From novelist and master psychotherapist Irvin Yalom, author of Lying on the Couch and When Nietzsche Wept , comes the world's first accurate group-therapy novel, a mesmerizing story of two men's search for meaning. At one time or another, all of us have wondered what we'd do in the face of death. Suddenly confronted with his own mortality after a routine checkup, distinguished psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld is forced to reexamine his life and work. Has he really made an enduring difference in the lives of his patients And what about the patients he's failed What has happened to them Now that he is wiser and riper, can he rescue them yet Reaching beyond the safety of his thriving San Francisco practice, Julius feels compelled to seek out Philip Slate, whom he treated for sex addiction some twenty-three years earlier. At that time, Philip's only means of connecting to humans was through brief sexual interludes with countless women, and Julius's therapy did not change that.
Having taken on the origins of psychotherapy in the popular When Nietzsche Wept, psychiatrist-novelist Yalom now turns to group therapy and the thinker sometimes known as the "philosopher of pessimism," in this meticulous, occasionally slow-moving book. Julius Hertzfeld, a successful therapist in San Francisco, is shocked by the news that he suffers from terminal cancer. Moved to reassess his life's work, he contacts Philip Slate, whose three years of therapy for sexual addiction Julius describes as an "old-time major-league failure." Philip is now training to be a therapist himself, guided by the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, and he offers to teach Julius about Schopenhauer as a way of helping him deal with his looming death. Julius and Philip strike a deal: Julius will serve as Philip's clinical supervisor, but only if Philip joins the ongoing therapy group Julius leads. To complicate matters further, Pam, a group member, is one of the hundreds of women Philip seduced and then rejected. Yalom often refers to his books as "teaching novels," and his re-creation of a working therapy group is utterly convincing. At the same time, his approach can be overly documentary, as the inner workings of therapy, often repetitious and self-referential, absorb much of the novel's momentum. A parallel account of Schopenhauer's life sheds light on the philosopher's intellectual triumphs and emotional difficulties. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. (Jan. 6) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2005
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Excerpt from The Schopenhauer Cure by Irvin D. Yalom
Every breath we draw wards off
the death that constantly impinges on
us . . . Ultimately death must triumph,
for by birth it has already
become our lot and it plays with its
prey only for a short while before
swallowing it up. However, we continue
our life with great interest and
much solicitude as long as possible,
just as we blow out a soap-bubble as
long and as large as possible, although
with the perfect certainty that it will
Julius knew the life-and-death homilies as well as anyone. He agreed with the Stoics, who said, "As soon as we are born we begin to die," and with Epicurus, who reasoned, "Where I am, death is not and where death is, I am not. Hence why fear death?" As a physician and a psychiatrist, he had murmured these very consolations into the ears of the dying.
Though he believed these somber reflections to be useful to his patients, he never considered that they might have anything to do with him. That is, until a terrible moment four weeks earlier which forever changed his life.
The moment occurred during his annual routine physical examination. His internist, Herb Katz-an old friend and medical school classmate-had just completed his examination and, as always, told Julius to dress and come to his office for a debriefing.
Herb sat at his desk, rifling through Julius's chart. "On the whole, you look pretty good for an ugly sixty-five-year-old man. Prostate is getting a little swollen, but so is mine. Blood chemistries, cholesterol, and lipid levels are well-behaved-the meds and your diet are doing their job. Here's the prescription for your Lipitor, which, along with your jogging, has lowered your cholesterol enough. So you can give yourself a break: eat an egg once in a while. I eat two for breakfast every Sunday. And here's the prescription for your synthyroid. I'm raising the dose a bit. Your thyroid gland is slowly closing down-the good thyroid cells are dying and being replaced by fibrotic material. Perfectly benign condition, as you know. Happens to us all; I'm on thyroid meds myself.
"Yes, Julius, no part of us escapes the destiny of aging. Along with your thyroid, your knee cartilage is wearing out, your hair follicles are dying, and your upper lumbar disks are not what they used to be. What's more, your skin integrity is obviously deteriorating: your epithelial cells are just plain wearing out?look at all those senile keratoses on your cheeks, those brown flat lesions." He held up a small mirror for Julius to inspect himself. "Must be a dozen more on you since I last saw you. How much time you spending in the sun? Are you wearing a broad-brimmed hat like I suggested? I want you to see a dermatologist about them. Bob King's good. He's just in the next building. Here's his number. Know him?"
"He can burn off the unseemly ones with a drop of liquid nitrogen. I had him remove several of mine last month. No big deal- takes five, ten, minutes. A lot of internists are doing it themselves now. Also there's one I want him to look at on your back: you can't see it; it's just under the lateral part of your right scapula. It looks different from the others-pigmented unevenly and the borders aren't sharp. Probably nothing, but let's have him check it. Okay, buddy?"