What Gives Me Optimism: Author and Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb

“What I get to see in my office is transformation — and it’s beautiful.”

As part of an ongoing series, Thrive is asking some of the most interesting people we know to tell us what’s been making them hopeful lately. Here’s what Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist, “Ask a Therapist” columnist for the Atlantic, and author of the forthcoming book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, said:

People often ask me if I find being a therapist draining — hearing difficult stories all day, talking to people who are going through especially hard times. And what I say is, “No, quite the opposite — it makes me a more optimistic person!”

What I get to see in my office is transformation. It’s almost like those National Geographic Channel shows that capture the embryonic development and birth of rare crocodiles, but I bear witness to the process in which humans, struggling to evolve, push against their shells until they quietly (but sometimes loudly) and slowly (but sometimes suddenly) crack open. And that’s beautiful and hopeful — even more so if it’s a hard won evolution.

When I first meet patients, they’re usually in pain and so they just want relief: Help me not to feel. They think that feeling less means feeling better. But what they discover is that trying to get rid of the feelings simply makes those feelings bigger. They need air, and once we allow our feelings some space, we find that we feel less constrained too. Then we can use these feelings like a map to guide us in a better direction — what do I need? What’s a more productive way of getting it? To watch someone come alive in this way makes me tremendously optimistic. I think I have one of the most hopeful jobs out there, in fact!

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