Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom is a giant in the field – a well-known author and scholar. But his life hasn’t always taken an easy or clearly-marked route to success.
The new documentary Yalom’s Cure offers a glimpse of the man beyond his many degrees, accolades and accomplishments.
Yalom offers insights through on-camera interviews and shares some of the history and experiences that have made him who he is today. An existential psychiatrist, Yalom is a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Stanford University and author of more than a dozen books, both nonfiction and fiction.
“Therapists are in therapy their entire lives,” Yalom muses in the film’s narrative. “Learning, changing, (and) growing is kind of part of our lifelong education. So knowing oneself is very important. Socrates spent a long time teaching that, and I very much agree with him.”
Directed by Swiss filmmaker Sabine Gisiger, Yalom’s Cure is done in a biographical style, including interviews with Yalom, his wife Marilyn and their children and grandchildren.
Through footage of family vacations and scenes of Yalom at home and at work, we are given a glimpse of Yalom’s family dynamics, his long-lasting relationship with Marilyn, his reflections on a life of learning and his professional and personal struggles along the way.
“If we don’t understand ourselves we may not be able to understand others, or appreciate others,” Yalom says. “I’m a guide on this voyage of self-exploration. I’m a guide because I’ve been there before.”
The film weaves footage of his professional life – including a brief clip of him at ACA’s 2012 Conference & Expo in San Francisco, where he was keynote speaker – with scenes of him working with a client, childhood photos, family home videos and archive footage of him leading group sessions in training videos from the 1970s and 1980s. Yalom’s contemplative narrative is also voiced over footage of him riding a bicycle, lost in thought or pouring over notes in his office or cooking with Marilyn or laughing with her in a hot tub.
He talks openly about his family relationships and the many phases of life that led to his professional journey from medical school in the 1950s to becoming a psychiatrist, professor and author.
Yalom trained with a Freudian analyst while at Johns Hopkins University in the 1950s. The many hours he spent with this therapist taught him “how not to be with patients,” he says. With the Freudian method – “a very bad model,” says Yalom – the therapist is unreactive and unengaged with what the client is saying.
Clients need an authentic, genuine relationship with a therapist, he says, in which the clinician is “both participant and observer.”
Yalom goes on to talk about his early start with group work, his professional journey and his calling to write.
Every person feels worry and stress – it is universal, although different cultures deal with it differently, Yalom muses.
“That is something that therapy can help you realize,” he says. “It’s a ‘welcome to the human race’ kind of thing.”
Yalom was one of the most-mentioned figures in Counseling Today’s recent “Influential thinkers” project. Numerous counselors said Yalom was someone who most influenced their professional work.
Born in 1931, Yalom was 80 at the time of the filming of Yalom’s Cure. He continues to see clients at his private practice in California, write and do speaking engagements. His latest book, Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy, was released in February.
“I feel freer and not anxious about things. I feel very creative and very excited about my work,” Yalom says, breaking into a smile. “I just want to say to the younger people (who are watching): There may be even better days ahead.”
Yalom’s Cure was screened in Los Angeles this spring. The DVD is now available for purchase.
For more information or to watch the trailer, visit yalomscure.com
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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