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My Unsung Hero: A therapist remembers someone who comforted her on a bad day

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's turn now to "My Unsung Hero," a series from the podcast Hidden Brain. It's a collection of stories about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's installment comes from therapist and author Lori Gottlieb, remembering a particularly bad day at work. After she got the news that a beloved patient of hers had died, she excused herself to the bathroom. When she was alone, she started to break down.

LORI GOTTLIEB: As I'm crying in the bathroom, a person walks in who's dressed professionally, who I assume is another therapist on the floor. And she says, are you OK? And I said, yes, my - this patient that I was incredibly close with died. And even though I knew she was going to die, it's - the finality of it is really hitting me hard. And she was just so empathetic. She didn't really say a lot. She just sort of, oh, that must be so hard. I understand. Yeah, that's awful. You know, those kinds of things. But it was just that she connected with me, that she saw me, that I wasn't alone in my sadness for that minute.

The next day, sitting in the waiting room was a package for me. It had my name on it. So this person figured out, I guess, who I was. And it was a package of, like, bath salts and lovely teas and a chocolate bar. And it was not from another therapist. It was from another patient, somebody who had been coming to see another therapist on our floor who happened to be using the bathroom. And what she wrote in the note was that seeing me cry over the loss of my patient was profound for her because it reminded her how much her own therapist must care about her.

And she wanted me to know that patients care just as much about their own therapists. And she said that we therapists think of ourselves as taking care of our patients, but it looked like I needed someone to take care of me, too. And she wanted to do that for me. And she signed it, somebody else's patient.

GOTTLIEB: She wasn't expecting anything back from me. In fact, she signed her letter anonymously for that reason. She was making it very clear that there was nothing transactional about it at all. It was just human to human, I see you, I was there with you in your pain. And, you know, I hope you're doing OK. How beautiful is that?

KELLY: Really beautiful. Lori Gottlieb is the co-host of the podcast "Dear Therapist." Her latest book is called "Maybe You Should Talk To Someone." You can find more stories from "My Unsung Hero" wherever you get your podcasts. And to share the story of your unsung hero, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.