Lori Gottlieb

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone:  A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed is a memoir that takes the reader behind the closed doors of therapists’ offices and into the relationships that are formed between therapists and their patients.  The author and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, most familiar to readers as the writer of The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column, explores the science, the role, and the goals of psychotherapy through her first-person narration.  The memoir is written chronologically with occasional flashbacks and is broken up into four parts, each progressively exposing more about Gottlieb’s and her patients’ experiences.

Though written by a therapist, the book approaches the therapeutic relationship from all angles.  Just as we see Gottlieb in her role as a therapist in Los Angeles, we also see her on the other side of the couch as a patient.  Coming to therapy in the midst of a breakup, she details her own struggles and relationships.  Interspersed between her sessions with Wendell, a therapist she deftly describes as one from “Therapist Central Casting,” and her own appointments with patients is Gottlieb’s long journey to becoming a therapist (including brief stops in Hollywood and in medical school) and how she came to understand the power of interpersonal relationships. 

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Diary


Gottlieb, nearing thirty years old, discovered her childhood diaries in a closet in her parents' home as she searched for some chemistry notes to aid in her quest to attend medical school. This book is "based on diaries" she wrote when she was diagnosed with and underwent treatment for anorexia nervosa. It is the writing of a precocious, strong-willed preteen who enjoys chess, being unique, writing, and getting straight A's in school, yet who is lonely and desperate to fit in and be popular.

Lori is eleven years old, lives in Beverly Hills, California with her fashion-conscious, loves-to-shop mother, her somewhat distant stockbroker father, her older brother David who now is into music and friends and not-Lori, and her best friend Chrissy, a pet parakeet. Lori's diary entries are filled with astute observations of adults (teachers, parents, relatives, medical personnel, even a television star she meets, Jaclyn Smith) and classmates.

She is wry and witty. An early entry gives an English essay she rewrote to get an "A". These "power paragraphs" are generously and hilariously sprinkled with "proper transitions" such as "to begin with", "moreover", and "on the other hand" that her teacher insists are necessary for readability. This essay provides telling insights about Lori's perceptions of her family, particularly (note transition word) her mother's superficiality.

Lori is surrounded by messages of the glories of thinness for women. Every female she encounters, from peer to adult, is on a diet, counts calories, avoids desserts and gossips about how other women and girls look. The culture is not only anti-obesity, but pro-superthinness. Hence it is logical that Lori, angry about being taken from school to go on a family trip to Washington, D.C., begins her rebellion and search for control by skipping meals and dieting.

She gets the attention she craves from her parents. Her schoolmates ask her for diet advice and admire her weight loss. Self-denial, obsession with calories (that she believes can even be gained by breathing), and secret exercising lead to an alarming weight loss in this already skinny kid.

Her mother takes her to the pediatrician, who prescribes whole milk which Lori refuses. He refers her to a psychiatrist, who eventually hospitalizes her for behavior modification, observation, and a possible feeding tube. At the hospital, Lori meets medical students, nurses and fellow patients, but becomes progressively more depressed, dehydrated and lonely. She attempts to run away and makes a suicide gesture. Finally, she sees herself for what she has become--an emaciated stick figure.

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