Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

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by Irvin D. Yalom

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The collection of ten absorbing tales by master psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom uncovers the mysteries, frustrations, pathos, and humor at the heart of the therapeutic encounter. In recounting his patients' dilemmas, Yalom not only gives us a rare and enthralling glimpse into their personal desires and motivations but also tells us his own story as he struggles to… See more details below


The collection of ten absorbing tales by master psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom uncovers the mysteries, frustrations, pathos, and humor at the heart of the therapeutic encounter. In recounting his patients' dilemmas, Yalom not only gives us a rare and enthralling glimpse into their personal desires and motivations but also tells us his own story as he struggles to reconcile his all-too human responses with his sensibility as a psychiatrist. Not since Freud has an author done so much to clarify what goes on between a psychotherapist and a patient.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``It's the relationship that heals'' is a slogan psychotherapist Yalom claims as his ``professional rosary.'' In these 10 eloquent, engaging tales of personal transformation, each patient makes some headway in overcoming compulsions, depression, hyptertension or whatever--yet each also comes face to face with larger problems such as the inevitability of death or the existential need to give one's life meaning. Among those we get to know intimately are an isolated man who copes with terminal cancer by having promiscuous sex, an accountant who draws detailed graphs correlating his migraines with his bouts of impotence, and a taxicab driver still numbed by guilt and grief four years after her daughter's death. Yalom's humanism shines through in these wise, moving stories. Because he makes his own feelings and biases explicit, they become factors in the equation of therapeutic change. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/ promo; author tour. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Because Yalom (psychiatry, Stanford Univ.) is not only an accomplished psychiatrist but a gifted storyteller as well, his new book moves at the pace of a suspense thriller, with each chapter providing a fascinating look at the patient-therapist relationship. Yalom gives the reader the opportunity to view up close the intimate, and sometimes startling, relationship that develops between client and therapist. Refusing to paint an artificial picture of therapy as always successful--a truly unique aspect of this work--Yalom also describes relationships in which clients have walked out, never to return; the reader is left to ponder why the relationship ended as it did. At once funny and insightful; highly recommended.-- Kim Banks, Columbia Univ. Lib.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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4.11(w) x 6.11(h) x 1.11(d)

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Chapter One

Love's Executioner

I do not like to work with patients who are in love. Perhaps it is because of envy--I too, crave enchantment. Perhaps it is because love and psychotherapy are fundamentally incompatible. The good therapist fights darkness and seeks illumination, while romantic love is sustained by mystery and crumbles upon inspection. I hate to be love's executioner.

Yet Thelma, in the opening minutes of our first interview, told me that she was hopelessly, tragically in love, and I never hesitated, not for one moment, to accept her for treatment. Everything I saw in my first glance--her wrinkled seventy-year-old face with that senile chin tremor, her thinning, peroxided, unkempt yellow hair, her emaciated blueveined hands--told me she had to be mistaken, that she could not be in love. How could love ever choose to ravage that frail, tottering old body, or house itself in that shapeless polyester jogging suit?

Moreover, where was the aura of love bliss? Thelma's suffering did not surprise me, love being always contaminated by pain; but her love was monstrously out of balance--it contained no pleasure at all, her life wholly a torment.

So I agreed to treat her because I was certain she was suffering, not from love, but from some rare variant which she mistook for love. Not only did I believe that I could help Thelma but I was intrigued by the idea that this counterfeit love could be a beacon that might illuminate some of the deep mystery of love.

Thelma was remote and stiff in our first meeting. She had not returned my smile when I greeted her in the waitingroom, and followed a step or two behind me as I escorted her down the hall. Once we entered my office, she did not inspect her surroundings but immediately sat down. Then, without waiting for any comment from me and without unbuttoning the heavy jacket she wore over her jogging suit, she took a sharp deep breath and began:

"Eight years ago I had a love affair with my therapist. Since then he has never left my mind. I almost killed myself once and I believe I will succeed the next time. You are my last hope."

I always listen carefully to first statements. They are often preternaturally revealing and foreshadow the type of relationship I will be able to establish with a patient. Words permit one to cross into the life of the other, but Thelma's tone of voice contained no invitation to come closer.

She continued: "In case you have a hard time believing me, perhaps these will help!"

She reached into a faded red drawstring purse and handed me two old photographs. The first was of a young beautiful dancer wearing a sleek black leotard. I was startled, when I looked into the face of that dancer, to meet Thelma's large eyes peering out at me across the decades.

"That one," Thelma informed me when she saw me turning to the second photo, of a sixty-year-old handsome but stolid woman, "was taken about eight years ago. As you see"--she ran her fingers through her uncombed hair--"I no longer tend to my appearance."

Though I had difficulty imagining this shabby old woman having an affair with her therapist, I had said nothing about not believing her. In fact, I had said nothing at all. I had tried to maintain complete objectivity but she must have noticed some evidence of disbelief, some small cue, perhaps a minuscule widening of my eyes. I decided not to protest her accusation that I did not believe her. This was no time for gallantry and there was something incongruous in the idea of a disheveled seventy-year-old infatuated, lovesick woman. She knew that, I knew it, and she knew I knew it.

I soon learned that over the last twenty years she had been chronically depressed and in Psychiatric treatment almost continuously.Much of her therapy had been obtained at the local county mental health clinic, where she had been treated by a series of trainees.

About eleven years before, she began treatment with Matthew, a young, handsome psychology intern, and met weekly with him for eight months at the clinic and continued to see him in his Private practice for another year. The following year, when Matthew took a full-time position at a state hospital, he had to terminate therapy with all his private patients.

It was with much sadness that Thelma said goodbye to him. He was, by far, the best therapist she had ever had, and she had grown fond of him, very fond, and for those twenty months looked forward all week to her therapy hour. Never before had she been as totally open with anyone. Never before had a therapist been so scrupulously honest, direct, and gentle with her.

Thelma rhapsodized about Matthew for several minutes. "He had so much caring, so much loving. I've had other therapists who tried to be warm, to put you at ease, but Matthew was different. He really cared, he really accepted me. No matter what I did, what horrid things I thought, I knew he'd accept it and still--what's the word?--confirm me--No, validate me. He helped me in the way therapists usually do, but he did a lot more."

"For example?"

"He introduced me to the spiritual, religious dimension of life. He taught me to care for all living things. He taught me to think about the reasons I was put here on earth. But he didn't have his head in the clouds. He was right in there with me."

Thelma was highly animated--she snapped her words off and pointed down to the earth and up to the clouds as she spoke. I could see she liked talking about Matthew. "I loved the way he tangled with me. He didn'tlet me get away with anything. He always called me on my shitty habits."

Love's Executioner. Copyright © by Irvin D. Yalom. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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