The Drug Trip That Led Chelsea Handler To Therapy
By Diana Brown
August 14, 2019
On her podcast Life Will Be The Death Of Me, Chelsea Handler hilariously examines the truly profound lessons she’s learned in therapy about empathy and patience and the impact they’ve had on her life. On this episode, Chelsea tells us that drugs are responsible for her seeing a therapist, recounting a bad trip she had a spiritual retreat she’d been coaxed into attending. “I’m all for people being spiritual, but I’m leery of anyone who mentions it more than once in a sitting,” she says. “I feel spiritual when I’m on mushrooms.” Chelsea is so comfortable with drugs that she actually did a special for Netflix about them, resulting in crazy situations like taking ayahuasca onscreen and watching her shaman use the bathroom twice without ever standing up. So she knows how to handle a bad trip. But this one changed her. She didn’t have any particularly startling revelations, but when it was all over, she just knew she needed to talk to somebody.
So Chelsea started seeing her therapist, Dan Siegel, and something became clear to her: the anger and frustration that was coloring her life was stemming, partly, from a lack of empathy. “‘Sympathy is feeling bad for someone or their situation...it’s more like pity,’” she remembers Dan explaining to her. “‘Empathy is...thinking about what it feels like to be another person and understanding their experiences and outlooks and know that they may be unlike your own.’” Chelsea says she was always good at showing up for her friends or even complete strangers, even being too sympathetic at times, but until she had this conversation with Dan, she hadn’t realized that empathy was still missing from those interactions. “Often we think we are showing up for someone, when really all we’re doing is showing everyone how great we are at showing up,” she says. In other words, sympathy is still about you, whereas empathy is about the other person. “Lack of empathy made total sense...mostly everything and everyone...ends up annoying me, and now I know why: because I’m not thinking about them,” she says. “I was like whoa, all right, now what? How do I get it? Can I buy it?” But of course you can’t; it’s a practice, not a product. “You have to get up and be like, ‘I'm going to be kind and good and decent today.’ Then, after a while, you don't have to try anymore,” she tells us. “You just are.”
Later, Chelsea is joined by author Courtenay Hameister (Okay Fine Whatever), and Courtenay asks her about her relationship with her dad. “I was really...disappointed in my dad for a lot of reasons,” she says, describing him as kind of a shady character: when she started her Mafia-esque babysitting ring in Martha’s Vineyard (at one point babysitting a kid who was actually older than her because she had lied about her age), he told her she had to give him part of the money she’d made; after her older brother Chet’s death, he tried to sue anyone he could for damages, losing every suit. But, “learning about empathy made me understand my dad,” she says. If Chet’s death could affect her life so much, how must it have affected her father to lose his oldest son? “I just realized, my dad’s not perfect. None of us are. I had such judgment.”
Join Chelsea and Courtenay to find out their views on kids (“No, I wouldn't disqualify somebody for having a kid,” Chelsea says dryly, “obviously, people make mistakes”), why 50 Cent is “America’s most adorable rapper,” and the one message Chelsea would have people take away from her book, on this episode of Life Will Be The Death Of Me.
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