email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
Maximizing Effectiveness in Dynamic Psychotherapy Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy101 Healing StoriesA Clinician's Guide to Legal Issues in PsychotherapyA Map of the MindA Primer for Beginning PsychotherapyACT With LoveActive Treatment of DepressionAffect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of SelfAlready FreeBad TherapyBecoming an Effective PsychotherapistBefore ForgivingBeing a Brain-Wise TherapistBetrayed as BoysBeyond Evidence-Based PsychotherapyBeyond MadnessBeyond PostmodernismBinge No MoreBiofeedback for the BrainBipolar DisorderBody PsychotherapyBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBrain Change TherapyBrain Science and Psychological DisordersBrain-Based Therapy with AdultsBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Child Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Therapy Homework PlannerBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCase Studies in DepressionCaught in the NetChild and Adolescent Treatment for Social Work PracticeChoosing an Online TherapistChronic DepressionClinical Dilemmas in PsychotherapyClinical Handbook of Psychological DisordersClinical Intuition in PsychotherapyClinical Pearls of WisdomCo-Creating ChangeCognitive Therapy for Challenging ProblemsCompassionConfessions of a Former ChildConfidential RelationshipsConfidentiality and Mental HealthConfidingContemplative Psychotherapy EssentialsControlConversations About Psychology and Sexual OrientationCoping with BPDCouch FictionCounseling in GenderlandCounseling with Choice TheoryCouple SkillsCrazy for YouCreating a Life of Meaning and CompassionCreating HysteriaCritical Issues in PsychotherapyCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesDeafness In MindDecoding the Ethics CodeDeconstructing PsychotherapyDeep Brain StimulationDemystifying TherapyDepression 101Depression in ContextDialogues on DifferenceDissociative ChildrenDo-It-Yourself Eye Movement Techniques for Emotional HealingDoing CBTE-TherapyEarly WarningEncountering the Sacred in PsychotherapyEnergy Psychology InteractiveErrant SelvesEssays on Philosophical CounselingEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Plain EnglishEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingExpectationExploring the Self through PhotographyExpressing EmotionFacing Human SufferingFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFamily TherapyFavorite Counseling and Therapy Homework AssignmentsFear of IntimacyFlourishingFolie a DeuxForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFoundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in PsychologyFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFrom Morality to Mental HealthFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGod & TherapyHalf Empty, Half FullHandbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for TherapistsHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHealing the Heart and Mind with MindfulnessHeinz KohutHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHigh RiskHistory of PsychotherapyHow Clients Make Therapy WorkHow Psychotherapists DevelopHow to Fail As a TherapistHow to Go to TherapyHypnosis for Inner Conflict ResolutionHypnosis for Smoking CessationI Never Promised You a Rose GardenIf Only I Had KnownIn Others' EyesIn SessionIn Therapy We TrustIn Treatment: Season 1Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInside the SessionInside TherapyIs Long-Term Therapy Unethical?Issues in Philosophical CounselingIt's Not as Bad as It SeemsItís Your HourLearning from Our MistakesLearning Supportive PsychotherapyLetters to a Young TherapistLife CoachingLogotherapy and Existential AnalysisLove's ExecutionerMadness and DemocracyMaking the Big LeapMan's Search for MeaningMetaphoria: Metaphor and Guided Metaphor for Psychotherapy and HealingMind GamesMindfulness and AcceptanceMindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionMindworks: An Introduction to NLPMockingbird YearsMoments of EngagementMomma and the Meaning of LifeMotivational Interviewing: Preparing People For ChangeMulticulturalism and the Therapeutic ProcessMultifamily Groups in the Treatment of Severe Psychiatric DisordersNarrative PracticeOn the CouchOne Nation Under TherapyOur Inner WorldOur Last Great IllusionOutsider ArtOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsOverexposedPathways to SpiritualityPersonality and PsychotherapyPhilosophical CounselingPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPhilosophical Issues in Counseling and PsychotherapyPhilosophical PracticePhilosophy and PsychotherapyPhilosophy for Counselling and PsychotherapyPhilosophy PracticePhilosophy's Role in Counseling and PsychotherapyPillar of SaltPlan BPlato, Not Prozac!Polarities of ExperiencesPower GamesPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPsychologists Defying the CrowdPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychosis in the FamilyPsychotherapyPsychotherapyPsychotherapy and ConfidentialityPsychotherapy As PraxisPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy for Personality DisordersPsychotherapy Is Worth ItPsychotherapy Isn't What You ThinkPsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy without the SelfPsychotherapy, American Culture, and Social PolicyRapid Cognitive TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRationality and the Pursuit of HappinessRebuilding Shattered LivesReclaiming Our ChildrenRecovery OptionsRelationalityRent Two Films and Let's Talk in the MorningSaving the Modern SoulScience and Pseudoscience in Clinical PsychologySecond-order Change in PsychotherapySelf-Compassion in PsychotherapySelf-Determination Theory in the ClinicSelf-Disclosure in Psychotherapy and RecoverySerious ShoppingSex, Therapy, and KidsSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySigns of SafetySoul Murder RevisitedStaring at the SunStraight to JesusStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherTaking America Off DrugsTales of PsychotherapyTales of UnknowingTalk is Not EnoughTalking Cures and Placebo EffectsTelling SecretsThe Behavioral Medicine Treatment PlannerThe Body in PsychotherapyThe Brief Couples Therapy Homework Planner with DiskThe Case Formulation Approach to Cognitive-Behavior TherapyThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Clinical Child Documentation SourcebookThe Clinical Documentation SourcebookThe Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Couch and the TreeThe Couples Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Crucible of ExperienceThe Cure of SoulsThe Death of PsychotherapyThe Education of Mrs. BemisThe Ethical Treatment of DepressionThe Ethics of PsychoanalysisThe Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Gift of TherapyThe Great Psychotherapy Debate: The Evidence for What Makes Psychotherapy Work The Healing JourneyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Heroic ClientThe Husbands and Wives ClubThe Love CureThe Making of a TherapistThe Mindful TherapistThe Mirror Crack'dThe Mummy at the Dining Room TableThe Neuroscience of PsychotherapyThe Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social BrainThe New Rational TherapyThe Older Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Other Side of DesireThe Pastoral Counseling Treatment PlannerThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Pornographer's GriefThe Portable CoachThe Portable Ethicist for Mental Health Professionals The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday LifeThe Problem of EvilThe Problem with Cognitive Behavioural TherapyThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy of HopeThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Schopenhauer CureThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Talking CureThe Therapeutic "Aha!"The Therapist's Guide to PsychopharmacologyThe Therapist's Guide to Psychopharmacology, Revised EditionThe Therapist's Ultimate Solution BookThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe UnsayableThe Way of the JournalTheory and Practice of Brief TherapyTherapy with ChildrenTherapy's DelusionsTheraScribe 3.0 for WindowsTheraScribe 4.0Thinking about ThinkingThinking for CliniciansThinking for CliniciansThoughts Without a ThinkerThriveToward a Psychology of AwakeningTracking Mental Health OutcomesTrauma, Truth and ReconciliationTreating Attachment DisordersTreatment for Chronic DepressionTreatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety DisordersUnderstanding Child MolestersUnspeakable Truths and Happy EndingsWhat the Buddha FeltWhat Works for Whom?What Works for Whom? Second EditionWhen the Body SpeaksWhispers from the EastWise TherapyWittgenstein and PsychotherapyWorking MindsWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaWriting About PatientsYoga Skills for Therapists:Yoga Therapy
Who's isn't afraid of death? Even those of us who believe in the best of afterlives are often overcome by thoughts of our own mortality. In this most personal of books, Psychiatrist, novelist, and Stanford professor Irvin D. Yalom, who turned seventy-eight this summer (you can watch him age in the photo-animation on his website) shares his thoughts on death, including observations on the approaches of famous philosophers and anonymous patients, past and present.
No stranger to anxiety (he literally wrote the textbook on existential psychotherapy), Yalom makes no false promises. There are no pretences here of being able to completely cure readers from death fear, nor any boasts of his own fearlessness. Instead, Yalom lays out an open buffet of - frequently contradictory - strategies for coping with our all-too-human fear of death for us to pick and mix from. These include 'comforting' thoughts and techniques which tame our anxiety, thus preventing it from ever escalating into horror. While Yalom offers no religious consolation, he admirably also avoids the antagonism of fundamentalist atheists such as Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. His reasons, however, are not merely ones of tolerance and respect, but also highly pragmatic medical ones:
"I cannot imagine attempting to undermine any belief system that is serving a person well, even a belief system that appears entirely fantastical to me. Thus, when persons with religious faith seek my help, I never challenge their core belief. Often one that has been engrained since early life. On the contrary I often search for ways to support their belief" (p. 192).
So far, so helpful, but when it comes to the printed word such unabashed pragmatism is not without its perils. It is hard, after all, to put any testimonial trust in an author whose criteria for good advice seems to be 'what works' rather than what is true (which is not to say that Yalom subscribes to the philosophical doctrine of pragmatism which attempts to characterise the latter in terms of the former). This cavalier attitude towards the truth manifests itself in the abovementioned tensions between the thoughts expressed in various unreferenced wisdom nuggets which decorate the text. Thus, for example, we are advised to remember (i) that the 'rippling' effects of our actions (viz. our influence on others) will continue well beyond our deaths but also (ii) that the fact that everything is 'transcient'(i.e. that its existence is temporally limited since it will ultimately crumble to dust) will crumble to dust. Yet if (ii) is true, and temporal limitation does not matter, why should we care at all about (i)?
Such fast food for thought threatens the book's academic rigour, not least when it is accompanied by a side of lies and a shake. We are told, for example, that Epicurus believed the root cause of human misery to be 'our omnipresent fear of death'. Yet it is well documented that the Greek philosopher saw this fear as just one of many (equally fundamental) causes of misery. Indeed to the extent that he thought there was one root cause this was not fear but what he called our non-natural desires (which he further characterised as empty since they could not be satisfactorily produced). While Epicurus takes the desire for immortality to be empty and also points out that many other desires which initially appear to be unrelated it, such as the desire for fame, are disguised manifestations of this empty wish, he does not claim that all non-natural desires are derived from the fear of death. If anything characterises empty desires for Epicurus it is desires for pleasure (he would have resented our current ordinary usage of the term 'Epicurean'). Indeed the desire to live a long and healthy life is - along with any desires to do what will help us to achieve this - perfectly natural (and therefore good) for Epicurus.
While some of the philosophical and psychological ideas that Yalom simplifies will be of interest to certain readers, the book's strengths (and there are plenty of them) lie elsewhere. Not only does Yalom succeed in being both personal and sincere without being private in a celebrity age where much of what is written somehow manages to be private without being either sincere or personal, but he does so in a way which conveys to the reader the fact that even (indeed perhaps especially) the greatest minds in history have had to struggle with death anxiety. fBy including sections on his medical experience with patients and advice for therapists, in addition to the ideas of past philosophers and his own personal memoir, he succeeds in producing an evenly balanced book that may well be the perfect introduction for many haunted by the thought of their own death.
© 2009 Constantine Sandis
Constantine Sandis is currently a visiting fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.
Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology.
We feature over 7800 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and
We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.
Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'
Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send
review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank
you for your support!
Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these
announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click
Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers
for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.
Metapsychology Online Reviews
Promote your Page too
Metapsychology Online Reviews