I’ve been going to therapy for 26 years. That’s more than half my life.
I’ve been to every kind of therapy possible:
- Couples therapy
- Regular talk therapy
- Therapy for caregiving, grief and loss, confusion, money, financial stress, divorce, etc.
Sometimes it feels like homework. I have to think, “What bad thing happened in my life this week?”
Sometimes I have nothing to say.
And then I feel self-conscious. Am I supposed to come up with something bad?
What if I complain too much? What if my problems aren’t big enough? What if the therapist doesn’t like me?
These questions haunt me.
You can’t ask someone you pay or have some contractual relationship with, “Do you like me?”
You won’t get an honest answer. And it’s not just therapy. This is true for bosses and employees, your family-in-law, professors, personal trainers, clients, coaches, podcast guests, etc.
There are all these situations in life where we wonder. But don’t ask. And don’t know.
I could try to surrender. I could do positive self-talk and say, “Of course she likes you.” But I have a podcast.
So I got the answers instead.
Here are 3 questions I asked Lori Gottlieb, author of the upcoming book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”. Lori is a psychotherapist and columnist writing about what goes on behind the scenes of a therapy session.
Q1. “Do you ever NOT like a patient?”
“That’s such a good question,” she said. “Because that’s one of the things I remember thinking about before I went into this field. A supervisor said to me when I was training, ‘There’s something likable in everyone. It’s your job to find it.’”
I liked her answer. About finding something good in everyone. But I still wanted MY answer.
So I asked again.
“What’s an example where it was particularly difficult for you to like someone?”
A patient called her a hooker.
“He was this very self-entitled Hollywood producer. And at our very first session, he tells me he’s going to pay in cash because he doesn’t want his wife to know he’s seeing a therapist. And he says, ‘You’ll be like my mistress. I’ll just come here every week, dump all my problems on you and leave.’”
Then he corrected himself.
He said, “Actually, not my mistress. You’re more like my hooker because you’re not the kind of person I would choose as a mistress.”
“That was hard to like,” Lori said.
“Why would someone say that?” I asked.
“There’s a lot of cluelessness. And a lot of ways of pushing people away…”
I was still confused.
This guy is successful in his field. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in. If you’re at the top, then that would usually mean you know how to work with people. This guy would have to know how to work with directors, actors, studios, and so on.
This is why I’m not a therapist.
Because when friction happens, I get confused. And then I see this math problem in front of me. I keep trying to solve it. I erase and rework the problem. Erase. Rework. Over and over again.
Except people aren’t math problems.
They aren’t 2+2 = 4.
They’re XYZ happened when I was a child. But that’s in my subconscious because I was too young to even understand what was happening. And then I grew up and saw the same thing in my first relationship. So I responded by doing ABC. Because that’s what my mom did even though I hated when my mom did ABC.
None of the letters are clear.
People are like these paintings that just keep getting more paint on top.
“How could he be so clueless in this one case? And say something so tone deaf?”
“I think he’s more tone deaf, generally,” she said. “I mean, he can fake it at work. But he’s very impatient with people. Ya know, everyone’s an idiot in his mind.”
“So how did you find the likable in him? How did you find your way through the maze there?”
“Well, I think what you have to do is really get to know somebody. What my supervisor was saying was that once you get to know somebody deeply it’s very hard not to find something likable in them.”
I still had questions.
Because clearly some people really don’t like each other. That’s why divorces happen.
“In every relationship, if they just knew each other deeply, would they like each other?” I asked.
Lori didn’t say “yes.” But she didn’t say “no” either.
She said, “I think they would find something likable in the other person.”
So the whole goal is to look for the positive.
The point is you already know what you DON’T like. You can feel it in your body. It’s uncomfortable.
But can you find something likable? What if you pretend it’s your job… then can you?
It’s a choice.
Q2. “Do therapists ever Google their patients?”
In 99.999% of situations information = power.
Not in therapy. If you Google your patient, you now know things about them that they didn’t personally disclose to you.
And then you hide that information from them. It’s a secret that blocks the honesty, trust, and communication in the room.
In therapy, the only thing that matters is what’s said in the room.
“Whatever people do in the room, they inevitably do outside. We all do,” Lori said. “I do, too. Whatever I did with my therapist I did outside in the world.”
This didn’t stop me though. I kept trying to make the case for information.
“But wouldn’t it help if you knew the Hollywood producer made porn versus Disney movies?”
She gave me an example of Googling gone wrong.
“I Googled my therapist,” she said. “This was the first time I’d ever done that. I was at my computer, I typed in his name–and I had been seeing him for a while at that point. I wasn’t new to him–and I found out all of these things about him. And one of them was that his father had died suddenly at a young age.”
She had the knowledge. She knew something about him he didn’t say on his own. And she had to pretend she didn’t know.
Then, one day, she’s in a session talking about her own dad. “I was talking about how he was aging and I was having a hard time dealing with the fact that I’m worried he’s going to die.”
She’s saying all of this and realizes her dad is in his 80’s…
And she started thinking about her therapist. And how he never had a father in his 80’s.
“I edited myself,” she said. “Because I was worried that it would be painful for him.”
Part of the reason I go to a therapist is because I want to be honest. Sometimes I don’t even know what my honest feelings are about something until I’m in that room.
Because it’s the one place where I can think out loud, get feedback, be wrong, and self-correct.
It also slows me down. The average person speaks 125 words per minute. And thinks 1,000-3,000 words per minute.
You physically can’t be as irrational out loud as you can in your head. Talking helps.
“I eventually fessed up,” she said. “We had a conversation about it.”
They cleared the air. They talked. And she never Googled a person (patient or therapist) again.
Q3. “Do you ever feel like you’re not qualified?”
Therapists are like statisticians. Statistically, they’ve seen my problems way more than I’ve dealt with them.
Say, XYZ happened.
That’s the first time I’ve dealt with XYZ.
But someone like Lori has seen it a thousand times. So she’ll know that after XYZ happens, 90% of the time ABC happens.
I told Lori this theory.
And she disagreed. “It’s so relational. It’s sort of the opposite of the statistician. It’s very intimate.”
One of her patients was dying.
She had cancer. And she was young.
Lori never dealt with this before. She helped people dying in their old age. “But I had never done that with someone in their 30’s,” she said.
“Did you feel unqualified?”
“I did. I even told her I didn’t want to take her on as a client. But she didn’t want to be with what she called ‘the cancer team.’ She knew she was dying. And she wanted to be with someone who would see her as a person first and a cancer patient second. She wanted to talk about her life. And we went through an incredibly moving experience together. She was married. I think she had an experience with her husband, too. But I had a different experience with her that was, I think, in some ways, maybe just as intimate.”
When I’m done with a therapist, I stop showing up.
And then it’s embarrassing because sometimes I want to go back.
Lori talks to her clients about leaving. Not right away… but when it makes sense.
“I like to talk about termination with my patients. I like to check in and see ‘How are things going?’ And ‘What do we think is happening here? And how long do you think we need?’”
She wants people to be thinking about leaving.
“I want an open line of communication so people don’t have to feel like they’re staying when they don’t want to… or they’re not getting anything out of it…”
She doesn’t want people to disappear.
“I think those are sad endings,” she said.
She wants people to have a really fulfilling, satisfying goodbye.” Because that’s rare…
“Do you see a therapist now?” I asked.
“Not right now, no.”
“I went and I feel like I worked through what I needed to work through. I don’t think therapy is this thing where you put it in the oven and it’s baked and it’s done. I feel like you get to a place where you’re good now.”
That’s going to be my new reason for going to therapy.
I’ll still want the statistician. Even if Lori says that’s not the job.
But more than that, I want to be honest, unafraid and I want to be “good now.”
Links and Resources:
- Check out Lori’s website and sign up for her newsletter at Lorigottlieb.com
- You can preorder Lori’s next book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.” It comes out April 2, 2019
- Also check out Lori’s book from 2011, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” (This book is not about settling! She says “I didn’t win the title battle with the publisher. And I still get letters from people who say the book has helped them.” A lot of it has to do with saving your marriage or setting standards. And she wrote a column about this once, too.)
- “Dear Therapist” this is the column Lori writes for “The Atlantic.” You can submit a question for Lori here
- Follow Lori on Twitter and Facebook