Most who have taken a psychology theories class in college have heard of therapist Irvin Yalom. He is one of the leading writers on Existential Therapy. His book “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy” is owned (because it is required reading) by every therapist I know with a graduate degree. Not only is Yalom the master therapist that I most respect but he’s become one of my favorite authors, and more so after reading his fictional novel, The Schopenhauer Cure.
The Schopenhauer Cure centers on a therapist that finds out he’s terminally ill and so begins his quest to obtain the answers that will impart the meaning of his life and the need to continue his work until the end. He seeks out past patients, hoping they will provide him affirmation that what he did for them had mattered eventually, even though it had not at the time. After reconnecting with a patient he had treated for years but who did not improve, the two begin to build on a renewed professional relationship.
Alternating chapters integrate the story of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, into a seamless narrative that relates back to the therapist and the group he is counseling. Schopenhauer’s intelligent and articulate musings, while pessimistic, educate the reader and allow insight into one of the members. With the therapist’s approaching death one processes this inevitable occurrence and the experiences one might expect as life slips quickly away. With a spattering of Buddhist philosophy Yalom’s literary style has meshed the works of these great thinkers into a glimpse of the lives of individual group patients; to showcase group therapy work at its best. It is a totally thought provoking, entertaining and engaging read.
I am an existential therapist, I council groups and I basically adhere to the Buddhist philosophy so this book directly related to what I love. I generally don’t read fiction novels, sticking more to the academic, so I’m uncertain if there would be appeal to a wider audience. However, The Schopenhauer Cure does seem to offer all the elements that make a great peruse; a storyline that touches on the tense and sometimes heartbreaking fragility of the human psyche, believable situations, and touching moments as relationships are explored. Additionally the book was recommended to me by a client who studies literature. I found the book engrossing and would particularly recommend it to my fellow therapists who would enjoy seeing our chosen career portrayed in fictional literature. And I would endorse it for anyone that has even a remedial interest in philosophy and appreciation for authors that can spin a tale with characters you’ll find yourself caring for.