Review - The Gift of Therapy An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin D. Yalom Harperperennial, 2001 Review by Heather C. Liston May 23rd 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 21)
For the general reader
interested in psychotherapy, there is no more interesting writer than Irvin D.
Yalom.The author of eleven previous
books, one of which (When Nietzsche Wept)
is actually a novel, Yalom is a psychiatrist and practicing therapist who also
happens to be a gifted storyteller.
book, The Gift of Therapy carries the
subtitle An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients,
and it consists of eighty-five very short essays on what he has learned in
thirty-five years in practice.He
brings to his work as a writer the power of experienceas a therapist, and also
as a patient.He himself has been
through Freudian analysis, gestalt therapy, Rolfing, marital-couples work, support
groups, and evenin the 1960sa nude encounter group, and he has studied and
worked with some of the great names in the history of his field (Rollo May,
Eric Erickson, and others).There seems
to be no sort of patient he has not encountered and no question about the
process of therapy with which has not personally struggled.
In fact, speaking of experience,
one of the best parts of the book is the dedication: To Marilyn, soulmate for
over fifty years and still counting.The authors wife, Marilyn Yalom, Ph.D., is the senior scholar at the
Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University and, like
Yalom, a writer both serious and popular. This tribute to an extraordinarily
long relationship between two professionally successful people is as powerful
an argument for effective therapy and self-examination as anything else in the
In these eighty-five
chapters of one to three pages each, Yalom offers manageable bits of advice,
embedded with intriguing stories of real patients.Some of his suggestions seem almost obvious (Therapists must be
aware of their own dark side and be able to empathize with all human wishes and
impulses.) and some are more startling (I make it a point to touch each
patient each hour . . .) but all are thought-provoking.Admitting at all times that therapists are
human too, he rejects the blank slate school of therapy that says the doctor
should reveal nothing of himself so as to be available for pure
transference.Of course the therapist is a real person with a life and feelings of
his own, says Yalom, and it is not only OK to reveal that, it is therapeutic
for the patient. In fact, Therapist
disclosure begets patient disclosure.He offers thoughts on coping with sexual attraction to patients, and ways
of dealing with your feelings about patients who repulse or annoy you.
There is a
welcome lack of orthodoxy in Yaloms work.He seems open to a variety of methods, applied with the individual
patient and situation in mind: the task of experience therapists [is to]
establish a relationship with the patient characterized by genuineness,
positive unconditional regard, and spontaneity.Therefore, he says, the therapist must strive to create a new
therapy for each patient. How to do that is much of the content of this book:
how to listen; how to empathize; how to provide useful feedback without
upsetting your patient; how to upset the patient when appropriate so as to
provoke her to new insights and difficult growth.
of Therapy is a quick read.You can zip through it all in one
sitting, or digest each pithy, self-contained essay one at a time, while
sitting in your therapists waiting room.If you do, you will almost certainly get some good ideas about what to
discuss with her when you go in, and how to do it.
C. Liston studied Religion at Princeton University and earned a Masters degree
from the NYU Graduate School of Business Administration. She is the Director of
Development for The Santa Fe Children's Museum, and writes extensively on a
variety of topics. Her book reviews and other work have appeared in Self,
Women Outside, The Princeton Alumni Weekly, Appalachia, Your
Health and elsewhere.
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