June 26, 2019

I Worry About Lori

I worry about Lori Gottlieb, which makes no sense in the public scheme of things.

My neighbor and occasional colleague has become both a famous author and advice columnist since her first hit book, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in 2010. Her hot new book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” likely also will become a best-seller. Her “Dear Therapist” column in The Atlantic has become a conversation piece among friends. She is scaling a steep career trajectory gracefully while remaining a good daughter, single mother, writer and psychotherapist. (Disclosure: I recently coached her son for his bar mitzvah and he seems to be thriving amid his mother’s success.)

But when I read “Marry Him” almost a decade ago, I feared for her romantic life. The very title made me cringe. How might the right guy regard a woman who measured men in this way? Admittedly, the painful search and self-assessment that ensued in the book, her self-reckonings at the hands of coaches and counselors, redeemed the protagonist for this reader. I recommended the book to many successful single girlfriends who were starving for an elusive, most desirable “one.” And controversy certainly enhanced her book sales.

Now, after reading “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” its writing precipitated by a romantic heartbreak, I fear for her career as a therapist. Gottlieb has created a page-turner about a therapist in therapy in the first person, making it memoir-esque, with all the names changed except her own and her son’s. These patients agreed to have their tales told, merged, telescoped and dramatized, and I assume Gottlieb has done the same with her own. Her story, dovetailing throughout the book with her clients’ stories, is a hybrid of factual and fictional, too. The self-exposure in her new book seems curated, studied, perfected. This persona self-deprecates, is unconditionally loving, confesses to blind spots and realizations, making the book feel vulnerable, human, accessible, heroic. It’s a terrific characterization.

“Certainly, patients and therapists are guilty of Googling one another all the time, but knowing too much about your therapist is a little like reading the last page of a mystery thriller before you’ve read the rest of the book. “

But I’m not sure I would want to confide in a therapist who liberally used my pain as fodder for her books or who was a famous character in her own notable books. Certainly, patients and therapists are guilty of Googling one another all the time, but knowing too much about your therapist is a little like reading the last page of a mystery thriller before you’ve read the rest of the book. I’d prefer my therapist’s outer life not contaminate the evolution of our shared inner life within our sessions. I’d want to know my therapist is smart, but his or her notoriety could be a deterrent to my surrender, to my transference. I prefer a greater degree of tabula rasa an old-school psychotherapist presents so that I can see my own mechanisms in progress. After her current press swing, Gottlieb will be far from anyone’s blank page. And some potential clients might prefer her renown to her anonymity.

In the new book, like the renegade magician who explains the classic tricks of the trade, Gottlieb demystifies the genius of her profession, the tricks behind her sleight of hand. Unflappable, she allows patients’ often insulting projections onto her, while noticing she’s projecting onto her own therapist. For those considering therapy, her book is very educational, moving, inspiring and entertaining. For those considering Lori Gottlieb, it could be a problem.


Melanie Chartoff has acted on Broadway and television, and is featured in the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family.”