Rarely does a book on psychotherapy become a best seller, yet this is exactly what has happened, and deservedly so, with Love’s Executioner. Yalom’s gripping tales of psychotherapy are as dramatic, engaging and well written as any good novel and far more illuminating.
The book consists of ten case histories of intensive existentially oriented psychotherapy. Psychotherapy usually implies an exploration of the life and psyche of a patient. Rarely is it acknowledged that at its best what goes on is what Gordon Alport called “communion,” a melding of the minds of both patient and therapist in which both are transformed. This communion is remarkably clear in Love’s Executioner and lends it its unique appeal and flavor. For Yalom reveals not only the dynamics, hopes, fears and foibles of his patients, but also his own.
As such, the book is an excellent demonstration of the existential orientation. The Freudian therapeutic stance is that of a “blank mirror” in which the therapist seeks to effect him or her self and provide a mere screen on which the patient’s projection of past relationships and traumas can manifest. The existential orientation on the other hand values the living authentic relationship focused on the immediate present experience of both patient and therapist as they open their lifeworlds to examination. “It’s the relationship that heals, it’s the relationship that heals, it’s the relationship that heals,” is the existential view and Yalom’s “therapeutic mantra” as he calls it. Needless to say this demand for authenticity and immediacy required much of any therapist.
It is to Yalom’s credit that he models his attempt to live this type of relationship with each of his patients so well. This does not mean that he always succeeds. In fact, part of his authenticity is his remarkable willingness to acknowledge his foibles, failures and neuroses as they emerge in conflict with the therapy and the relationship. Yet it becomes clear that these foibles can also provide valuable learning for both Yalom and his patients as long as he is willing to acknowledge them honestly, and to his credit he usually does. The result is a superb example of someone really attempting to live their philosophy and their therapeutic convictions with enormous courage, honesty and passion and the final result is a deeply moving book that illuminates psychotherapy, the therapeutic relationship, the courage of both patient and therapist, the infinite complexity and mystery of the human mind, and the healing potential of honest, authentic, caring relationships.