“Maybe You Should Talk To Someone” by Lori Gottlieb

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Genre                 : Nonfiction
Autobiography :  (Memoir)
Published          : April 2, 2019           (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Media type      : Print (hardcover)
Pages               : 432
ISBN                 : 9781328662057

LORI GOTTLIEB is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author of MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE, which is being adapted for TV with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to the New York Times.

Summary of  “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone”  by Lori Gottlieb, 2019

Summarized by George Jacobs of HealthPartners.sg

Everyone has problems and doubts in their lives. Everyone faces difficulties and sadness. The situation may even be worse today: some studies indicate increased rates of loneliness and depression. What can people do?

People can talk to other people. Sometimes, just talking to others provides relief, even if the people we talk to offer no useful suggestions, even if all they do is listen with empathy. Fortunately, social connections provide many people to talk with. Health researchers Dr Dean and Anne Ornish, in their book Undo It!: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases, recommend a four-pronged strategy for health: eat a plant-based diet, exercise regularly, reduce stress, and, perhaps most important of all, people should build and mobilize social connections.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, too many people suffer from weak social connections. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is a book about one type of social connection: with a professional therapist. This can be a very useful social connection, although therapist normally charge money, do not know us, and will not stay connected with us after the therapy ends. The book’s author, Lori Gottlieb, is a trained clinical psychologist and a very good writer.

Of course, writing becomes easier when writers have interesting topics, and Gottlieb does. Mostly, the book consists of true stories (with people’s names changed) from her therapy, stories both of her patients with her as therapist and of her as patient with someone else as therapist. Gottlieb also teaches us about the current rules and common practices of therapists, as well as theories and models she uses to support her patients.

Two of Gottlieb’s patients’ stories stood out for me. One patient, Julie, is a young woman with very bad luck. She gets cancer, overcomes it, off and on for years, until cancer finally kills her. One memorable part of Julie’s story comes when she discovers the fictional story, “Welcome to Holland” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welcome_to_Holland – about people who carefully plan a holiday in Italy. However, their plane lands in Holland, and they cannot not get to Italy. At first, the travelers feel very sad about being in Holland, but their sadness turns to joy as they adopt to the different country.

“Welcome to Holland” suggests that we should be flexible and look at the bright side of the situations we find ourselves in. For instance, many people who follow plant-based diets feel very disappointed when their social connections continue to eat meat and other foods from animals. After all, the many benefits of plant-based diets for health, environment, animals, etc. seem so obvious to us. Nonetheless, benefits of meat-eating social connections do exist, for example, our meat-eating connections can test food for us to see whether or not it actually is plant-based, and meat-eaters help us learn new ways of convincing people to change their diets, as well as new dishes to show them that plant-based food can be delicious, convenient, and affordable.

Another memorable story in the book tells about Rita, a talented, healthy woman in her 60s who feels very lonely. Rita is thrice divorced, with four grown children from her first marriage. Unfortunately, Rita’s children want nothing to do with her, because when they were young, Rita did not defend them against their abusive father. The book shows how Gottlieb guides Rita to find new social connections and eventually re-establish tentative connections with her own children.

One of the psychologists whom Gottlieb highlights in the book is Victor Frankl. Frankl disagreed with the dominant view in psychology that finding pleasure constitutes people’s main motivation in life. Frankl believed that instead people are mainly motivated to find meaning in their lives. In other words, people want to believe that what they do matters, that they are making the world a better place.

An example of someone with this meaning-based view is Loh Yeow Nguan, one of the founders of healthpartners.sg. Yeow talks about being mission-driven. For instance, helping our fellow animals is among his missions. One way he has helped animals is working with Singapore’s Cat Welfare Society, in addition to adopting abandoned cats. At the same time Yeow pursues his missions, he also enjoys various pleasures, such as tasty food, the camaraderie of other activists, entertaining videos, and the joys of exercising in nature. Thus, meaning and pleasure can co-exist.

Psychologists develop models to enable them to better help others and themselves. One model that Gottlieb applies regularly in her therapy is the transtheoretical model of change. This model consists of five stages. Stage 1 is the pre-contemplation stage: people have not even considered the change yet. Stage 2, the contemplation stage, occurs when people begin to consider whether to make the change. The next stage, Stage 3, involves preparing to carry out the change. Then, in Stage 4, people actually do take action and make the change. Stage 5, perhaps the most difficult stage, takes place as people struggle to maintain the change.

Referring back to the Ornishes’ four-pronged strategy for health, Move More is one the prongs. Here is an example of people changing to move more. In Stage 1, people are not even thinking about exercising. In Stage 2, they contemplate starting to exercise; maybe a family member invites them to workout together. Stage 3, preparation, takes place as they work on their schedule to find time to workout, and they consider what types of exercise they might enjoy. In Stage 4, they begin exercising, and in Stage 5, they find ways to stick with their exercise program, even it means making adjustments in their lives, perhaps by finding more people who can exercise with them.

The role of diet in mental health is one area not covered in the book. Fortunately, evidence exists that whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diets boost mental health. For example, this free, non-commercial podcast reviews the scientific evidence on why people feel happier when they eat smarter: https://nutritionfacts.org/audio/happier-and-healthier. Also, learning and trying out new WFPB dishes offers a great way to build social connections.

To conclude, the stories and advice in Maybe You Should Talk To Someone made me feel surprised, happy, sad, and inspired. Plus, they reminded me how important it is to talk to others, even if they are not professional therapists. The HealthPartners.sg website has free information on connecting with others via reading aloud, helping children create their own books, and sharing life stories.