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Drew Barrymore’s longtime therapist reveals why she’s such a good interviewer

Drew Barrymore's therapist describes how the talkshow host uses self-awareness and compassion, and how people can adopt this in their own lives.
/ Source: TODAY

Drew Barrymore knows how to get real. The 48-year-old actor and talk show host has made an impression for her unique, emotional approach to interviews on "The Drew Barrymore Show."

Tapping into her own personal experiences and vulnerability, Barrymore is able to get incredibly close and honest with her guests. The result? Intimate, often therapeutic interviews with A-listers that feel more like private conversations than episodes of TV.

Barrymore gets down on her knees on stage to get closer to her guest's chair or embraces them as they talk through difficult stories. Many of these moments from her show have become viral memes.

"It's an almost magical effect," Barry Michels, a licensed clinical social worker, co-author of “The Tools” and Barrymore's therapist, tells

We're all 'crazy weirdos'

Michels says that one of the reasons the actor is so successful at interviewing is her ability to get vulnerable about the parts of herself that most people would hide — and by doing so, encourage guests and audience members to do the same.

Michels points to a recent episode of “The Drew Barrymore Show” featuring Jennifer Garner as an example.

Interviewing Garner, "Drew celebrated her as a model for how to comport yourself in public in the midst of a painful divorce,” says Michels. (Barrymore has been through three divorces in the public eye, most recently splitting in 2016 from Will Kopelman, with whom she shares her two daughters. Barrymore has been open about her struggles during that time, in particular with drinking.)

After the cameras stopped rolling on her and Garner, Barrymore had a shattering confessional moment during a private chat with the live audience, New York Magazine reported. Barrymore told the audience that she “f-----g spiraled” after the conversation with Garner, and that she felt like a “crazy weirdo” — then asked if the audience ever felt the same. People chimed in to express agreement and support for the talk show host, per New York Magazine.

“She admitted that the negative voices in her head were telling her she was a mess, especially compared with Jennifer, who was a model of calm, self-assurance,” says Michels. 

The raw and vulnerable exchange between Barrymore and the audience was a “pivotal moment,” says Michels.

“Most people would not have admitted how bad they were feeling, and they would have swallowed their discomfort or done everything they could to hide it,” he adds.

Vulnerability & strength

What Barrymore did in this episode, and the way she navigates her life in general, bears on a concept that Michels and his co-author Phil Stutz work on with many patients, called the human shadow.

The “shadow,” first coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, is an embodiment of all the negative parts of our personality that we want to hide, says Michels. “It’s whatever you’re most ashamed of inside yourself,” he adds.

Most people, and especially celebrities, will naturally do everything they can to keep their shadow hidden, Michel explains. However, by opening up about one’s shadow, it can become less toxic and turn into a strength. “When you can accept those parts, you can be more honest and vulnerable with people," he explains.

“In Drew’s case, that strength is her vulnerability. … She has this ability to bravely and openly confront things in herself and, by doing so, encourage other people to do the same,” says Michels, adding that it’s something Barrymore does frequently on her show.

“Just saying these things out loud loosens their grip over you, and as a bonus, you get support from the people around you,” says Michels. “We’re all crazy weirdos on some level,” he adds.

When discussing how Barrymore confronts her shadow, Michels references another concept called “active love.” This is a tool he says he would normally prescribe when a person who feels wronged — in order to get them out of the trap or "maze" of rage or negativity, they infuse thoughts of the situation with love.

“Instead of shaming and hiding her shadow, she reveals it with love and courage, and that’s inspiring,” he adds. 

Barrymore has previously shared how decades of being interviewed informed her techniques as a host and made her want to be sure she was also revealing things about herself as the interviewer.

“I’m still very much in survival, persevere, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mode,” Barrymore told New York Magazine. “The shadow is supposed to be there to help you fall back on the things you haven’t dealt with yet.”

Accepting your shadow

Discussing how people can use similar techniques in their own lives and conversations, Michels explains that accepting the shameful parts of yourself can allow you to create closer, more genuine relationships with others. "You can't really have a vulnerable conversation with someone unless you can accept your shadow to some degree, because it is your vulnerability," he explains.

Shadow work can be difficult in the beginning, says Michels. "It's hard to admit things to yourself that you've buried or shamed yourself for for most of your life," says Michels, adding that over time it can become "magically liberating." This self-help technique, along with others, are outlined in "The Tools."

"If you're hard and down on yourself all the time or don't like yourself fundamentally, shadow work can change everything. ... You feel like you're really yourself for the first time," says Michels.