"The Schopenhauer Cure"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky MAY 7, 2005)
Irving Yalom's marvelous new novel, The Schopenhauer Cure, is a wide-ranging and exhilarating exploration of psychotherapy, philosophy, and humanity. Julius Hertzfeld is a respected therapist who learns that his days may be numbered. Rather than retreat from life to lick his wounds and contemplate all that he must leave behind, Julius is determined to spend his remaining time continuing his psychotherapeutic work. He decides to look up Philip Slate, a former patient whom he once treated for severe sex addiction. Philip was one of Dr. Hertzfeld's most egregious failures; he quit after three years of what he considered to be futile treatment. Julius invites Philip, who now aspires to be a licensed counselor himself, to join his therapy group. Philip agrees and he brings some heavy baggage with him.
The Schopenhauer Cure goes in several directions, but they all merge into a seamless whole. Yalom invites the reader into the tumultuous world of Julius's group therapy sessions, and he delves a bit into the private lives of each member of Julius's group. Pam is a college professor who has failed both in her marriage and in her adulterous relationship. Rebecca has relied too much on her physical beauty, and as she ages, she must face the fact that her looks are slowly fading. Tony is a carpenter whose rough exterior and lack of formal education hide an innate intelligence. These and other members of the therapy group are thrown off stride by the shocking news of Julius's illness and by Philip's icy demeanor.
To make matters even more complicated and interesting, Philip claims that he cured himself of his sex addiction by modeling his life after the great German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. In a series of fascinating and informative chapters, Yalom traces the life and work of Arthur Schopenhauer, a brilliant but dour misanthrope whose seminal writings influenced Freud, Nietzche, and Sartre, among others. Yalom brings Schopenhauer to life and the chapters dealing with this prickly genius provide a fascinating counterpoint to the conflicts and revelations that permeate the rest of the book.
This story of people stripping away their defenses and baring their souls to one another gives valuable insight into the therapeutic process. Yalom's writing is witty, highly intelligent, and imbued with compassion. There are many touching passages and one, in particular, left me profoundly moved. If you enjoy a writer who embraces both the cerebral and the emotional aspects of life, but who is also tremendously entertaining, read this terrific novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 41 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Schopenhauer Cure at HarperCollins.com(back to top)
"Lying on the Couch"
(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 11, 1999)
Six years earlier, Dr. Ernest Lash was appointed to serve on the Stanford Hospital Medical Ethics Committee and his first disciplinary action was Dr. Seymour Trotter, a 71 year old patriarch of the psychiatric community, a former APA president, and now facing charges for sexual misconduct with a 32-year-old female patient. As Ernest listens to Seymour recount the events that led to his sexual liaison, he realizes that his true calling is as a psychoanalyst and not in the lab with pharmaceuticals as had been the direction he was heading in. For me as the reader, Dr. Seymour Trotter's story had me on the edge of my couch, unable to stop reading until I saw the outcome. Mind you this all takes place in the prologue and is told to explain the influence on Ernest's later decisions to experiment with technique as well as the ground rules that psychoanalysts must follow. The most incredible part of this prologue (and the entire book) is how easily Yalom provides us with the insight into and knowledge of the psychoanalyst's job. I have a few friends in this field and took some classes in college, but not until reading this book have I had a true appreciation of the goals and techniques.
The remainder of the book is just as intriguing and suspenseful. We quickly realize that sexual indiscretion is not the only lying going on here as we watch patients lie to their psychoanalysts. Throughout the story, Yalom teaches us the weaknesses and the strengths of the traditional methods. Although, he gives us great insight into psychoanalysis, it is not at all a dry story, in fact it's actually quite humorous. I guess if anyone can find sincere humor in this profession it would be someone who works in it.
Lying on the Couch revolves around Justin and Carol Astrid and Ernest's supervisor, Dr. Martin Streider and a few of their clients. Ernest has been Justin's analyst for five years, seeing him three times a week and taking calls in between sessions. Justin began his therapy by asking for help in leaving his marriage. Ernest, after having accessed the situation, agrees that it is a very bad marriage and tries for years to help Justin leave Carol. Then, about two years earlier, he gives up and puts Justin in a "holding action" simply helping him on his day to day issues. But on this day, Justin walks in and tells Ernest "I've left my wife." Ernest can't believe that Justin has actually done it and loses a little professionalism while trying to hear the details. Essentially Justin gives the credit to "his young woman friend," Laura, for helping him to finally see what had to be done. Naturally Ernest is a little miffed that this woman, who apparently Justin had been seeing for sometime, gets the credit and moreover, that Justin forgot to mention her during their many and frequent sessions. And, Justin never even called to say he left - he just waits for his regular session.
During his normal time with his training psychoanalyst, Dr. Streider, Ernest goes over the morning session he had with Justin, describing the "countertransference" that occurred. He expresses that he would like to handle the next session by apologizing and telling Justin the truth of how he feels. Dr. Streider, a very conservative and career minded doctor, is quick to point out why Ernest is wrong in attempting such a non-traditional, unstructured approach.
Still, Ernest doesn't really agree with Streider. He thinks the core of the problem is honesty. That an analyst can't begin to expect total disclosure from a patient if he himself is not willing to be honest. He makes up his mind to be totally honest with his next new patient, who happens to be a woman name "Carolyn." Yes, Justin's wife Carol is out for revenge. She decides that Justin could not have left her without the help of his shrink - so she plots to make the doctor pay. She designs a plan to set Ernest up for a sexual misconduct charge. Meanwhile, lying on the couch in Dr. Streider's office, are just the right people to add to the twists of this tale of shrinks and their patients.
- Amazon reader rating: from 47 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- When Nietzsche Wept (1992)
- Lying on the Couch (1996)
- Momma and the Meaning of Life: Tales of Psychotherapy (1999)
- The Schopenhauer Cure (January 2005)
- Existential Psychotherapy
- Every Day Gets A Little Closer
- Inpatient Group Psychotherapy (1983)
- Theory and Practice of Group Psychology (5th Edition, 2005)
- The Yalom Reader (1988)
- Love's Executioner and other Tales of Psychotherapy (1989)
- The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and their Patients (December 2001)
- Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Fear of Death (February 2008)
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- Official website for Irvin D Yalom
- Salon Magazine review of Lying on the Couch
- WashingtonPost.com review of The Schopenhauer Cure
- SFGate.co review of The Schopenhauer Cure
- Jewish News Weekly review of The Schopenhauer Cure
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About the Author:
Dr. Irvin D. Yalom was born in 1931 in Washington, D. C. of parents who immigrated from Russia shortly after World War I. He grew up in in the inner city atop his parent's grocery store. Reading became is refuge; early in life he developed the notion that writing a novel is the very finest thing a person can do.
Yalom is a Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and is a celebrated and highly respected authority in the field of psychotherapy. His Theory and Practice of Group Psychology and Existential Psychotherapy are popular textbooks. When Nietzche Wept was a New York Times Bestseller and won the Commonwealth Award for Best Fiction.
He lives in Palo Alto, California with his wife Marilyn Yalom, who received a Ph. D, in comparative literature (French and German) from Johns Hopkins and is a University Professor and writer (most recently the highly acclaimed A History of the Breast and his currently writing History of Wife). They have four children and five grandchildren.