The reason therapy doesn’t work

My brothers are always the first people to send an email to say I misinterpreted research that I’m linking to. (Which I accept as a love note to let me know they read my posts.) So last week when my brother sent me a link he thought I’d like, he also sent me a summary:

There are more men in STEM careers than women, which of course you already know. But the real reason we can’t solve the gender gap in STEM careers is shocking. At the time they enter into college, there are actually many more women who are qualified for STEM careers than men. However the majority of qualified women choose to do non-STEM majors in college. While the majority of men who are qualified for STEM careers choose STEM majors. So, it turns out that the researchers have found that the gap between men and women in STEM careers exists because men who are not qualified for STEM careers simply do not go to college. 

So, women and men are very similar at STEM, but men not in STEM cannot get into college. Which means the reason we can’t solve the gender gap in STEM careers is not anything people could have ever imagined.

What’s striking about this research is we’ve asked the wrong question. We have been asking why aren’t women going into STEM, but the truth is women don’t want to go into STEM. They go into fields they like.

This is a very similar issue to the question of why aren’t there more women leading companies. In both cases, we assume that men and women want the same thing, and some nefarious forces make women not as successful in male-dominated fields. In fact, women are in control of their lives and they are making choices they want.

So the real question should be why do we celebrate choices men typically make and castigate choices typical of women?

Anyway, most of the problems we wrestle with are problems we don’t understand. And this is why I think therapy doesn’t work.

For example, for the last year I have been decorating my new apartment obsessively. I’ve been through three sofas and six colors with Maria Killam because I can’t bear to pick any paint color without her. She is so famous now that I don’t even know if you can talk to her directly any more. But I have known her long enough to send texts like, “Please call me right away. It’s an emergency. I only have one hour to pick a new paint color for my living room or I will literally die.”

My therapist tells me that OCD is not just doing things, it’s also thinking things. I tell my therapist I think I am OCD about decorating. Like I missed an appointment with said therapist because I couldn’t stop looking for a chandelier that would look good against Palladian Blue

We get nowhere in therapy. And the next week I’m onto a different topic because who cares if it’s OCD because I’m still going to use grocery money to buy picture frames. And anyway we have to talk about why I keep forgetting my appointment time. “Is there something that is scaring you about coming here?” he asks.

Why do I need a therapist to ask me the most obvious question in the whole world? I have been to enough therapy that I can ask that question myself. That’s the whole point – the therapist asks you the same types of questions week after week until you internalize the therapist’s voice and ask the questions yourself.

As a person who coaches with no training or certification or whatever, I can ask non-standard questions: Are you gay? Why are you not making more money? What is the point of living there? How much money does your spouse make? When do you think you’ll have time to take care of kids?

I don’t feel limited to getting the answers from the person I’m coaching. I don’t need to say, What is keeping you from getting a promotion? I can just go straight to I can tell your boss hates you.

The result is that at the end of the one-hour session every person says some version of, “I never imagined that this is what we would talk about, but I really appreciate it.”

People don’t know what they need help with. I didn’t realize this until I started coaching people regularly. And recently I realized it’s me, too. I go to therapy every week and have no idea how to prioritize my problems. After all, if I could see them, I could probably deal with them, too. 

Lauren came to visit for three days. She’s my only friend who is a life coach. I used to have a lot of friends who are investors. And when we had lunch I was never sure if I was hanging out with them or pitching them for my next round of funding.  That’s how I feel spending time with Lauren – I never know if we are being friends or if she is being my coach.

But this time I knew: I told her I’m having a really difficult time keeping to a schedule. I wrote our schedules down — each of the boys and mine as well. We have every minute of every single day scheduled and still I mess it up.

I told her things change too much. Or I have dyslexia for numbers. Or I worry too much. Or the boys don’t watch the clock. Everything. Everything is wrong.

I tell Lauren this while we walk to the place where my younger son practices piano. But we are late.

Because I was on the phone with Melissa.

I ask Lauren what’s wrong.

“Each time we’re late it’s because you let your emotions build up until it’s unbearable. You were so upset with Melissa you had to stop everything to call her.”

She’s right. It’s so clear when she says it but I couldn’t see it. I can list a lot of problems I have, but I wouldn’t have listed that there’s no time to be me. 

Part of me hates writing this because it’s so cliched that a working mother of two kids is not making time in the schedule for herself. I hate being so obvious. But what I really hate is not knowing what questions to ask. My life is the STEM gap and the CEO gap and all the other gaps between the questions we ask and the real trouble that we face.

I want to make my learning cycle faster by asking better questions. But I think I’ve hit a wall. And now I see why so many people are in therapy for years and yet they’re getting nothing done: Therapy only works when we know the questions to bring to the therapist. When we bring ancillary issues to the therapist then we spend all our therapy time on ancillary issues. The best coaching comes from someone who sidesteps the issues we present to them and goes after the issues that matter.

So now I know why I’m frustrated with therapy: each week we can only talk about the problems I can see. The help each of us needs is to talk about the things we don’t see.

61 replies
  1. sarah
    sarah says:

    I think, the real question is why don’t you choose therapists that know how to ask the right question? You continously choose therapist who act this way.

    Because, change is hard, and scary. To find someone capable of asking the right questions you have to be willing to do the scary work, and most people are to weak. When people call for your coaching, they all think their conversation won’t be life altering, if they knew it was going to be, they wouldn’t call. The thought of a ‘untrained’ career coach is not scary. The thought of a trained therapist who can get through your BS, is.

    There are therapist who are to scared to get the proper training to push their clients. Those are the ones you find.

    Not for the sake of our conversation, but for the sake of anyone wanting to know, here is how I find a therapist. And I think I should know, I see 4 per week.

    1. The have to be trained in EMDR. If they are not, its a waste of your time.

    2. They should do some type of ‘parts work’, be familiar with it, or know how to help with childhood bonding issues. If you have trauma outside of childhood, like from a war, bonding work is not essential.

    3. If you can’t find a therapist that does all 3, its fine, but you should add one who does neurofeedback. Watch out for qualifications. Nothing regulates neurofeedback at the moment. I prefer to only work with people from here:

    The fact is, in about 2-3 years, you won’t be cycling around the same issues. Your brain will click. But first you have to get past the scary part.

  2. 499lake
    499lake says:

    Therapy works only if you have the right therapist for you and you are willing to work hard at understanding why you make decisions the way you do.
    I was in therapy for 20 years with the old school therapists. Their style did not result in change. They failed to ask the right questions and were never direct.
    Finally, after a conversion disorder, I found the right therapist for me. Even though I was telling him the same stories about my life, I was able to see them in a different light. This resulted in my ability to make decisions that better reflected my priorities, ones that were squashed as a child. I finally grasped how being raised by two narcissists had changed my life. Even though it took 7 years with the right therapists, I now go about my life less hindered by their destructive influence. It is an enormous relief to see what has had made me tick.

  3. Maria Miccoli
    Maria Miccoli says:

    It’s Sunday morning and I’m reading your blog post while a client who woke me up at 8am with a need for video conferencing. I rescheduled until 9am so I can have coffee and brush my hair. It’s 10 a.m. and the client is still figuring out the sound part of the video conferencing.

    While waiting, I read some of the responses to my Facebook posts that were too honest and now I feel triggered. I’m in a coffee shop so there’s nobody to talk to that wouldn’t think I’m weird. I need a therapist. Instead I’m reading your post.

    When I used to sign up for free therapy (because that was what my budget allowed) through the community service, there was a limit to the number of sessions ranging between 3 to 6 sessions.

    What can be accomplished with so few session? I had to set goals as to what I needed accomplished and segment the therapy to that goal. Once, during a 6 session therapy stint, I wanted to tackle my writer’s block. I wanted to be a writer, I felt it in my bones, but I also felt a hand on my sternum holding me back.

    The therapist spoke french. I decided to kill 2 birds with 1 stone and do the therapy in French so I could practice my native language.

    We talked about everything, starting with my french speaking mother who was my main abuser, my father who defended her while putting me down, male bosses who fat shamed me and made stupid comments while their companies were going up in flames. Pretty much everything that was pissing me off.

    I wrote my first poem after that, with a line that had been coming to me for 10 years, then the second poem about my mother in french and the cruel words she used, then the third in Italian quoting my father based on a memory. It was the most productive 6 sessions ever. The writing flowed after that.

    I think setting goals in therapy, specific goals and intentions, even if the subject matter strays from it can be very effective.

    As for schedules, I just write the goal and if I have an appointment the time for that appointment but that’s it. I leave the rest of the day to addressing what needs to be done that leads me to the ultimate goal.

    I don’t wear a watch. If I need to be at a meeting, I get there early with my entire office with me so I can keep working while waiting for the meeting (my laptop, cell phone, books). Since I rv full time, I literally take my whole house with me and park next to my next appointment or take the bus to the appointment (if it’s downtown) and bring my office with me so I spend the whole day at the location until the appointment time (say if it’s at a coffee shop) .

    So the appointment comes to me instead of me going to the appointment. I just position myself at the location of the appointment.

    But then again, my child is grown. When my child was the age of your children and I was a single mom, I was late all the time.

    So the only thing you can control is the guilt. These things happen.

    As for interior decorating, go with a theme instead of a color scheme. Like french country, or modern, etc… and whatever color you choose will fit fine with the theme. I learned as much as I LOVE certain patterns, they stress me out and I can only handle plain suptle colors that calm my spirit. White reflects light. Silver is the insulation I use, so I found pink accents help cheer things up, pink flower garlands with LED lights.

    I don’t worry about the colors of things otherwise, I just don’t invite anyone home.

  4. Jay
    Jay says:

    “the truth is women don’t want to go into STEM. They go into fields they like. This is a very similar issue to the question of why aren’t there more women leading companies. In both cases, we assume that men and women want the same thing, and some nefarious forces make women not as successful in male-dominated fields. In fact, women are in control of their lives and they are making choices they want.”

    women will also choose to go into professions where they are not systematically sidelined or mistreated or sexually harassed. Are you missing all those articles? Studies? The women online literally fucking screaming into their screens about this? Did that all just filter through you like its goobledegook?

    Just curious: But are you only reading studies that you would prefer to be true? It’s very easy to find the studies that cater to your bias but it’s honestly like you don’t even watch the news. Or even read articles. Or everything you read literally is bent to fit the shape of your bias.

    And are things only true and valid if it comes from a study? There are also study/studies about how science itself has inherent bias and that scientists are not super human logical bots but have default cultural biases. But since that kind of study doesn’t cater to your specific biases perhaps it’s of no interest.


  5. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Counseling doesn’t work when you don’t have the right counselor, just like when relationships don’t work. But also, just like with relationships, you have to be ready. If not ready to face something, then the therapist knows pushing isn’t going to work.

    I think the issue most people have is not a problem, but *tolerance* for that problem. (This is how to separate healthy behavior from people who grew up feeling loved and valued, and those who didn’t.) The latter may identify unhappiness about something in their lives but they don’t see a way for it to change. They can only see the problem changing if the other party stops doing or starts doing whatever.

    And people learn to tolerate what they’ve experienced as kids. This is where therapy is handy because it begins unpacking dynamics and choices.

    Going through life is like driving. If you’re on the road behind someone who’s driving slow and braking a lot, it’s really annoying, and you can curse and motion for them to move but they won’t. The only two choices are to either accept the way they are driving and be at peace with that, or to move around them. That’s how to deal with people in our lives doing a behavior we don’t like. Accept it, or move away from it. Don’t bank on them changing.

    There’s an added difficulty if you’re not “neurotypical” and have, say, ADD. Because the wiring in the brain that allows focus to be shifted is broken, and thus people with ADD have a really hard time shifting focus to either a transition, like stopping what you’re doing to do something else, or locked in an emotion or rumination. It’s not faulty or weak character, it’s part of wiring. The only way to get better at that is to practice mindfulness meditation because it is like weightlifting for the brain’s focus.

    Therapy does work but it might have to involve multiple people. And folks have to feel safe, supported and ready, not just with the counselor but in their lives. And they have to stop feeling comfortable with the bad behavior they tolerate, so they stop tolerating it. (Spoken from someone who took eons to get there.)❤️

    • Alan Beach
      Alan Beach says:

      Hannah made several excellent points…therapy does help, does work, when you find someone who matches what you both need and want to work on…
      In my experience as a counselor and therapist, ASD always predicts some combination of anxiety and OCD traits, and ADD too…executive functioning is always complicated as stress levels increase…and stress increases as you get more social and relational challenges and successes… “no good deed shall go unpunished!” :)

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        When I see anxiety, OCD and ADHD I think duh, of course its autism spectrum disorder. But so many people tell me that you can have those three things and not autism. Its just absurd to me how much denial I encounter. So I like your comment. You remind me I’m not nuts when people tell me there’s no ASD.


  6. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Btw, I’m obsessed with finding nice house stuff too. Part of that is from a core of wanting to feel safety at home, from not feeling it when growing up. So the brain focuses on making things “just right” since we were powerless as kids but empowered now, and it surfaces in decorating.❤️

  7. Nur
    Nur says:

    Pick a chandelier that’s the color of witching hour, woodmont cream, rural earth or brandy cream.
    Although, personally, I’d choose the stonecutter.
    I love the names.

    By the way, I started therapy recently with a psychologist, which is new for me (only tried with psychiatrists).
    I made the excuse that we talked about the same over things because we were getting to know each other for two months, but I guess I am obsessed about the same things all the time. If you can get to a point under an hour… how do you cut through all the chatter to the bone? How can I stop seeing all the flesh around my problems and ask myself new questions every day? I’d love to read about that…

    • Nur
      Nur says:

      I guess I am asking this question as a writer as well. Sometimes I feel I don’t know if I’m focusing on the real topic.

  8. Stefanie Rosen
    Stefanie Rosen says:

    You are describing the difference between psychoanalytically oriented therapy and solution-focused therapy. The analytic approach is specifically about using presenting issues as a window into what is happening on a deeper, systemic level. I agree with the previous poster who said this process can be scary and you have to be with a therapist who isn’t afraid to go to the dark, confusing, hopeless, helpless places that keep people stuck. People with an OCD diagnosis are often pointed toward behavioral type therapies when deep work is what’s called for to uncover why the obsessive/compulsive behaviors make sense as a coping solution to early trauma.

    • Kathy Berman
      Kathy Berman says:

      I agree with Stefanie. 11/24/2017 begins my 42nd year in addiction recovery. Short term (4-8 sessions), goal-directed (determined by you and counselor), reality based (living in today). Talk therapy with no direction is great for lousy therapists.
      I am reading A Spy’s Guide to Thinking by John Braddock (Kindle). Thinking involves Data-Analysis-Decision-Action. Without action, thinking is useless.
      Maybe use several therapists for short term therapy. Interview them first. At 2nd session, work out game plan.
      I recommended codependency therapy before. It can be self-taught. But you have to be willing to take the action.
      Check out Adult Child of Alcoholics Red Book.
      Changed my life after 35 years of recovery. Mindblower. My main addiction has always been to healing my birth family. Had some success but I let go in order to save myself.

  9. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    When my first marriage was still pretty new we were already on the rocks. I was in over my head and I knew it. So I called the Dr. Laura radio show, and I actually got on the air. She said frequently on her show that she didn’t do therapy — she got to the heart of the matter, and fast.

    I don’t fully remember what problem I told her we were having. She asked some background questions, including how old I was and how old my wife was. When I said that my wife was almost seven years older than me, there was a pause. And then she asked a couple more questions related to our age difference.

    And then she said something that shocked me: that I married her because I wasn’t confident enough in myself to stand on my own two feet, and she was too frightened of being dominated to let herself be married to a “real” man.

    She had us pegged. Oh god, it was spot on. But I couldn’t cope with that news. I wasn’t ready for that bombshell.

    I got some therapy some time later that helped me start to slowly see it. It took some time. It took a lot of gentle pushing and patience on the part of my therapist. By the time that therapy ended I could face those facts. Unfortunately, by this time we had two sons and I felt locked in, and tried to make it work, and ultimately failed. (FWIW, my wife was fully invested in blaming me for our troubles and was uninterested in looking at how she was contributing.)

    So that, then, is what therapy is for: helping you see your blind spots. Sometimes the therapist can see them and lead you there, and sometimes the therapist can’t and can only help you talk through to discover them on your own.

    I think this is a separate function from coaching. At the moment I’m slogging my way through some shit in my personal life and I could probably use some coaching. If some blunt statements were to come out of that, I feel confident that I would be ready to take it and do something positive with it.

  10. BH
    BH says:

    I know someone who has spent decades in therapy. Can’t understand that. If it was helping at all, it wouldn’t take that long. Unless the point isn’t actually to resolve a problem, so much as just having someone to talk to. But it can’t help that she’s convinced she’s way smarter than every therapist she ever had.

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      I know someone who has been in analysis for over 24 years, and he’s a mess. Anxious, reactive, emotionally explosive, sex obsessed, often self destructive. And goes 2+ times a week (with no insurance, so imagine the $$$ to experience Freud). That does not sell me on traditional psychoanalysis. Though perhaps he’d have been a bigger mess without it? Hard to imagine that, though…

      • selenium
        selenium says:

        My parents were in analysis for 20 years. I think they loved the ambiance of it–abstract art, classical music and The New Yorker in the waiting room–and us kids knew it was all bs. We hate that analyst so much. Tens of thousands of dollars on nothing.

  11. Marsha
    Marsha says:

    “The help each of us needs is to talk about the things we don’t see.” That’s why I read what you write. You help me see things differently. Thanks!!

  12. Michael LaRocca, Technical Editor
    Michael LaRocca, Technical Editor says:

    I could coach you, too, but I’d say stuff like, “Don’t throw the ball where your receiver is now, throw it where she’ll be when the ball gets there.” Which doesn’t help you at all, because that’s not your sport of choice. Oh well. Stick with Lauren. Buy her lunch.

  13. Moira
    Moira says:

    To address the problems you can’t see you need a good psychoanalyst or someone trained and gifted to work with the unconscious,

    Penelope, I find your posts interesting, but I really want to know more about your childhood, your mother? Your father? your family. then I feel i’ll be able to know you and understand you better.

    Kindest regards,

    thank you for your sharing

  14. Pearl Red Moon
    Pearl Red Moon says:

    Penelope, I do find it annoying that what you flippantly describe numerous times in this post as your “OCD” behaviour is in fact coming from your anxiety. You boast an entirely incorrect pretension that you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The behaviours you describe are symptomatic of anxiety. The clinical symptoms of OCD are very different and you do a disservice to the people who genuinely suffer from that disorder by trying to capture it to suit your own agenda. If you were less egotistical about your purported ability to psychoanalyse yourself you might allow the vulnerability necessary to get genuine support.

  15. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “The help each of us needs is to talk about the things we don’t see.”

    So the question is what can be done to see those things we don’t see (identify them) and then talk about them. What comes to mind is to practice mindfulness. Try to limit those thoughts of what has already happened in the past or predicting what lies in the future. If we’re able to focus more on the here and now, it can be more thoroughly lived and enjoyed. Also, better decisions can be made by having better focus/flow with mindfulness.

  16. Sherry
    Sherry says:

    I remember very clearly at age 8 saying I want to be a doctor when I grow up, my mother said you have to smart to be a doctor.That put a seed in my mind.

    • Tom
      Tom says:

      I guess you wrote that, Jeff. I feel dirty having read it. Congrats on making the world even shi*ier than it already was

      Get a job.

      • Jeff Yablon
        Jeff Yablon says:

        Dirtier than it was? C’mon, Tom.

        I feel the way I do about therapy, and I’ll stand by it. And seriously, it’s not an affront either to therapy or the people who seek it (or therapists, actually).

        So I assume your comment is directed at my using Penelope as an example of how I see things. I was clear that I’m a fan, and if you read not-so-between-the-lines you’ll see that I’ve complimented her. So are you upset that I questioned her in much the same way that SHE questions her?

        The world is fine. Penelope is fine. I’m guessing that aside from your thin skin you’re fine too.

        Be well.

  17. Tracy M
    Tracy M says:

    Help I don’t fully understand. Why is it relevant that non-STEM men don’t go to college? OK I get that this research says there isn’t really a gap in STEM readiness which is great. And STEM-ready women have choices and many chose not to do STEM, ok. Hmm, I think I sort of get it but not sure (and since paper is behind a paywall don’t think will get round to reading it). Penelope’s brother can you comment further?

  18. c
    c says:

    Exactly this: “The help each of us needs is to talk about the things we don’t see.” …especially while navigating unfamiliar territory.

  19. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    Penelope, do you love yourself?

    My problem was that I had internalized my mother’s and father’s critical voices and I did not love myself. Once someone told me I was my own worst enemy and I wasn’t sure what she meant. I thought she might mean I was making stupid choices, which I never did (I was just very, very, sad, tired and anxious). Eventually I got so worn down that I made selfish or bad choices but that wasn’t the original problem.

    Now I think she might have meant that I did not love myself.

    I can tell now, right away when a person does or does not love herself. Well I can in person anyway. Penelope I’m not sure whether you do love yourself or not.

    I only sort of love myself now, but at least I have found the root of the problem.

    • selenium
      selenium says:

      Most of the “get women into STEM jobs” push has been about getting female students qualified. Because men’s number one excuse for no women in STEM is that their are not enough qualified women. The study says this is not true and more women are qualified than men. But they choose not to go into STEM for some unknown reason. The summary is written a little wonky though.

      • nia
        nia says:

        But I understood from the summary that women who are qualified to STUDY science at college instead choose to study something else. In other words, although girls took some high school courses in science, they didn’t take science at college. Being qualified to be a science student is quite different to being qualified to be a scientist (or the rest of the letters in STEM). So the ‘excuse’ that there aren’t enough qualified women still might be true.

  20. john
    john says:

    I have mostly sworn off therapists but sometimes I go to them in order to signal to myself or someone else that I’m making some kind of a change that I’m definitely not making.

    So for me I think I understand your point here and I think that yes, the questions that we can’t get at with a therapist, yes, those are the ones.

    Maybe art has a place here. When I write I stumble into writing about the things I can’t ask myself. I used to write stuff and tear it up every now and then. Sounds so dramatic but it’s not if nobody knows you did it. you just write down a bunch of true shit and then shred the living fuck out of it. usually when I write I don’t need to do this but when it’s planned before hand it might invite some of the stuff. Some of the hard stuff.

    There is a purpose in writing besides

    Me being interrupted by ExFJ 5-y-o daughter asking about the flyer for the dance we’ve already gone to at the rich kid kindergarten we go to that was like the biggest rave I’ve ever been too with the most depressed parents I’ve ever not met (since nobody met, nobody talked to each other, etc)…she will not let me answer questions until I’ve heard them and it drives me nuts; SHE asks the questions she wants to ask, doesn’t she. “Dad is this dance happening soon?” “Sweetie that’s the flier for the dance we already went to.” “Dad but can we go again?” ” No honey we already went to it and its over.” “But is it for the old school or the new school dad?” “It’s for the new school hon. But it already happened. You got your face painted.” “But I didn’t go to the new school when we went to that dance. Remember I went to the other school then.” “That’s because your brother went to the school so we went to the dance and you got to come.” “So is it happening soon again?” “Sweetie, the dance is over, it’s never happening again, and you can throw that piece of paper away, or tear it up or anything, and whatever you do, we are never going to that dance again.”


    There is a purpose in writing besides communicating infos I know; I’m so used to telling people things that I have mostly forgotten that but lately I’ve been jotting notes on papers, which makes me anxious, because someone will find them, and not know if they are Jokes or plans or confessions.

  21. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    My 10 year old kid just started therapy for anxiety disorder. So, I certainly hope it’s not a waste of time because we are out of solutions for her.

    Finding the right therapist is the most important thing. Right now we have two different therapists and one of them is more like a coach. We are focusing on finding strategies to manage the anxiety.

    I’m not quite understanding how the “women in STEM gap” ties into everything.

    But, I’m eagerly waiting to see photos of your painted walls. Which must make me sound pathetic?

    • selenium
      selenium says:

      The STEM gap is an example of not asking the right questions. Penelope doesn’t mention that the excuse most often given for the lack of women in STEM is that they are not qualified. Study says no way dude. That’s not it.

    • Lauren
      Lauren says:

      The best way to manage anxiety is CBT based. Your kid should learn to evaluate what makes her anxious and learn coping strategies. Anxiety tends not to go away entirely, but it can be beaten into something that doesn’t ruin your life.

  22. selenium
    selenium says:

    I’ve had 15 therapists. From social worker to shrink, Freudian to EFT (emotional freedom technique). The “crack pot, debunked” EFT worked the best. Because few questions were asked. ID issue, ID core fear within issue, reframe issue until you move from tears to laughter. Rinse and repeat.

  23. carmen santiago
    carmen santiago says:

    How to find women to work for/with who want to empower other women. That’s a question that needs answering.

    Penelope, I value your coaching, but the questions you posed in this post are irrelevant and harken back to the stone ages:

    1. We’re labeling women with mental and personality disorders when, in reality, most women are still growing up in misogynistic households and marrying misogynists. It’s 2017 and we’re still burning witches with this approach.

    2. Women using vulnerability against each other to compete because we’re living in a man’s world. The woman-on-woman hate is the number one obstacle to progress.

    3. Straight women being labeled lesbians because certain women develop defense mechanisms to protect themselves against predatory lecherous men. If you’re a girl growing up around drunks, you might develop boyish mannerisms and tendencies just to protect yourself and ward off unwanted attention.

    If coaching or therapy is going to work then the therapist or coach needs to listen and be open to the fact that everyone’s similar with different problems. The root cause matters when it comes to defining current behavior, and it isn’t the same for everyone.

  24. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    “The best coaching comes from someone who sidesteps the issues we present to them and goes after the issues that matter.”

    You need to work with Marissa Peer. This is exactly was she does. All her clients are famous in their field so you’re her kind of client.

    My guess is your brain is fucked up from trauma and you need some sort of hypnosis/EFT to help process. Because you continually (unintentionally) create new dramas in your life you never really get to heal. You are recreating all the traumas you fear most in some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m sure you’re aware of this. The thing is, the more traumatized a person is, the less they can do anything with their self-awareness. Their brain is hijacked with crappy wiring.

  25. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    I love how few studies actually talk to women who left STEM. I was one. I know a lot of women who left before getting a degree. Imposter syndrome a huge issue in STEM. There are a lot of men still trying to defend the boys club in STEM (especially engineering). A lot of men in STEM have bad social skills, and because there are still so few women, women at the bachelor’s level look around and decide the don’t want to work very hard in a place with a bunch of socially awkward men who really don’t want them there (or want them there in the wrong way).

    It’s a lousy culture, and smart women take their other options.

    • bostonian
      bostonian says:

      Sounds like a future shock experience you had there: ‘oh, jeez, I gotta work with _these_ guys for the rest of my life?’

      The old saw about dating at MIT goes “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

  26. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    If you’ve been in therapy forever and it doesn’t work, you have the wrong therapist and/or you aren’t doing the work. When I was in therapy, I always had homework. I didn’t make progress without doing it.

    When you really want something, you go do it, regardless of whether it makes sense or how much upheaval it causes.

    You have a plan for being on time. Either the plan is unrealistic, or you don’t want it badly enough to stick to it. The other therapy option is to learn to stop feeling bad about being late.

    When coaching works because you can tell someone they aren’t getting promoted because their boss hates them, it works because you affirmed something that your client already suspected. They just wanted someone else to validate the idea.

    In short, if you want therapy to work, you either need to put in the effort to break bad habits (real or emotional) or get a therapist that will motivate you to do so.

  27. Bridget
    Bridget says:

    Did you really write that post? It didn’t sound like you. Choice of words were different. Anyway, there have been many positive things written about chronically late which helps the anxiety to read. On a practical note, one lateness observation is that one time you jammed 5 amazing things into an hour like made a business call, scheduled apts. Went to the grocery store and dropped a kid off somewhere. So, you think you can do that every time. The elements do not align well each time. Sometime therapy needs to get to the point and sometime therapy is a place to rattle on about ancillary bullshit just to be able to keep friends and co-workers. If you discussed all the bs all the time you would have no one interested in talking with you. First thing you do is hire a babysitter to take your kids to a movie or someplace away from home for a couple of hours here and there. Take care, slow down.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s interesting you say that about the post. Melissa and I had a little war over the word literally. She is editing me now. And she put the word in, before die. And I took it out. I would not say that word. It’s a very Gen Y way to talk, I think. To add literally into sentences like salt. So then she put it back in. And by the time a post gets published I’ve looked at it and edited it so many times, and sometimes I lose a little steam. And I thought to myself “I should argue about that word” but then I just published.

      Sometimes I think I think too much about each word. You make me think there is not thinking too much. Thank you for noticing the details.


  28. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    “So the real question should be why do we celebrate choices men typically make and castigate choices typical of women?“

    Great insight – great question.

  29. tina
    tina says:

    It would be interesting to see if the STEM data is consistent across wider sample sizes and in the US as well as Canada. As a STEM major and in my career, interestingly I didnt encounter sexual discrimination until transitioning out of the lab/tech side and into the business side. Non-tech men are MUCH worse than tech men, who tend to judge on competence. On the business side, mid-level, struggling men tend to see high achieving women as more threatening than our male peers.

    “The best coaching comes from someone who sidesteps the issues we present to them and goes after the issues that matter.”

    ^^This is an ENTJ gift. You guys ignore what others say or even think they want and then dig to the heart of what they REALLY want-even when we dont realize that is actually what we really want. However I note my ENTJ daughter struggles with who she “really is”, so perhaps this isnt an easy tool for en entj to use for self-analysis?

  30. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The first link in this post on STEM majors and careers as it relates to gender inspired me to do a quick search on the subject. To be honest, that study and summary was lacking in some information and was confusing. I found an article titled ‘Why the STEM gender gap is overblown’ ( ). The whole article is very interesting from beginning to end – especially near the end – #4 and #5 and
    after. I found it to be very eye-opening in many respects. Hint – there is no mention in this article about men discriminating against the women. I don’t doubt it happens but I think its occurrence is not that high. My Dad was an engineer, I was an engineer, my two brothers are engineers with one being an engineering manager, and my niece is an engineer. So it’s not as if I’m oblivious to what is happening in STEM. Also, I spoke to my niece at Thanksgiving about this STEM study linked in this article. She graduated 1 1/2 years ago as a mechanical engineer and got a job as such at a major defense contractor. She recently moved to another location within the same company to be close to her boyfriend. Now she’s working in planning/scheduling. As an engineer, she was the only female in the group. Now, she works with many more women and her job responsibilities have of course changed. And she likes her job. Better. And when I asked her about discrimination, she said there was none either before or now. And while my engineering manager brother was listening to this conversation, he said the company (same company) was reaching out and encouraging girls in the 8th and 9th grade to pursue STEM careers.

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