Well I am going to say right off the bat that this book is the most affecting and emotional work I have read in many long years. It reaches out in a subtle, gentle, yet compelling fashion to take the reader on a journey through the complexity of the human psyche – our thoughts, deep feelings, our nature. How we battle ourselves, how we create and suffer pain, and ultimately how we can endure if we can be vulnerable, accept help and face uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our lives.
The author, Lori Gottlieb, is a therapist in Los Angeles and this is the story of her life and work via the journeys taken by four of her patients – Charlotte, Rita, Julie and John (not their real names). Each of them has a different set of reasons for needing her services. There are issues that weigh heavily upon them all, most of which have roots that go far far deeper than it first appears. Lori uses many methods (of which she explains in a clear and easy to understand manner) to try to untangle the threads of their lives, to provide guidance and hopefully give each of them a way to cope and in most cases move forward.
At the same time that she is doing this, Lori herself is seeing a therapist, Wendall, as she tries to cope with a very unexpected break up. She moves from one side of the couch, from being the one who listens and gives advice, to the other, eventually pouring out all her hidden fears and anxieties.
It is a very interesting situation and juxtaposition. How can Lori give advice and offer care to those who are hurting when she herself is suffering from the same sorts of things? How can she separate herself and her own personal circumstances and troubles from that of her work with her patients? The other consideration is … should she? Can one helpfully inform the other? As a therapist herself you would think that she would recognize the behaviours in herself that she sees in Charlotte, Rita, Julie and John – and she does – but that does not prevent her from acting them out as she sits across from Wendall every week. I think that speaks to and illustrates the commonality of human experience and feeling.
Two of the words that came up a lot in my head when thinking about this book were ‘trust’ and ‘bravery’ from the perspective of both the therapist and patient. Each must display these qualities in relation to the other so that they are both open to talking AND listening. Interestingly it’s pointed out that a therapist knows more about the intimate nature of a person (not sexually or physically) than their spouse, family or close friends. This requires a level of raw honesty which can often be hard to achieve but is often the key to reaching the core of the issue/s.
The two stories that affected me the most were that of Julie and John. Each were suffering their own different tragedy and trying to navigate through and deal with the results of it. I felt deeply for both of them and at times wondered how they managed to keep going. The way that Lori describes each of their cases and how she walks with them on their road through the pain towards self truth is so accessible that you cannot help, as a reader, to become emotionally involved and to root for each of them to find some peace.
One particular moment found me in tears, sobbing so much that I had to put the book down to let myself weep. I knew it was coming, as did all those involved, but that did not diminish the intensity of what was taking place. I haven’t cried like that ever before when reading a book which speaks to the emotional connections that I found I had formed not only with Julie but the others as well. I am sure that I am not the only one to have felt this. You are invested in them and if we are being truly honest with ourselves, we see many of our own fears, roadblocks and anxieties in them.
I don’t really want to say too much in detail about the individual journey’s they take as part of the book’s effectiveness is you learning as they learn.
But this book is not all about sadness. It’s also about hope … hope and endurance of the human spirit. It speaks of allowing us to forgive ourselves and others after honesty. It speaks of the bravery of opening up and being vulnerable. It speaks of happiness (hard fought) and love. When you finish reading you feel hopeful for what is possible despite the hardships that we as people cope with.
This is an absolute must read. Please find yourselves a copy and join Lori, Rita, Charlotte, Julie and John. Following them on their journey is a very humbling, fulfilling and illuminating experience that shouldn’t be missed.
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)