What are some fiction novels about psychotherapy

Irvin Yalom - The inspiring portrait of a psychotherapist

Perhaps you know the novels of the American writer and psychotherapist Irvin Yalom? Books like “And Nietzsche Wept” or “Die Rote Couch” are bestsellers. At least as stimulating and exciting is the story of the person behind it. In our therapist portrait we introduce you to Irvin Yalom and his memoirs. A life story that is thought-provoking and inspires to remain curious and to always discover new things.

When I started studying psychology, there was one writer whose books all my fellow students read: Irvin Yalom. Perhaps you have heard of his books or read them yourself? His bestsellers include “And Nietzsche Wept”, “The Panama Hat” and “The Red Couch”.

Of course, I also read the books in the course of my psychology studies. But I've never really dealt with the writer behind the books - until now, several years later. A friend gave me his memoir and with it a journey through time, through psychiatric-psychotherapeutic history and a very personal insight into a long, eventful and inspiring life.

Psychiatrist and group therapist

Yalom was born in Washington in the early 1930s to Russian immigrants and grew up in poor conditions. After an impressive childhood experience with a doctor, he decided to study medicine and then felt particularly drawn to psychiatry during his studies. He came into contact with group psychotherapy early in his psychiatric training and was fascinated by the concept. At the same time, however, he was also shocked that the participants in the groups he observed through the one-way mirror as a young assistant doctor opened up so little and apparently benefited little from the therapy. The question of what could help them greatly influenced his further professional life. For many decades, he himself led a wide variety of therapy groups - from self-awareness groups with young assistant doctors to therapy groups in clinics and with people with cancer. He continuously developed and researched his group concepts so that the group members could open up as best as possible and would benefit best from the group.

Existential psychotherapy

Yalom also always dealt critically with existing therapy methods and was open to experiencing and trying out new approaches. He founded the "existential psychotherapy". This was rooted in Yalom's great interest in philosophy. He regretted that philosophical theories took up little space in his psychotherapy due to his medical orientation and then attended several lectures in phenomenology and existentialism, read the writings of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and other philosophers. He realized that the philosophical texts explained many of his patients' problems better than medicine: the struggle with death, with loss and aging. He began to write a book that was supposed to unite these philosophical and therapeutic insights and realized that death was the central linchpin of many problems. This led to his decision to work with cancer patients in the oncology department in Stanford and to deal intensively with dying - in other words, with a topic that many colleagues shied away from or found uncomfortable. Yalom's confrontation with his own death can also be felt in his memoirs. Yalom - now in his late eighties - deals personally with his death and the end of his life. The question of one's own being and the (critical) reflection of one's own life seem to be of particular importance to him. From his early residency to old age, he repeatedly went into therapy and analyzes with well-known therapists and analysts around the world. With a curious look he seems to rediscover himself again and again.

The writing career

The link between philosophy and psychotherapy can be found again and again in Yalom's books - for example, in his fictional novels, well-known philosophers such as Nietzsche or Schopenhauer are in psychotherapeutic treatment. In this way, the reader learns biographical information about the philosophers and their theories within the framework of fiction and gets an insight into what psychotherapy can look like. This is not only well received by the specialist audience, but is also of interest to a large readership. His novels, which he dared to write after his first more technically oriented works, quickly became a worldwide success.

How do i live my life

In addition to the professional highlights, Yalom's life is like a colorful, exciting patchwork carpet: a honeymoon on a motorcycle through France, LSD experiments at university in the late 1950s, trips through Europe and Asia, longer stays abroad, family life and chess games with the grandchildren. Dealing with Yalom's life and his memories, but also with his thoughts about the end of his life, stirs and stimulates reflection: How do I spend my life? How do I want to fill it? But it also inspires: to be curious, to want to experience new things, to learn as much as you can, to try out, to experiment and to question. A life story that encourages you to continuously develop personally as well as professionally.

For further reading:

Yalom, Irvin (2017). How to Become What You Are - Memoirs of a Psychotherapist. Munich: Random House.

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