Custom Search

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review: Irvin Yalom's "The Gift of Therapy"

In an industry like mine, there are lots and lots of experts who preach lots and lots of different techniques and strategies. You can easily listen to two (or more!) accomplished authors and experts endorsing completely contradictory techniques and modalities at the same conference. One of the greats that stands out, however, is Dr. Irvin Yalom, the writer of "The Gift of Therapy," "Love's Executioner," and tons of practitioner's guides to group therapy. I am currently reading "The Gift of Therapy," which never fails to bring me new insight into the work that I do and reminds me why I do it.

This is good, old fashioned, long-term therapy that Dr. Yalom endorses, the kind that doesn't bill so well with HMOs but is the reason so many of us went into this work to begin with. The kind of work I yearn to do, and, every once in a while, get to do, even though it rarely ends up in my notes.

Some of the excellent instructions Dr. Yalom gives us are simple, but liberating. Often, a young therapist doesn't know how much to give of herself and how much to keep hidden. Dr. Yalom posited there is no way to be unaffected by our clients, so be honest and transparent with them insomuch as it is helpful in therapy. He proposes scary, here and now encounters which ask honest questions about the relationship between therapist and client which lead to a great deal of fruit in the therapy time. Questions like "How are you and I doing today," or "How close are we today?" These are actually very scary questions for anxious people like me, who fear the answers! But if I ask my clients to be vulnerable, it is only fair that I be vulnerable to them, as long as it is helpful to therapy and not a distraction.

I am doing a crummy job of summarizing Dr. Yalom's work, unfortunately, so I recommend you read it yourself if you are interested in mental health or you are just curious what sorts of things go on in a therapist's mind, or what the purpose of our work really is. He is an excellent story-teller so it is an enjoyable as well as an informative read.


  1. Sounds well worth reading, always find this fascinating.

  2. I started reading this book last week. I'm on the chapters about "here-and-now." What I appreciate most is his humility, and ability to point out his own past errors. I expected him to be a very egotistical author due to his fame and renown - but I found him to be instructive in a "battle-worn" type of way.

  3. the fact that you keep reading and learning is the reason you are a good therapist. I love that you have a teachable spirit. It is wonderful to find someone that your spirit relates to and you can saw I can be a disciple of this teacher and learn all I can. Love you hope you are having a good day.

  4. I haven't read the book you mentioned, but keeping an open heart would definitely help you be a vehicle of love for your patients.