Counselling, Supervision, Training, Research, Teaching, Writing. Providing therapeutic services to the people of East Lancashire and beyond.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Existential Psychotherapy - Irvin Yalom

I've started dropping the name of Irvin Yalom when talking to my students. So far it's been pretty successful, with a couple of them reading his work and expressing pleasure in what he's written. So I wanted to put something about Yalom on this blog with a list of references and a few links to resources.

In my opinion Irvin Yalom is one of the world's great therapists. I've formed this view after many years reading his books and watching his DVDs. His writing includes intellectual work on existential psychotherapy and therapeutic groups; several novels, Lying on the Couch, When Nietszche Wept and The Schopenhauer Cure; works about the process of therapy; two collections of case studies, the finest of which is a wonderful bedtime read and called, Loves Executioner; recent works include a book about death anxiety called, Staring at the Sun. A novel about the philosopher Spinoza is published in March 2012.

Yalom's DVDs include an amazing set of recordings on the practice of inpatient and outpatient group therapy. It seems to me that Yalom is an amazingly humane, empathic and sensitive man in those films. The work is pretty challenging but the overall impression is of Yalom accepting and working with whatever his patients bring. Carl Rogers talked about 'prizing' his clients and I think this is what Yalom achieves. Another DVD sees a much older Yalom (he's 80 now) providing case consultation for a number of psychotherapists; again the same themes re-occur: existentialism, working in the here-and-now, therapy in groups, the therapeutic relationship and the importance of dreams. In his supervision session Yalom listens out for these themes as they emerge in the course of the consultation, it's nice to watch.

So here are some Irvin Yalom links. is a Yalom company. Their YouTube site includes clips from Yalom's DVDs here
Yalom's personal website is here and his Facebook Page is here
Most of his books (and now his DVDs too) are available on Amazon here

Annotated Bibliography


What if the existential philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, had asked Freud for help with his neurosis and benefited from the talking cure?

Twists and turns as a client out for revenge entraps her therapist

A philosophy teacher with a love for the pessimistic philosopher Arnold Schopenhauer joins a therapy group.

Soon to be published - mine is on order!


1970 The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy

Yalom's huge contribution to the practice of group therapy

1974 Every Day Gets a Little Closer

Yalom and his patient write an account of their therapy together. Thus he can charge her reduced fees and help with her writing block. I read this and thought Yalom was way off with some of his interventions - an honest account of therapy in all it's movement and stuckness.

1980 Existential Psychotherapy

Yalom's magisterial account of existential psychotherapy, in which existential concerns (freedom, isolation, meaning and death) are presented as the unwavering facts of our existence, to be addressed in therapy, the cause of great and often displaced anxiety.

1983 Inpatient Group Psychotherapy

More insights into group work where distressed individuals are able to work on their own issues by working with each other.

1989 Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Wonderful set of case studies - Yalom called them his teaching tales. Each is full of wisdom, thoughts about practice and Yalom's core concerns.

1998 The Yalom Reader

A selection of Yalom's writing from his novels and text books

1999 Momma and the Meaning of Life

More case studies or teaching tales with a focus on existential issues and in particular our mortality and what that means

2001 The Gift of Therapy

Beautifully written short chapters covering numerous FAQs about the practice of good therapy.

2008 Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death

As Yalom has got older the subject of death has become more compelling. This is a book length treatment of death anxiety and how it might be overcome, containing Yalom's idea of 'the ripple effect'.


  1. John, thanks for these kind words about my father, and thanks also for mentioning Indeed it is a "Yalom" company--although founded and run by myself, and my wife, Marie-Helene Yalom. We do have a couple of other Irv Yalom DVDs, and also offer signed copies of his book. One other resource worth mentioning is his facebook page ( which has amazingly over 60,000 fans.

    1. Hello Victor, thank you for commenting on my blog. I shall surely keep adding to my Yalom collection. I'm not too surprised your father has 60,000 fans on Facebook, please pass on my kind regards and wish him well with the publication of his latest novel.

  2. I have this book ready to get stuck into, and adore Yalom's writing - he writes exquisitely. So I was interested to read your review.

    I have the pleasure of meeting Irv next month. I am travelling around part of America with my family and will be in the vicinity. I am fortunate enough to have been able to arrange a one-off 1:1 session with Irv Yalom at his Palo Alto office. It's a kind of pilgrimage of professional and personal development. Can't wait to blog about it (will ask his permission first of course).

  3. As I was saying in my email Amanda ... I envy you your visit to see Irvin and look forward to your blog. His new book arrived today, but I'm saving it until I have a couple of days reading time. I'll post my review over Easter (with no spoilers). Thanks for the follows, likes and subscriptions these last few days!