Irvin D. Yalom: An Introduction


I was profoundly excited to find out that there is a new movie coming soon about Irvin Yalom. On the occasion of Sabine Gisiger’s movie “Yalom’s Cure”, I would like to share with you some tidbits about one of the most influential personalities in psychotherapy. Irvin Yalom is a man of many qualities: an American psychiatrist, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and a bestselling author of numerous fiction but also non fiction books.

What I appreciate about him and makes me devour his books is that many of them are categorised as “psychology novels”. In other words, he writes fiction combined with psychology and frequently philosophy. “I’ve often found fictional characters to be more real than historical characters”, he states. His writings are approachable, with minimun techical vocabulary or jargon words,humorous at times, thus making even difficult psychology concepts understood by almost everyone.

Irvin Yalom is considered as a key figure in existential psychotherapy. Existential psychotherapy is generated from phenomenology, humanistic and existential psychology, and also existential philosophy. Its main subjects are, according to Yalom’s “Existential Psychotherapy”, the four ultimate concerns: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness, which are the origin of most psychological difficulties and have no absolute answers. The purpose of existential therapy is to empower the individual to be responsible for his own presence, to become independent and to transcend beyond the self into complete encounter with other people. It is of crucial significance the state of “here and now”. The therapeutic relationship, even though accepts the role of past experiences into the formation of the character, concentrates on the patient’s current situation.

Selected works to read (in order of priority according to me).

When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel Of Obsession
We explore the imaginary relationship between two of the most important personalities of the time, Nietzsche, the great philospher, and Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. The story uses real historical characters placing them in fictitious situations.As a very interesting showcase of the beginnings of psychotherapy, this book constitutes a sine qua non at your psychology bookshelf. Among the abundant quotable advices I keep this one: “Live when you live! Death loses its terror if one dies when one has consummated one’s life! If one does not live in the right time, then one can never die at the right time.” If you are more of a visual type, there is a film adaptation with the same title, too.

The Schopenhauer Cure: A Novel
This captivating story is about a considerate, engaging therapist who is dying, but does not throw in the towel and an ex-patient of his who lives by Schopenhauer’s principles. It entwines philosophy and fiction in a spectacular way, since it enriches the idea of “philosophical therapy” with a rich storytelling and an overview of how group therapy is held. For me, this is an unforgettable page-turner!

Love’s Executioner And Other Tales of Psychotherapy
Yalom  provides readers with a brief but coherent prelude to existential psychotherapy and then shares ten case studies of psychotherapy clients. We learn about their problems, the process followed and the solution given,or to sum up the “art of psychotherapy”. Each one of the stories is engaging and illustrates the techniques used during the therapy, which makes this book additionally a great handbook for psychology professionals and patients.

1_1The Yalom Reader: Selections From The Work Of A Master Therapist And Storyteller

This volume consists of three parts, reflecting Yalom’s major interests:group psychotherapy,existential psychotherapy and writing. It is a general outlook of his pieces and has a didactic function, so you would better choose it only after being familiar with his writing. If you wish to elaborate even more on his more scientific opus, highly recommended are “The Gift of Therapy:An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients” and “Existential Psychotherapy”.

The Spinoza Problem: A Novel
This intriguing novel interlocks the stories of two men, Benedict Spinoza and Alfred Rosenberg. In particular, Rosenberg is a Nazi ideologue, but when his headmaster hears about it he imposes a task on him: to study Spinoza, and understand how Rosenberg’s hero Goethe could have such an admiration for Spinoza, a Jew.This is the ‘Spinoza Problem’,which will  besiege Rosenberg’s mind for his entire life.

Lying On The Couch: A Novel
Yalom examines those troublesome situations when therapists cross the formal boundaries and get attracted by their clients. His multilevel characters deal with moral questions and offer food for thought to the readers.

Every Day Gets A Little Closer: A Twice-Told Therapy
This book sheds light on the way a woman in therapy and simultaneously her therapist face the therapeutic process. We dive into their separate journals, where they describe their sessions as well as their feelings about them, and so we comprehend both the therapist’s and the client’s perspective.

Momma And The Meaning of Life: Tales Of Psychotherapy
This book presents thought provoking tales of psychotherapy clients accompanied by useful insights on the therapeutic relation. A book educating and emotional at the same time.

I hope you will enjoy reading these books as much as I did!

Anastasia Siapka




Posted in Bibliotherapy Remedies, Our Favourite Books, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .