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on 1 June 2005
If you like reading case histories, then this is the book for you. It is a series of case histories with Irvin Yaloms thoughts included as part of the narrative. It tells you what happened, what he was thinking while it happened, what he was aiming for with his responses and where he occasionally went wrong! As a trainee counsellor, I found this a very refreshing and honest read. I also found it useful as a loose guide for hints and tips. It may not be an ideal practical skills manual, but it was entertaining, thought provoking and a wonderful insight to existentialism. Like one of the other reviewers, it was on my required reading list for my course, and also like that reviewer, it is the only one I picked up and read cover to cover within a few days - it really made me care about the clients he wrote about and I wanted to see what happened to them - luckily Irvin Yalom tells you!
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on 31 December 1999
Only once in a while do you come across a book -- in a shop, library, or friend's collection -- and find that, within just a few lines, it's prose jumps out at you from the page, haunting you, until you posess and devour it for yourself. This is such a book.
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on 17 February 2001
what can I say, I have been training as a counsellor for three years and this is the first book which was on the college book list that I could not put down. The other books on the list are still unread in my bookcase. Though reading Yalom I now understand existentialism . It was wonderful, very easy to read. the book was delivered on Thursday and I finished it on Friday, which is amazing for me as I live in a household of 4 young children. Buy it tommorrow, I'm going to buy more copies for all my friends as I promised them they could read mine when I had finished with it but I'm afraid that I won't get it back so they will have to have their own copy. If anyone knows of an address where I can write to Irvin Yalom let me know. By the way I have just ordered the rest of his books
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I value Irvin D. Yalom's books on his psychotherapy work hugely, because the weight of his arguments go far outside the field of psychotherapy, and explore what the beingness of human entails. Much of what he explores in the one-to-one sessions can be translated into the relationship each of us has, firstly, with ourselves, and secondly, with 'the other'. This to me is the fascination of the existential approach : how we deal with these givens: isolation, meaninglessness, mortality and freedom.

These are not just problems for those society might perceive of as 'unwell' and needing help - they are the bedrock of being a self-conscious embodied being, and flow, like a deep river, more or less acknowledged and observed, through our day to day moment to moment lives

The wonderful and shocking title of the book refers to the role of therapy in helping us to see clear and live outside denial - the denial of the challenges of those four givens. The psychotherapist is here cast as the executioner of illusion - not of love itself, but the giddy, distorting, exhilarating, wondrous 'being in love' state. We all crave and enjoy this - but it is an illusory state, a kind of unreal, seductive, beautiful madness; it is intoxication, and is possibly the most potent of intoxicants. The broken illusions and despairs of the Western Romantic Tradition bring many into therapy. How do we live with the loving, which will always bring losing (through mortality, if nothing else) when the champagne intoxication of blissfulness (in love) loses the bubble, and we taste it without that giddy sparkle

What I particularly like, from the psychotherapeutic encounter considerations of this book is that Yalom is able to say 'this is where I got in the way, this is where my own agenda inhibited the client's journey and progress' He is not afraid to step outside of the illusory framework of 'the objective, non-judgemental practitioner' and say that though this is what we may aim for, in theory, in the reality of practice as human beings we cannot help but bring our own prejudices into the treatment room. Far from being appalled by (for example) his honesty about his inability to see the real suffering individual behind his stereotypical very overweight client, I am impressed that he is honest enough to look at himself and his prejudices, and how they impact, negatively or positively, upon the process for the client, and offer that honesty to us, his readers. What is important is to be able to acknowledge our prejudices, not pretend we don't have them, or be in denial about the buttons clients (or any other human being) may push. We need to know what is our stuff, in order to really see our clients (or any other)

Some fellow professionals have criticised Yalom for writing so much about himself, however I think this is the strength of the book. It shows the willing, but inevitably imperfect practitioner in action. Self-reflection is always crucial, and its great to see such an obviously highly revered practitioner and teacher showing where he fails his clients, as well as where he supports them beautifully. The perfect therapist/client encounter (for the client) is an ongoing journey in process, sometimes practitioners and clients manage a session almost perfectly, sometimes the dynamic isn't quite right; its great to see honesty, rather than the great guru displaying his perfection. The really great guru is the one who lets us see his imperfections!
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on 19 February 2000
For anyone who is training as a therapist or counsellor, undergoing therapy, or thinking of doing so, this book is a must-read. It describes case studies in absorbing detail, but it is also peppered with psychotherapeutic insights, so much so that it serves as a training manual for the trainee therapist. A brilliant work of psychology and literature.
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on 19 November 2006
This book was recommended to me by my tutor because i was having difficulty understanding existential counselling, not anymore!

Yalom writes honestly and beautifully about the client/counsellor relationship.

He is able to perfectly describe the therapeutic process each client goes through as well as being honest about the feelings each client envokes in himself.
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Freud's case studies have become famous not least because they are well written. There have also been arguments that they are largely fiction. Yet case studies often are fictionalised because there is a need to protect patient confidentiality. In the early pages of this book, Irvin D Yalom, explains this, suggesting nobody would guess the true identity of the patients stories he tells, with their permission.

In the first chapter, Yalom explains his own theoretical bent which is existentialist, stating:

"I focus on what is going at the moment between a patient and me rather than on the events of his or her past."

He has explored the fuller theoretical implications of this kind of therapy in more detail for therapists in his larger volume Existential Psychotherapy. But the chapter here gives a good brief account of this, which will suffice for most people. This is followed by the ten cases described.

Yalom is an excellent, literate, and, at times, even exuberant writer. There is an honesty which reveals itself in his descriptions of patients, which are not always flattering. In one, for example, he mentions he has a prejudice against fat women, and his description fully unravels the extent of it though at the end he does come to like the patient he has taken on. All through he examines his own feelings and what they might tell him about the patient in front of him, something a therapist often has to do. In this we get an excellent picture of what it is to be a therapist.

The details of patient symptoms are described, and make for fascinating reading rather like Oliver Sachs' neurological portraits. In all of them there are fears of isolation, and seeking for personal meaning that he states none of us can completely escape. This is very existentialist, and shows also in Yalom's quoting and referring to Sartre and Nietzsche, the latter whose ideas, he admits later, carry a great deal of weight with him.

In his pursuit of truth, Yalom can perhaps sound ruthless, as for example, in the title case history when he says he is "love's executioner," someone who has to break through enchantment. Yet there are also flashes of humour, for example mentioning how sometimes good therapy gets wasted on patients. He tells the reader of how moved he is with many of the people's stories, and there is a genuine compassion for their suffering, but he also shows that therapists also can get impatient with this. Perhaps there is a hint of arrogance here, but he is aware of that too.

These are all beautifully written. Perhaps the best written case studies since Freud's. But a lot has been learned since the origins of psychoanalysis, and so this updates on them. But most of all they are enlightening reading for students of psychotherapy and the general reader.
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on 12 October 2005
I picked this up more by accident than intent. I am not a therapist or similar merely an ordinary person with an interest in psychology.
This is so accessible and human that anyone can read it and gain something from it. The sincerity together with an understanding of human failings - his patients and his own - make it a joy to read.
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on 3 January 2007
Love's Executioner is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It was engaging, interesting and I couldn't put it down. I read the entire book in two days. I also found it helpful in highlighting the therapeutic relationship, which students of psychotherapy will find helpful. Overall an excellent book!!!
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on 15 November 2007
I rarely read books to the end, even those I like, but this had me gripped from start to finish.

Yalom makes interactions with his patients into riveting, detective story narratives wrapped in essential human needs and the essential fears and desires at the heart of nearly all of us (he says we all fear death for example).

He takes each patient (and us as viewers) on a sort of an absolutely enthralling intellectual ramble seeking the essence of the patients pain. He manages to eek out the most interesting characteristics from these stories and his insights into them are incredible. Interspersed in the accounts are interesting digressions into the process of psychotherapy; what it is for and what it aims to do.

For someone interested in psychotherapy (someone "psychologically minded" as he says) or into the deeper meaning of all of our lives journeys, this is juicy juicy stuff.
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