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Esther Perel on Storytelling, Play, and Her Favorite Way to Break the Ice During a Therapy Session

The psychotherapist also unpacks her creative process for the second edition of her bestselling card game, “Where Should We Begin?”
Esther Perel
March 11, 2024

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Skimm Her Life is a series in our weekly newsletter, Skimm Your Life, where smart women share their favorite things.

Where should we begin? Today, multihyphenate (psychotherapist, relationship expert, podcast host, author, speaker) Esther Perel is here to talk about the second edition of her bestselling card game, the importance of play in adulthood, and all the layers to her vibrant career. Esther, enlighten us all…

We’re addicted to your podcast, “Where Should We Begin?” What made you want to create a game of the same title?

Stories are bridges that connect us to other humans – and you experience that firsthand with both the podcast and the game. When I launched the podcast, I wanted to democratize therapy – I took conversations that happen behind closed doors and let people listen in, so they could hear their own stories in my sessions, feel less alone and gain a new perspective. I created the game to fuel connection – to encourage intimacy through play and storytelling.

You talk a lot about play and storytelling in your work. For those who are new to you, why are both of these behaviors such an important part of human relationships?

Relationships are stories, and as a relationship therapist, much of my work involves helping people free themselves from constraining or limiting stories. We can do that with the help of play, which invites experimentation and risk-taking. Play is when risk is fun. It gives us permission to try out new roles, shift perspectives, and imagine new stories.

What was your process like in creating your card game? How did you come up with questions?

For the second edition of the game, I tried out questions with people all over the world. I brought the first edition on the road with me when I was touring my immersive show in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. I brought question cards to dinner parties in Budapest, to team meetings stretched across time zones. And when it came to deciding what to keep, what to cut and what to add, I looked at whether a card prompted a short answer or invited a story. If we got a good story, I put it in the game.

Name one of your favorite ways to use your game and one of your favorite questions.

During dinners, team meetings, first dates: I take a handful of cards in my pocket with me wherever I go. Sometimes I tuck them under dinner plates. I have favorite questions for every context. Right now, I’m enjoying, “The kindest thing someone has done for me is…”

Give our readers theSkimm on your specialty. What fascinates you the most about your career?

I spent the first 35 years of my career working with patients and teaching. It was solitary and somewhat isolated. With the podcast, I lowered the four walls of my office and invited you to listen in. And now, with the live tour of “An Evening with Esther Perel,” I’m creating immersive experiences. At my first shows in Australia and New Zealand I insisted on going into the audience, to get people talking to each other. I even made them dance (though, I’ve promised not to do that on my US tour, which kicks off this April). It has been an unexpected evolution, from the therapy couch to the podcast to the stage. But whether I’m showing up as a therapist, a podcast host, or a speaker, I help people break out of their loops, to enter with one story but leave with another.

If our readers are new to you, which podcast episode should they start with?

It depends on what they’re looking for. If you’re interested in sexuality, check out “Speak to Me in French”; if you’re looking for insight around infidelity, “I’ve Had Better”; for queer couples, give “Trauma Doesn’t Like to Be Touched” a listen.

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