In this classic book, master psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom uncovers the mysteries, frustrations, pathos, and humor at the heart of the therapeutic encounter. With insight and sympathy, Yalom not only gives us a rare and enthralling glimpse into the personal desires and motivations of ten of his patients, but also tells his own story as he struggles to reconcile his all-too-human response with his sensibility as a psychiatrist. Love's Executioner has inspired hundreds of thousands of readers already, and promises to inspire generations of readers to come.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I do not like to work with patients who are in love. Perhaps it is because of envy--I too, crave enchantment. Perhaps it is because love and psychotherapy are fundamentally incompatible. The good therapist fights darkness and seeks illumination, while romantic love is sustained by mystery and crumbles upon inspection. I hate to be love's executioner.
Yet Thelma, in the opening minutes of our first interview, told me that she was hopelessly, tragically in love, and I never hesitated, not for one moment, to accept her for treatment. Everything I saw in my first glance--her wrinkled seventy-year-old face with that senile chin tremor, her thinning, peroxided, unkempt yellow hair, her emaciated blueveined hands--told me she had to be mistaken, that she could not be in love. How could love ever choose to ravage that frail, tottering old body, or house itself in that shapeless polyester jogging suit?
Moreover, where was the aura of love bliss? Thelma's suffering did not surprise me, love being always contaminated by pain; but her love was monstrously out of balance--it contained no pleasure at all, her life wholly a torment.
So I agreed to treat her because I was certain she was suffering, not from love, but from some rare variant which she mistook for love. Not only did I believe that I could help Thelma but I was intrigued by the idea that this counterfeit love could be a beacon that might illuminate some of the deep mystery of love.
Thelma was remote and stiff in our first meeting. She had not returned my smile when I greeted her in the waitingroom, and followed a step or two behind me as I escorted her down the hall. Once we entered my office, she did not inspect her surroundings but immediately sat down. Then, without waiting for any comment from me and without unbuttoning the heavy jacket she wore over her jogging suit, she took a sharp deep breath and began:
"Eight years ago I had a love affair with my therapist. Since then he has never left my mind. I almost killed myself once and I believe I will succeed the next time. You are my last hope."
I always listen carefully to first statements. They are often preternaturally revealing and foreshadow the type of relationship I will be able to establish with a patient. Words permit one to cross into the life of the other, but Thelma's tone of voice contained no invitation to come closer.
She continued: "In case you have a hard time believing me, perhaps these will help!"
She reached into a faded red drawstring purse and handed me two old photographs. The first was of a young beautiful dancer wearing a sleek black leotard. I was startled, when I looked into the face of that dancer, to meet Thelma's large eyes peering out at me across the decades.
"That one," Thelma informed me when she saw me turning to the second photo, of a sixty-year-old handsome but stolid woman, "was taken about eight years ago. As you see"--she ran her fingers through her uncombed hair--"I no longer tend to my appearance."
Though I had difficulty imagining this shabby old woman having an affair with her therapist, I had said nothing about not believing her. In fact, I had said nothing at all. I had tried to maintain complete objectivity but she must have noticed some evidence of disbelief, some small cue, perhaps a minuscule widening of my eyes. I decided not to protest her accusation that I did not believe her. This was no time for gallantry and there was something incongruous in the idea of a disheveled seventy-year-old infatuated, lovesick woman. She knew that, I knew it, and she knew I knew it.
I soon learned that over the last twenty years she had been chronically depressed and in Psychiatric treatment almost continuously.Much of her therapy had been obtained at the local county mental health clinic, where she had been treated by a series of trainees.
About eleven years before, she began treatment with Matthew, a young, handsome psychology intern, and met weekly with him for eight months at the clinic and continued to see him in his Private practice for another year. The following year, when Matthew took a full-time position at a state hospital, he had to terminate therapy with all his private patients.
It was with much sadness that Thelma said goodbye to him. He was, by far, the best therapist she had ever had, and she had grown fond of him, very fond, and for those twenty months looked forward all week to her therapy hour. Never before had she been as totally open with anyone. Never before had a therapist been so scrupulously honest, direct, and gentle with her.
Thelma rhapsodized about Matthew for several minutes. "He had so much caring, so much loving. I've had other therapists who tried to be warm, to put you at ease, but Matthew was different. He really cared, he really accepted me. No matter what I did, what horrid things I thought, I knew he'd accept it and still--what's the word?--confirm me--No, validate me. He helped me in the way therapists usually do, but he did a lot more."
"He introduced me to the spiritual, religious dimension of life. He taught me to care for all living things. He taught me to think about the reasons I was put here on earth. But he didn't have his head in the clouds. He was right in there with me."
Thelma was highly animated--she snapped her words off and pointed down to the earth and up to the clouds as she spoke. I could see she liked talking about Matthew. "I loved the way he tangled with me. He didn'tlet me get away with anything. He always called me on my shitty habits."Love's Executioner. Copyright © by Irvin D. Yalom. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
1 Love's Executioner 1
2 "If Rape Were Legal…" 59
3 "The Wrong One Died" 79
4 Fat Lady 107
5 "I Never Thought It Would Happen to Me" 141
6 "Do Not Go Gentle" 149
7 Two Smiles 165
8 Three Unopened Letters 187
9 Therapeutic Monogamy 215
10 In Search of the Dreamer 235
Afterword: On Rereading Lope's Executioner at Age Eighty 279
What People are Saying About This
“Dr. Yalom demonstrates once again that in the right hands, the stuff of therapy has the interest of the richest and most inventive fiction.”—New York Times
“Like Freud, Yalom is a graceful and canny writer. The fascinating, moving, enervating, inspiring, unexpected stuff of psychotherapy is told with economy and, most surprising, with humor.”—Washington Post Book World
“Yalom is a gifted storyteller, and from the sound of these tales, a no-less-gifted psychotherapist. He restores a sense of awe and mystery to an endeavor that all too often gets mired in the muck of jargon and categorization... In addition to bringing the reader up close to his patients, and to a process often (necessarily) cloaked in secrecy, he gives the reader an un-airbrushed picture of the therapist, warts and all.”—Los Angeles Times
“Here is the naked therapist, stripped of the armor of god-like omniscience, aware of his flaws…”—Chicago Tribune
“Inspired....Yalom writes with the narrative wit of O. Henry and the earthy humor of Isaac Bashevis Singer.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Love’s Executioner is Yalom’s wise, humane, stirring and utterly absorbing account of how 10 of his patients try to cope with what he calls ‘existence pain’—the knowledge that death is inevitable, that each of us is ultimately alone, that life has no clear meaning, but that we nonetheless have the freedom ‘to make our lives as we will'....Irvin Yalom’s book is charged with hope and generosity of spirit.”—Newsday
“By his honesty and literary talent, Yalom convinces us that these are, in his words, ‘everyman, everywoman stories’ and that in each of these ‘crazies,’ in my word, is a little bit of you and me.”—Miami Herald
“Dr. Irvin Yalom ... bravely steps into this chaotic void in Love’s Executioner ... [H]e brings understanding, order, and the ‘feel’ of the process of psychotherapy as few before him have done.”—Toronto Star
“Dr. Yalom’s point is not to merely document psychological abnormality, it is to demonstrate that ‘it is possible to confront the truths of existence and harness their power in the service of personal change and growth.’ Read Love’s Executioner, and weep.”—Globe and Mail
“[Yalom’s] honesty can be unnerving ... Love’s Executioner offers a tragic, deeply felt vision of the human condition. In demystifying the therapist-patient encounter, Dr Yalom brings us into broader territory: he reminds us of our need for intimacy and trust and the struggle necessary to achieve them.”—Sunday Herald (Melbourne, Australia)
“The vicissitudes of neurosis and its treatment have always provided irresistible material for dramatic narratives. In Love’s Executioner Yalom demonstrates that in the right hands, the stuff of therapy has the interest of the richest and most inventive fiction.”—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“[I]nsightful.”—Monterey County Herald (California)
“In Love’s Executioner I marvelled at Yalom’s courage in writing about therapeutic relationships which had not been a great success and also at his skill in bringing these encounters to life.”—Existential Analysis (London)
“Irvin Yalom writes like an angel about the devils that besiege us. These beautifully wrought true stories go way beyond therapy; they are incisive and moving tales of life, by a wise psychotherapist.”—Rollo May
“Love’s Executioner is one of those rare books that suggests both the mystery and the poetry of the psychotherapeutic process. The best therapists are at least partly poets. With this riveting and beautifully written book, Irvin Yalom has joined their ranks.”—Erica Jong
“These stories are wonderful. They make us realize that within every human being lie the pain and beauty that make life worthwhile.”—Bernie S. Siegel
“This is an impressive transformation of clinical experience into literature. Dr. Yalom’s case histories are more gripping than 98 percent of the fiction published today, and he has gone to amazing lengths of honesty to depict himself as a realistic flesh-and-blood character: funny, flawed, perverse, and above all, understanding.”—Phillip Lopate
“These remarkably moving and instructive tales of the psychiatric encounter bring the reader into novel territories of the mind—and the landscape is truly unforgettable.”—Maggie Scarf
“Dr. Yalom is unusually honest, both with his patients and about himself.”—Anthony Storr
“I loved Love’s Executioner. Dr. Yalom has learned something that fiction writers learned years ago—that people’s mistakes are a lot more interesting than their triumphs.”—Joanne Greenberg
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A good read
Dr. Yalom's book provides a unique look into the relationship between a patient and therapist through ten different accounts of the treatment of ten different patients from the therapist's perspective. The author provides his own thoughts and insights as well as descriptions of his interactions with the patients.