed my path in this way. I hope you found a Wendell instead!) I also got a glimpse of what it’s like behind the scenes for therapists, something I’ve always been interested in, something that’s difficult to obtain because of that pesky ‘confidentiality’ thing.
I’m not ashamed to say that I have my very own Wendell, who is awesome by the way. None of us get out of life unscathed and I think pretty much everyone could benefit from therapy at some point in their lives. One of the perks this book offers is a therapeutic ‘try before you buy’; if you’ve been considering therapy but are hesitant to schedule that initial appointment, then reading this book will give you some idea of what to expect – from the therapist, from the experience, and how it looks when it’s done right.
Sitting-with-you-in-your-pain is one of the rare experiences that people get in the protected space of a therapy room, but it’s very hard to give or get outside of it
I enjoyed Lori’s down to earth approach, her compassion and ability to bring truth to a situation, while still making me smile along the way. She humanises our experience of pain and even when she’s talking about her own therapy, her insight and openness had me smiling in recognition much more frequently than the narrative made me cry. Of her own therapy:
Yes, I’m seeking objectivity, but only because I’m convinced that objectivity will rule in my favor.
Of her therapist:
He looks at me meaningfully, like he just said something incredibly important and profound, but I kind of want to punch him.
A quote I love:
defenses serve a useful purpose. They shield people from injury … until they no longer need them. It’s in this ellipsis that therapists work.
People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn’t the absence of feelings; it’s a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings.
Oh, and I have to share this one too:
When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it. And having the future taken away is the mother of all plot twists. But if we spend the present trying to fix the past or control the future, we remain stuck in place, in perpetual regret.
I highlighted so many passages in this book that each time I started another binge read it felt like I was experiencing my very own mini therapy session. I saw myself in Lori and in her patients, even the initial ‘love to sneer at’ one, probably because I saw something of myself in them as well. I saw my own therapist in Wendell and felt probably too much pride in having found myself such an amazing ‘Wendell’ to help me navigate my presenting problem as well as the real issues behind the facade.
From the presenting problem to the “doorknob disclosures”, “what-aboutery” and self-sabotage, all the way to the “termination” (seriously, can therapists collectively find a less aggressive way to label someone’s graduation from therapy?), I ‘just one more chaptered’ my way through this book.
Although at times I felt voyeuristic, have some outstanding questions about Lori’s patients I’m not entitled to know but still want to (Would you please tell me John’s real name or at least the name of the TV show you kept referencing so I can binge watch it?) and had at least one ugly cry headache as a result of reading this book, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to pretty much anyone.
Much like the way Lori talks about who therapy can’t help, I think the only people who wouldn’t benefit in some way by reading this book are those “who aren’t curious about themselves.” I’ll leave you with what’s currently my favourite quote:
There’s no hierarchy of pain. Suffering shouldn’t be ranked, because pain is not a contest.
Content warnings include mention of suicidal ideation, addiction, mental health, grief, chronic illness and a whole pile of other reasons people seek therapy in the first place.
Once Upon a Blurb
One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose office she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.
As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients’ lives – a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys – she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.