Meet the Therapist Who Says Therapy Doesn’t Work

Los Angeles psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb knows what you’re thinking: Therapy doesn’t work. Open the door and you’re going to be there forever. It’s a waste of time because all you’re doing is talking.

In an interview about her new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed—a book that reads like a novel and reveals what really happens on both sides of the couch—Gottlieb agrees that therapy can’t do everything. But she also says that it can be a lot like porn. First, though, what therapy doesn’t do:

What therapy can’t do

Therapy can’t remove all the problems from your life. “But it can change the problem that you’re struggling with,” Gottlieb says. “You’re still going to face challenges in your life and you’re still going to have struggles, but you’ll be better able to cope with them, manage them, and make better choices about how to get through them.”

Therapy isn’t going to give you a personality transplant. “But it can help you adjust to the way you relate to yourself and other people,” she says. Which smooths the way for much easier communication and a much better day.

Therapy can’t change the other people in your life. But it can help you do something different than you’ve been doing. “That can influence the way they respond to you and you’ll probably get a better response,” she says.

Why it’s useful, anyway

“It’s kind of like pornography,” says Gottlieb. It goes beyond the fact that people are often equally reluctant to talk about their use of therapy and use of porn. “It’s kind of like you’re naked in both, and both have the potential to be extremely thrilling in different ways,” Gottlieb says. “There are a lot of heroic moments in therapy and there’s a sort of ecstasy in learning something about yourself that had been getting in your way.”

Therapists don’t think you’re a mess. Maybe there’s something you haven’t mastered right. You don’t have to hide it from your therapist. “When someone comes to therapy, I’m not seeing them as all a mess or all together. It’s kind of like I’m seeing snapshots, and in some they have their eyes closed and in others they look their best. I’m just seeing them as multifaceted.”

Therapy optimizes you. It’s rare that you can be successful without having your emotional life in order. Therapy is like a management class for your emotional life, which can be managed and optimized. And needs to be, Gottlieb says. “A lot of men who come to therapy are extremely successful, but something is going on and they want to get help before it spirals into something else.” Be that guy. If you’re having chest pain, you see a cardiologist. “Don’t wait until you’re having an equivalent of an emotional heart attack to see a therapist. You’re creating a lot of unnecessary suffering by waiting, and it’s going to take you longer to get back to where you want to be.”

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