A vivacious portrait of a therapist from both sides of the couch.
With great empathy and compassion, psychotherapist and Atlantic columnist and contributing editor Gottlieb (Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, 2010, etc.) chronicles the many problems facing the “struggling humans” in her stable of therapy patients. The intimate connection between patient and therapist established through the experience of psychic suffering forms the core of the memoir, as the author plumbs the multifaceted themes of belonging, emotional pain, and healing. “Therapists…deal with the daily challenges of living just like everyone else….Our training has taught us theories and tools and techniques, but whirring beneath our hard-earned expertise is the fact that we know just how hard it is to be a person,” she writes. Through Gottlieb’s stories of her sessions with a wide array of clients, readers will identify with the author as both a mid-40s single mother and a perceptive, often humorous psychotherapist. In addition to its smooth, conversational tone and frank honesty, the book is also entertainingly voyeuristic, as readers get to eavesdrop on Gottlieb’s therapy sessions with intriguing patients in all states of distress. She also includes tales of her appointments with her own therapist, whom she turned to in her time of personal crisis. Success stories sit alongside poignant profiles of a newly married cancer patient’s desperation, a divorced woman with a stern ultimatum for her future, and women who seem stuck in a cycle of unchecked alcoholism or toxic relationships. These episodes afford Gottlieb time for insightful reflection and self-analysis, and she also imparts eye-opening insider details on how patients perceive their therapists and the many unscripted rules psychotherapists must live by, especially when spotted in public (“often when patients see our humanity, they leave us”). Throughout, the author puts a very human face on the delicate yet intensive process of psychotherapy while baring her own demons.
Saturated with self-awareness and compassion, this is an irresistibly addictive tour of the human condition.