Literature review

The Yalom Reader

By Irving D. Yalom (Basic Books, 1998)
Reviewed by Dan Liechty

Novelist Irvin D. Yalom is very well-known among psychotherapists for his two major textbooks on group therapy and existential therapy. His group therapy text has gone through a number of editions and remains even today one of the most used texts in the field. The text on existential therapy has probably fared less well, though for those working therapists who have it, it is probably consulted more often than the group therapy text. In both books, Yalom bravely continued to call for attention to person and context at a time when academic, experimental and practicing psychiatry were moving toward the dominant 'genes and drugs' paradigm prevailing in the field today. Those of us who have been holding onto our humanity and waiting for the pendulum to swing back have been most grateful for Yalom's influence, almost as an anchor in the storm. That Yalom has always been very generous in his praise and citation of Ernest Becker makes it even better.

A long-time professor at Stanford University, Yalom embarked on a course unusual for an academic psychiatrist late in his career. Having honed his considerable story-telling skills in books of case studies (one such book, Love's Executioner, was deservedly a best-seller) Yalom took up the pen of a novelist. His first effort, When Nietzsche Wept, was a fascinating fictionalized account of a tight and emotional relationship between Vienna physician Josef Breuer and the great German philosopher Friedreich Nietzsche. The premise of the novel was that the 'talking cure' germinated and grew out of that relationship. Breuer (in the novel and historically) was the elder mentor and early collaborator with a young Viennese neurologist named Sigmund Freud. Breuer was frightened by the power of the transference in this talking cure and decided he did not want to practice it further. It was passed on, however, to his young colleague. I loved that book and experienced a kind of grief when I came to the closing pages.

This collection, divided into three sections (Group, Existentialism, Fiction) reminded me of how much I appreciate Yalom's work. Especially appreciated here is the section on Fiction, in which Yalom discusses how he creates his characters and plots. I decided I am going to dig up my copy of When Nietzsche Wept and enjoy it again!

" not look outside yourself for the leader."
-wisdom of the hopi elders

"...the sign of a true leader is service..." - anonymous