One of the most daunting aspects of therapy is connecting with your therapist. They’re not a friend, acquaintance, family member, date, employee or co-worker. But they’re not a stranger. They’re most likely the only person in your life that occupies a very specific role. And unique roles sometimes require augmented behavior. So we’re beginning our new How to Behave series with a question we’ve always thought about but never knew who to ask. We went to psychotherapist and New York Times best selling author Lori Gottlieb to start the series.
Brightest Young Things: How should people behave in therapy?
Lori Gottlieb: They should be themselves and they should be honest.
I think that a lot of people come to therapy and naturally they want the therapist to like them. I wanted my therapist to like me too. When I would leave and I’d see somebody else in the waiting room, I’d think, “I wonder if he likes her sessions better mine, I was such a downer today.” I thought those kinds of things even though I know better because I’m a therapist, but I think that a lot of people want to almost entertain their therapist.
What I really want people to know is that the best way for us to help you, and also we’re going to like you more, is if you show us who you really are, if you don’t run away from us, if you come in and you’re curious and you work hard and you’re just yourself. You’re not trying to be performative in any way and you’re honest about your life, even though sometimes it’s hard to talk about various aspects of your life.
BYT: What if you’re going to therapy because you don’t really know who you are?
L.G.: I think there’s still a part of you that knows the difference between being authentic and being inauthentic.
BYT: Do you think you’re able to suss that out within, like say five sessions?
L.G.: I think it’s apparent when people are being inauthentic. I think even not being a therapist, if you’re out in the world, you can probably tell pretty quickly. Most people are not great actors, so they can’t really sustain that for very long.
For more with Gottlieb, listen to her on the newest episode of BYT Radio. Her newest book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist and Our Lives Revealed was released April 2. Read her Dear Therapist columns for The Atlantic.