Dr. Irvin D. Yalom is one of the most influential forces in modern psychology. His writings and teaching have shaped the field as a whole and my personal therapy practice. You can learn more about him here and check out an awesome podcast interview with Dr. Yalom here.
Dr. Yalom has been a prolific writer and has published in many genres. In my collection, I have his work on four different bookshelves and in my Audible collection. For this article, Yalom’s works are organized into three basic categories: text books, novels, and stories every therapist should read.
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Textbooks by Irvin Yalom
Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy 5th Edition by Irvin D. Yalom and Molyn Leszcz
Hailed by Jerome Frank as “the best book that exists on the subject,” Irvin D. Yalom’s The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy has been the standard text in the field for decades.
In this completely revised and updated fifth edition, Dr. Yalom and his collaborator Dr. Molyn Leszcz expand the book to include the most recent developments in the field, drawing on nearly a decade of new research as well as their broad clinical wisdom and expertise.
New topics include: online therapy, specialized groups, ethnocultural diversity, trauma and managed care.
At once scholarly and lively, this is the most up-to-date, incisive, and comprehensive text available on group psychotherapy.
Concise Guide to Group Psychotherapy by Sophia Vinogradov and Irvin Yalom
This guide examines the unique therapeutic value of group psychotherapy. Written for the clinician in need of concise, clinically relevant information, this book discusses how the patient-patient and the patient-therapist interactions in a group setting can affect changes in maladaptive behavior.
Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom
Organized around what Yalom identifies as the four “ultimate concerns of life”-death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness-the book takes up the meaning of each existential concern and the type of conflict that springs from our confrontation with each. He shows how these concerns are manifested in personality and psychopathology, and how treatment can be helped by our knowledge of them.
Drawing from clinical experience, empirical research, philosophy, and great literature, Yalom provides an intellectual home base for those psychotherapists who have sensed the incompatibility of orthodox theories with their own clinical experience, and opens new doors for empirical research. The fundamental concerns of therapy and the central issues of human existence are woven together here as never before, with intellectual and clinical results that will surprise and enlighten all readers.
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Inpatient Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom
This essential book for front-line clinicians offers new ways of conceptualizing the techniques of group therapy for use on acute wards. Yalom makes a strong case for the efficacy of group therapy on all acute wards. He discusses how to structure the session and the kind of support that should be offered. The emphasis is on the here-and-now. He then presents two models of groups: one for the higher functioning and one for the more regressed psychotic patients.
Encounter Groups 1st Facts by Morton A. Lieberman, Irvin D. Yalom, and Matthew B. Miles
Reports on the structure, operations, and effectiveness of the various types of encounter groups
Note: This was originally published as a research monograph and is now out of print. However, there are plenty of of copies available on Amazon in good condition.
Novels by Irvin Yalom
When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obsession by Irvin D. Yalom
From renowned psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom, acclaimed author of The Schopenhauer Cure and Love’s Executioner, the international bestseller When Nietzsche Wept is a richly imagined tale of two brilliant and enigmatic men plumbing the depths of their psyches to discover the redemptive power of friendship.
Lying on the Couch: A Novel by Irvin D. Yalom
Seymour is a therapist of the old school who blurs the boundary of sexual propriety with one of his clients. Marshal, who is haunted by his own obsessive-compulsive behaviors, is troubled by the role money plays in his dealings with his patients. Finally, there is Ernest Lash. Driven by his sincere desire to help and his faith in psychoanalysis, he invents a radically new approach to therapy — a totally open and honest relationship with a patient that threatens to have devastating results.
Exposing the many lies that are told on and off the psychoanalyst’s couch, Lying on the Couch gives readers a tantalizing, almost illicit, glimpse at what their therapists might really be thinking during their sessions. Fascinating, engrossing and relentlessly intelligent, it ultimately moves readers with a denouement of surprising humanity and redemptive faith.
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The Schopenhauer Cure by Irvin Yalom
Suddenly confronted with his own mortality after a routine checkup, eminent psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld is forced to reexamine his life and work — and seeks out Philip Slate, a sex addict whom he failed to help some twenty years earlier. Yet Philip claims to be cured — miraculously transformed by the pessimistic teachings of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer — and is, himself, a philosophical counselor in training.
Philip’s dour, misanthropic stance compels Julius to invite Philip to join his intensive therapy group in exchange for tutoring on Schopenhauer. But with mere months left, life may be far too short to help Philip or to compete with him for the hearts and minds of the group members. And then again, it might be just long enough.
I’m Calling the Police by Irvin D. Yalom
Unlike the other stories in this category, I’m Calling the Police is a short story and is only available on Kindle.
“Something heavy is going on … the past is erupting … my two lives, night and day, are joining. I need to talk.” Irv Yalom’s old medical school friend was making a plea for help. In their fifty years of friendship, Bob Berger had never divulged his nocturnal terrors to his close comrade. Now, finally, he found himself forced to.
In I’m Calling the Police, Berger recounts to Yalom the anguish of a war-torn past: By pretending he was a Christian, Berger survived the Holocaust. But after a life defined by expiation and repression, a dangerous encounter has jarred loose the painful memory of those years. Together, they interpret the fragments of the horrific past that haunt his dreams.
I’m Calling the Police is a powerful exploration of Yalom’s most vital themes–memory, fear, love, and healing–and a glimpse into the life of the man himself.
The Spinoza Problem: A Novel by Irvin D. Yalom
In The Spinoza Problem, Irvin Yalom spins fact and fiction into an unforgettable psycho-philosophical drama. Yalom tells the story of the seventeenth-century thinker Baruch Spinoza, whose philosophy led to his own excommunication from the Jewish community, alongside that of the rise and fall of the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, who two hundred years later during World War II ordered his task force to plunder Spinoza’s ancient library in an effort to deal with the Nazis’ “Spinoza Problem.” Seamlessly alternating between Golden Age Amsterdam and Nazi Germany, Yalom investigates the inner lives of these two enigmatic men in a tale of influence and anxiety, the origins of good and evil, and the philosophy of freedom and the tyranny of terror.
Stories Every Therapist Should Read
Every Day Gets a Little Closer: A Twice-Told Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom and Ginny Elkin
The many thousands of readers of the best-selling Love’s Executioner will welcome this paperback edition of an earlier work by Dr. Irvin Yalom, written with Ginny Elkin, a pseudonymous patient whom he treated—the first book to share the dual reflections of psychiatrist and patient.Ginny Elkin was a troubled young and talented writer whom the psychiatric world had labeled as ”schizoid.” After trying a variety of therapies, she entered into private treatment with Dr. Irvin Yalom at Stanford University. As part of their work together, they agreed to write separate journals of each of their sessions. Every Day Gets a Little Closer is the product of that arrangement, in which they alternately relate their descriptions and feelings about their therapeutic relationship.
Love’s Executioner: & Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom
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.
Momma and the Meaning of Life: Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom
In six enthralling stories drawn from his own clinical experience, Irvin D. Yalom once again proves himself an intrepid explorer of the human psyche as he guides his patients–and himself–toward transformation. With eloquent detail and sharp-eyed observation Yalom introduces us to a memorable cast of characters. Drifting through his dreams and trampling through his thoughts are Paula, Yalom’s “courtesan of death”; Myrna, whose eavesdropping gives new meaning to patient confidentiality; Magnolia, into whose ample lap Yalom longs to pour his own sorrows, even as he strives to ease hers; and Momma–ill-tempered, overpowering, and suffocating her son with both love and disapproval.
A richly rewarding, almost illicit glimpse into the therapist’s heart and mind, Momma and the Meaning of Life illuminates the unique potential of every human relationship.
In both his nonfiction and his fiction, Yalom uses the lens of psychotherapy to explore human nature and shows us that the line between the true and the imagined is not always easy to distinguish. What has driven Dr. Yalom from the beginning of his career is a powerful interest in narrative and it is this passion that ties these selections together. It is possible to come to The Yalom Reader from many different perspectives and be richly rewarded. Readers of Dr. Yalom’s clinical texts will be intrigued by the fictional entries; general readers will gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the practice of psychotherapy. All will find the mark of a master. Dr. Yalom has written an introductory essay for the Reader, section introductions and three new essays on narrative.
Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin D. Yalom
Written in Irv Yalom’s inimitable story-telling style, Staring at the Sun is a profoundly encouraging approach to the universal issue of mortality. In this magisterial opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an “awakening experience”—a dream, or loss (the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or home), illness, trauma, or aging.
Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.
Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom
In this stunning collection of stories, renowned psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom describes his patients’ struggles–as well as his own–to come to terms with the two great challenges of existence: how to have a meaningful life yet reckon with its inevitable end. We meet a nurse who must stifle the pain of losing her son in order to comfort her patients’ pains, a newly minted psychologist whose studies damage her treasured memories of a lost friend, and a man whose rejection of psychological inquiry forces even Yalom himself into a crisis of confidence.Creatures of a Day is a radically honest statement about the difficulties of human life, but also a celebration of some of the finest fruits–love, family, friendship–it can offer. Marcus Aurelius has written that “we are all creatures of a day.” With Yalom as our guide, we will find the means to make our own day not only bearable, but also meaningful and joyful.
The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin Yalom
The culmination of master psychiatrist Dr. Irvin D. Yalom’s more than thirty-five years in clinical practice, The Gift of Therapy is a remarkable and essential guidebook that illustrates through real case studies how patients and therapists alike can get the most out of therapy. The bestselling author of Love’s Executioner shares his uniquely fresh approach and the valuable insights he has gained—presented as eighty-five personal and provocative “tips for beginner therapists,” including: •Let the patient matter to you •Acknowledge your errors •Create a new therapy for each patient •Do home visits •(Almost) never make decisions for the patient •Freud was not always wrong
A book aimed at enriching the therapeutic process for a new generation of patients and counselors, Yalom’s Gift of Therapy is an entertaining, informative, and insightful read for anyone with an interest in the subject.
Becoming Myself: A Psychiatrist’s Memoir by Irvin D. Yalom
Irvin D. Yalom has made a career of investigating the lives of others. In this profound memoir, he turns his writing and his therapeutic eye on himself. He opens his story with a nightmare: He is twelve, and is riding his bike past the home of an acne-scarred girl. Like every morning, he calls out, hoping to befriend her, “Hello Measles!” But in his dream, the girl’s father makes Yalom understand that his daily greeting had hurt her. For Yalom, this was the birth of empathy; he would not forget the lesson. As Becoming Myself unfolds, we see the birth of the insightful thinker whose books have been a beacon to so many. This is not simply a man’s life story, Yalom’s reflections on his life and development are an invitation for us to reflect on the origins of our own selves and the meanings of our lives.
Note: I absolutely loved Becoming Myself but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to Yalom. Reading the story of the man who has influenced me so much felt like listening to my grandpa tell stories about his youth. I doubt new readers would have that experience and they would likely benefit more from classics like The Gift of Therapy or Love’s Executioner.
If you know of another author we should check out or a book we need to review, let us know here or tell us about it in the comments. Make sure you’re also following The Therapist’s Bookshelf on Facebook and Instagram.
Many therapists enjoy recommending books to their clients to supplement the work they are doing together. We also use books to help ourselves grow as people and practitioners. Remember though that books are never a replacement for real human connection or for therapy when it’s needed. If you find yourself needing a therapist, a great place to start is Psychology Today. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.