Therapists, psychoanalysis, and psychiatrists tend to be notoriously anonymous. The less they reveal about themselves to their patients, the better… apparently. So you can sit in front of someone and ‘dump your shit on them’ for hours without knowing what they actually do to help you. A few books could give you an idea. For example, Irvin Yalom in Love Executioner (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) or Stephen Grosz in The Examined Life (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) compiled collections of case studies from decades of their practices to reveal their profession’s strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, you can’t help but notice that it is all written from this know-it-all male point of view. I realised it all becomes more exciting and relatable when the perspective shifts slightly.
Couples Therapy (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) offers an enthralling alternative. I almost squealed with excitement when I saw that the third season was finally out on BBC iPlayer. It’s been a long wait.
It is a fly-on-the-wall documentary series that offers unique access to a handful of real-life couples visiting the therapist’s consulting room across 15 to 20 sessions. We do not see it all as it is heavily edited to fit into scrumptious bite-size episodes. Still, the essence of their journey is there, brought down to the three essential stages: a problem, what lies underneath it, and what they can do about it. It is fascinating to untangle!!
At the series’ heart is psychologist and psychoanalyst Orna Guralnik, the woman that is hard for me not to have a crush on. She is an acute listener, a woman of wisdom, a voice of reason, a motherly love. I could trust her with my life.
Her presence allows the patients to shed their armour and, for the first time, become vulnerable. It is beautiful to observe as they connect on a different level. On the way there, often heartbreaking and devastating moments come to the surface. But essentially, everyone in that room is there because they care about each other. And since they do, there is a chance that with Guralnik’s skilful orchestration, they will start to untangle the problems that brought them to that point.
I believe this process is everything that Malgorzata Halber, a Polish writer, ever dreamed of when writing a Book about Love as she wished she knew what people are arguing about in relationships. I hope she watches Couples Therapy.
It is as far from the trashy reality-style TV programs as possibly imaginable. Instead, you watch a thoughtful documentary that offers insight into the most intimate aspects of people’s relationships. It is a beautiful and inspiring journey that leads to understanding. That allows patients to see each other from a new perspective. This is not to say that every relationship can be repaired. But with that new knowledge often comes a relief.
For confidentiality reasons, it is not often that you can see therapy from the patient’s perspective. Even less often, you see a therapist who admits they do not know it all. That is why Gurlanik’s regular catch-ups with her mentor and clinical adviser, Virginia Goldner, give us insight into her work and are fascinating to observe. Still, Guralnik remains anonymous despite the show’s popularity and only sheds a sliver of light on her personal life.
On the other hand, Lori Gotlieb, an LA-based writer and psychotherapist, shares everything with her reader! In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️), she exposes her vulnerability by describing how with years of experience under her belt, she ends up in therapy herself following an unexpected breakup with a man she meant to marry.
This book is somewhat a memoir and partly a selection of case studies from her own practice, showing you psychotherapy from both a patient’s and therapist’s perspective. It is written with enthusiasm, honesty, and humour, demonstrating that even psychotherapists and psychiatrists are only human, often with their own struggles, problems, and unanswered questions. Gottlieb underlines that therapy is never a unilateral exercise and admits that her work with her patients also helps her heal. There is a TV executive, John, whose sociopathic tendencies make him feel surrounded by idiots. Gottlieb also introduces you to Julie, a cancer patient who, to feel more alive, swaps her career at university for a cashier job at Trader Joe’s. You also meet Rita, who decided to commit suicide on her 75th birthday. I must admit that learning what other people struggle with in life and investigating the problems at their roots is better than reading true crime.
I can’t judge Gotlieb’s work as a therapist, but I can confidently say she is a great storyteller. Her patients are fully formed book characters whose story arcs are skillfully intertwined with her own, guided by her superhero therapist, Wendell. It makes for a compelling read.
A therapist’s vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency that emerge in Gotlieb’s memoir are even more apparent in a documentary directed and produced by Jonah Hill, Stutz (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️). This film gives you access to this unconventional therapy session as Hill, a well-known actor and director, twists it on its head. He wants to introduce his therapist Phil Stutz to the world to make The Tools he developed over the decades of his practice widely available. He is fascinated by Stutz’s methods that helped him overcome his darkest moments and deeply cares for him as a friend. But, instead of being treated, he reverses the role and starts asking Stutz questions about his life, family history, and Parkinson’s disease, which he has suffered since a very early age. This level of self-disclose is unheard of in psychotherapy. Still, Stutz does it to connect with the audience and better illustrate (literally) techniques that helped his patients change their lives. There are many, but those introduced in the documentary include “Life Force”, “Grateful Flow”, “Active Love”, and ‘The Shadow”. Most require you to close your eyes and use visualisation to change the perspective you see things. It is like re-wiring your brain through simple mindfulness exercises. It all seems too easy to be true. But I tried them, and they work!
I wouldn’t have loved it so much if this film were only about those techniques. But as you learn that the production of the documentary doesn’t go according to plan and Hill struggles with conveying those grand, multilayer ideas into a 90-minute film, something fascinating happens. By showing his vulnerability, Hill also allows you to look into his therapy with Stutz and opens up about his problems with low self-esteem and losing a loved one. From then on, observing these honest conversations and the warm relationship they have created is even more mesmerising. And beyond those practical techniques emerges the fundamental power of mutual healing. It is beautiful!
You can watch Stutz on Netflix. On the website The Tools, you can learn more about the techniques and how to use them. There is also a book under the same title Stutz co-wrote with Barry Michels.