Top critical review
25 people found this helpful
Interesting subject but the book is dull, poorly written, and might turn you off therapy.
on 9 November 2008
This is a collection of patient case studies by psychiatrist Yalom. It was given to me as a gift by a friend who is a great admirer of Yalom's work. I am not working in the field of therapy or counseling but as I had took a few psychology classes in college I am somewhat familiar with the some of the classic texts of psychology (Freud, Jung, Piaget, etc) and I am accustomed to reading case studies.
Yalom often describes his own feelings and reactions during therapy, something that might be helpful for a future councilor but his style is too simplistic. To follow his example and give my critic in a personal tone rather than a professional one: I was left disliking the man intensely, the idea that I could give access to my private life to this man was revolting. His patients are all viewed critically at first and then -in some extent- some manage to gain his compassion or at least his respect. In none other of the case studies the shallow notions of the psychiatrist were so evident. He describes with great detail -and snobbery- the appearance among others of an elderly depressed woman who neglects her looks, of an obese young woman for whom he feels such revolt he cannot stand looking at her, of an advanced cancer patient who has the illusion that he can attract women even his illness and chemotherapy have ruined his appearance.... When moving beneath appearances he has the same attitude towards the weaknesses of his patients. How much better the clinical detachment of traditional analysts. Yalom does not accept one method of therapy -such as Freudian, Jungian etc- which is a great idea and liberating but it seems as if it has left him open to seeing his patients as acquaintances rather than patients.
I understand that he adopts this tone in an effort to reveal all with sincerity. But I was left thinking that a better writer could do so with more tact and less callous expressions. Yalom tries to point out that therapy is a process which involves two people and wants to reveal himself as much as his patient, pity that his self is not more appealing. It is a difficult task which he sets and he is not equal to it: it takes a lot of professionalism and dignity for the psychiatrist to expose himself and still convince he is worth getting paid pounds per minute of his time.
This becomes more apparent when he attempts to present his more sophisticated and sensitive aspects where you read quotes from and references to canonic art works that have nothing to do with the subject whatsoever.
One of my professors at grad school used to say that you need to learn to write well when you are still in the beginning of your career but then once you make a name of yourself you can damp the rules and start either experimenting -if you are serious about your work- or as is so often the case just start vomiting and selling words to publishers who are only to happy to sell a badly written book if it is authored by 'a name'. I think Yalom falls in the second category, whatever professional attributes he has are not apparent in this book which is more like an unedited journal of a psychotherapist than a book about analysis. If this was written by a student it would be returned back for rewriting.
Seeing that it got good reviews by previous reviewers I guess even that will get an audience. For me it was not good enough and I am grateful to amazon for the opportunity to vent for loosing so many hours of my life.