Corin Wenger's Reviews > Existential Psychotherapy

Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom
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May 01, 10


A monumental book focusing on 4 aspects of life that concerns psychological defense structures: death, freedom, meaninglessness, and isolation. I am about 1/2 way through the first section on death, and it's fascinating how he integrates literature, philosophy, and clinical case studies of people with neurosis or psychosis. Irvin Yalom seems as much a philosopher as he is a psychotherapist, summarizing in non-jargonized language the ideas pertaining to the subjects from people as diverse as Kafka, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Proust, Tolstoy and so on, discussing the experiences of people who have clinical psychopathology but in humanistic terms (similar to Rollo May) and empathizing with the all too insecure nature of human existence. However, the pathological behavior he considers is pretty ordinary in terms of what we all seem to encounter; something that seems evidence of everyday insecurity or overcompensation--the kind we see in others but conveniently forget in ourselves, perhaps--is analyzed in an existential paradigm.

As with most serious clinical texts this is a pretty formidable book and it seems fairly weighty in both physical and metaphysical matter. I recommend it because it is a practical work that will probably have an influence over the way I would like to live and in my own work with people. But it is not everyone's cup of tea, being both a highly European-centered text (though using a critical tradition of post-Freudian European continental philosophy and literature) and yet also it contains some technical data that is hard to understand for someone without the clinical knowledge. However, the cases he discusses are fascinating because he appears to invite reflections on deep meanings--i.e.. "anxiety" is not just a disorder, it is a symptom of something: a void, a repressed awareness of mortality; a fear of annihilation; etc.
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