Irvin Yalom: Love’s Executioner

Irvin Yalom, one of the pioneers of Existential Therapy is in his eighties now but his zest for writing about his life and his encounters with patients continues unabated. In 2015 he wrote Creatures of a Day his title taken from the writings of Marcus Aurelius, ‘All of us are creatures of a day: the rememberer and the remembered alike. All is ephemeral-both memory and the object of memory.’. This book offers ten case studies of clients who came to him with particular problems, but ultimately Yalom sees their presenting fears and anxieties as an unavoidable part of the human condition. It is by accepting four hard truths about the nature of human life his patients come to terms with their pain.

In 2017 he wrote a memoir entitled, Becoming Myself. This book is honest and quite revealing of Yalom’s flaws. He was an ambitious child of poor Jewish parents. He forged ahead with little (as he tells it) support from his parents and became a medical practitioner, but psychology fascinated him and after becoming a psychiatrist he again took that further into group therapy,and from there, through his reading of philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Nietszche, and Schopenhauer into Existential Therapy. His writing is highly readable, quite simple but endlessly interesting. He shows himself to be flawed and aware of his flaws. He is drawn to some patients, sometimes attractive women, repelled by others, with seemingly boring unimaginative lives, but he stills works with these patients, all the time examining his reactions. If you ever wonder how therapy works his books are a good place to start.

Love’s Executioner, written in 1989 is possibly his most popular book and contains encounters with the dying, with a woman fixated on a previous therapist and the famous Fat Lady story, where he finds himself feeling very negatively towards a client because of her excessive weight. But being Yalom he digs away at his reactions and ultimately turns the interchange into something positive. In the prologue to this book he names ‘the four givens that are particularly relevant to psychotherapy:

The inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love
The freedom to make our lives as we will
Our ultimate aloneness
The absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life

In this book he attempts to show (and I think makes a persuasive case)’it is possible to confront the truths of existence and harness their power in the service of personal change and growth.’

If you want to hear Yalom speaking and some ideas about the Talking Cure listen below.

10 thoughts on “Irvin Yalom: Love’s Executioner

    1. How we differ. I thought that book was so sexist and over the top I threw it out with the rubbish. I think Irvin really let it all hang out there. But maybe I should have finished it.

  1. A friend recommended Yalom to me and I tried his novel The Spinoza Problem but it didn’t appeal. Creatures of a Day is available at the library and I like the idea of reading nis non fiction more.

  2. I really love Yalom as a writer, as a person who acknowledges his peculiarities and his humility.
    In his books re philosophers he uses his knowledge of who they were and imagines them seeking help. Spinoza is one of my favourite philosophers so I loved it from an enhanced view.
    Roll on Gert!

    1. Thanks Sally. Good to hear from someone who really knows her philosophers. But as always so interesting that as readers we have so many differing likes.

  3. The four givens: hard to believe that any of them could be denied. Though I might — only mildly — dispute his third assertion, for some people (in certain parts of the world and under some regimes) acting on it may well lead to the first given being rapidly proved true for them.

      1. True…. I have always had issues with Sartre on that ground. Poverty and caste can pre determine life. But in the first world we can opt out of responsibility for the directions we take.

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