Top critical review
30 people found this helpful
An invitation to applying Existentialism to therapy
on 22 October 2007
Yalom follows Rollo May in making Existentialism accessible to American psychotherapists. The introduction clearly explains the need for doing so. Freudian-based therapy, Behavioral therapy, and the anti-intellectual forms of humanistic therapy, all have limitations in the areas that existential psychotherapy may shine at.
As he states in the Epilogue, Yalom regards "this existential paradigm as an early formulation..." that will "not only be useful to clinicians in its present form, but will stimulate the discourse necessary to modify and enrich it." What Yalom has done is to select four significant existentialist concerns (death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness) and discuss them in the context of his experiences with clients, the writings of major Existentialists, and other therapies. In doing so, it may become clear what Existentialism has to offer to psychotherapy. Although this introductory work may be rich enough to, by itself, benefit clinicians, the interested reader can also then turn to the rich literature in Existentialism and existential psychotherapy, guided by Yalom's focus on death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness.
As a work of introduction, it seems understandable that, although he quotes Sarte, Yalom doesn't present Sartre's existential psychoanalysis, not even (it seems) Sartre's analysis of "bad faith" or Sartre's existential analysis of Jean Genet. Yalom said in the introduction that he did not intend to discuss existentialist philosophy much, but rather focus on what would be helpful for clinicians. Although Sartre's work in the area of existential psychoanalysis is ignored, as well as British psychiatrist R.D. Laing's work (heavily influenced by existentialism), Yalom does discuss Frankl's logotherapy, perhaps because its clinical application had been worked out more.
It would have seemed helpful, however, since he acknowledged this work as an "early formulation", if he had provided an explicit selection of existentialist works, whether relevent philosophy or psychotherapy for further reading. However, the reader can hopefully find many such works based on names and works mentioned within the text. Although challenging, I'd certainly recommend Sartre's sections from "Being and Nothingness" on "Existential Psychoanalysis" and "Bad Faith", and, for the brave reader, Sartre's application of that philosophy in "Saint Genet".
As to just why "death" gets about 190 pages, "freedom" about 140 pages, "isolation" only about 70 pages, and "meaninglessness" only about 65 pages: I didn't see where Yalom explains this weighting. There are not hard boundaries between these concerns, however, so, in addressing the earlier concerns, some of the later concerns may be addressed.
Understood as an introductory work that may lead you to further study on your own of existential psychotherapy, this book may serve you well, especially if you are a therapist or studying to be. Lay readers, such as myself, less interested in discussion targetted to clinicians, may find Sartre, although difficult, or Rollo May (e.g. "The Meaning of Anxiety") more suitable