Author Q&A: Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Elena Bowes talked to LA-based writer Lori Gottlieb about her New York Times bestseller Maybe You Should Talk to Someone which is being adapted into a TV series with Eva Longoria and the creators of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series The Americans.
Gottlieb’s nonfiction book follows the lives of four patients in her psychotherapy practice. At the same time, the book also follows Gottlieb’s life, as she, devastated by a recent romantic split, ends up on the therapist’s couch herself. The book is honest, illuminating and very funny.
At what point did you decide that you
wanted to write this book?
Because I was starting out as a
therapist at the time, I felt that everything I was doing as a therapist felt
I wanted to write about the adults
that I was seeing in the therapy room. And (the publishers) said, ‘oh, you want to write a Happiness book?’ (big
laugh) I just couldn’t get myself to write that book,
it felt very superficial to what I was seeing every day in the therapy room.
And also I came to realise as a therapist, happiness as a by-product of living
your life in a fulfilling way, is what I think we’re
all striving for. But happiness as the goal in itself is a recipe for disaster
for most people. Eventually, I cancelled that book and I thought I just want to
bring people into the therapy room.
I didn’t know
that I would bring me in. I thought I would follow these four patients and that
would be the book that I wanted to write. Everybody can see themselves in other
peoples’ stories. But it also felt disingenuous not to
bring myself in. Because I say at the very beginning of the book, I’m a card-carrying member of the human race. That’s my greatest credential as a therapist.
So when I did sell the concept for
that book, nobody thought anyone was going to read it. Which gave me a lot of
freedom. I did not edit myself. I did not think ‘Oh, I
can’t put that in.’
I felt so few people were going to
read it and I wanted it to be completely raw and authentic.
You capture your characters so well.
The scenes with cantankerous John – a successful TV producer who thinks
everyone is an idiot – are hysterical. Is the character John really like the
man who sits on your couch every week?
It’s very much
him. Truth is stranger than fiction. When you’re a therapist,
he’s sort of par for the course. Once you are working
with someone so intensely for a long period of time, you know their voices.
I had chart notes as a clinician. I
didn’t keep the chart notes for the book. I fact
checked the chart notes certainly, but I didn’t pull
out the chart notes to write John. You don’t forget
You come off as quite human and flawed
in the book – stalking your ex and googling your therapist. They were very
enjoyable to read, very believable. Were those scenes fun to write?
Hmmmm. Really, not actually. They were
fun later. When I was writing them they were very painful. It was a really
painful time. When I’m writing I go back to the
emotional state that I was in so I can write those scenes in the realest way
possible. Now when I read them, there’s still a twinge
of pain, but I also think they’re very funny.
Have your patients on whom the
characters were based read your book and if so, what has been their reaction?
Yes. A common sentiment shared by all
of them was ‘I knew how much you cared about me when we
were working together, but I didn’t know the depth of
it.’ The genuine affection that I had for every single
person surprised them. It’s one thing to know and trust
that your therapist really likes you, it’s another
thing when you realise, ‘Oh, my therapist thinks about
me between sessions, my therapist is worried about me when I don’t show up.’ I think my patients were
very moved that I was so invested in them. This isn’t
unique to me. I think most therapists are very invested in the people they see.
I liked a comment you made in another
interview I saw on YouTube – when someone asked you – how do you know if
someone is the right therapist for you, you said, you need to have felt seen in
that first session.
Yes, we have that expression, ‘Did you feel seen when you were sitting in that session?’ It’s a vibe. Did you feel
understood, did you feel that the therapist was with you as you were talking.
What was the most challenging aspect
in writing this book?
It was actually a really easy book to
write because it was the book I wanted to write. So unlike the parenting or the
happiness book where it was really a struggle. When you’re
sharing something that you really want to share it comes very easily. It reads
like fiction, but it’s nonfiction so you know all the
stories ahead of time. You know everything because it’s
real life, you don’t have to invent anything, you don’t have to go through that creative process that people who
write fiction have to do. I knew the story, and I was so excited about sharing
the story. To me this was the story that I was meant to write.
Do you see yourself writing more
Yes, I have sold my next two books.
Can you tell me about them?
I want to tell stories that people
will see themselves in. In my next book I will explore how we love, and it will
be from the perspective of couples through the lens of my therapy office. About
60 per cent of my practice is couples.
How do you juggle it all? You have a
weekly column in the Atlantic, you’re launching a podcast, you see patients,
writing more books, you’re a single mom. Describe a typical day.
great is there’s no typical day for me. There are certain
structures – every Monday, I have to write my column. I’m
on an editing schedule with the Atlantic. I’m doing a
new podcast and we tape that on Saturdays – produced by Kate Couric called ‘Dear Therapists’. I have my
practice. Now I’m doing that from home. And I write for
other papers. And I have a son, a fantastic son.
What do you do for fun?
Everything that I just mentioned is
fun to me. I think that the joy of this hybrid career that I’ve
cobbled together is that every single thing I’m doing,
I love doing. I love writing my column, I love doing the podcast, I love seeing
my patients, I love doing these books, I love being a mom.
I play air hockey with my kid, I binge
watch TV shows, I read books without interruption, my son and I have been
taking these great walks together. We’re both really
into design and architecture so we pick different neighbourhoods in Los Angeles
to go to and we walk around and we have a lot of fun. We laugh a lot.