Book Review: The Schopenhauer Cure

by Irvin D. Yalom

The author of The Schopenhauer Cure, Irvin Yalom, who is a psychotherapist and a professor of psychiatry in California, has written many textbooks on psychotherapy and is a favourite author of psychotherapy students.  His book A Gift Of Therapy has been a constant companion of mine. I really like this book, The Schopenhauer Cure, because it is a textbook in that it is full of interesting information, but it is written as a novel, which makes it more compelling to read. The story very cleverly brings to life the philosophical theories of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhaeur and at the same time through the stories and relationships of participants in a therapy group illustrates how group therapy works.

For me philosophy has always been a difficult subject to understand. However in this book Yalom intersperses the story of Arthur Schopenhauer’s life with the story of the participants of a therapy group. One particular participant who had an addiction to sex found Schopenhauer’s work helpful in kicking his habit but he has replaced it with an obsession with Schopenhauer and his theories, which he brings into the group therapy discussion, but he is not connected to his feelings and his process, so he is unable to make connections with others. Through this story telling medium I have been able to understand some of Schopenhauer’s theories. What fascinates me is that the roots of psychotherapy are in philosophy and one strand of those roots is in Schopenhauer’s theories. Schopenhauer lived two generations before Nietzsche who was very much influenced by him. Nietzsche was an elderly man when Freud was a student, Freud in turn was influenced by Nietzsche. And of course Freud’s brilliant work was the birth of psychotherapy.

Another group participant whose story is woven into the process of the group explores her relationship with Buddhism through a trip to India, which leaves the reader with poignant questions. This is interesting as Buddhism is an even deeper root of psychotherapy.

The main story revolves around the group therapist Julius who is confronted by his own mortality as he faces his terminal illness. This brings a further dimension to the group therapy. A constant dilemma for us as psychotherapists is self-disclosure and how much is helpful for the client, especially in the event of illness. It is interesting to see how Julius battles with this issue. Yalom has worked extensively with cancer patients, many of whom have made huge changes in their personal growth as they faced the finality of their lives. Not only is Julius facing his issues, but the group have to cope with his ultimate death which gives them insights into how to confront their own endings, all of which is brought into the process of the group.

Anyway I think this is a great book and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Actually I read it twice!

Jennifer Hudson is an accredited member of IAHIP.  She is currently working in private practice and with the Living Life Centre in Dunlaoghaire, County Dublin. She is a founder member of Bodywhys, The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland and also works with people who have eating disorders.