Anyone providing a professional service where they interact directly with clients should read Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. I have no doubts that every professional has felt like a therapist with a sub-specialty of their “actual job” from time to time (if not all of the time). Gottlieb, a psychotherapist herself, interweaves the stories of four patients alongside her own experience in therapy following a traumatic breakup. The book shines a light on the day job of being a therapist, from wardrobe to tissue box passing techniques, as well as what it means to be a patient. Gottlieb is able to walk us through the history of the profession and explain a wide range of the concepts and approaches employed by practitioners in a delightfully conversational way. It is a truly remarkable work.
Here’s one of many insights that I’ve already been putting to use: idiot compassion vs. wise compassion.
Idiot compassion is what we do when a friend needs to vent and we take their side, backing them 100%. It’s passive in that we accept all emotions as truth and don’t challenge them or rock the boat. It’s “idiotic” because we’re the thoughtless idiot nodding along for the moment. There is a time and a place for this. We’ve all had client experiences where we know to just passively take their side and let them vent uninterrupted.
Wise compassion is what we do when a friend needs to vent, but – as Gottlieb says – we’re willing to drop a truth bomb when needed. It’s “wise” in the sense that we still listen intently, but if there’s a challenge to make that will help them gain perspective, we wisely make that call. We’ve all had client experiences where we know we need to proactively challenge their logic because there is something they need to hear. We are active and deliberate in these moments.
Idiot and wise compassion can work in both positive and negative directions too. Sometimes a person is too worked up, excited or sad, and we need to let them purge before it’s worth dropping the truth bomb. It’s ok to be an idiot temporarily. Other times, an overly positive or overly negative person needs the full dose of the counterweight to find balance. We can be wise and pull them back towards reality when and where it’s needed.
Therapy is about the aided self-discovery of the steps required to realize some desired objective. Professionally, isn’t that what we all do? We help people get what they want, even when the immediate options may be unclear or confusing to them. Until the person sitting across from us can say, “that’s right,” and not just to us, but to their own thoughts, they’re not there yet. It takes compassion to get there, together.
Gottlieb’s insights are far-reaching. Anyone with even a passing interest in getting better at listening, communicating, and driving progress will find something powerful in this book.