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Yalom’S Perspective Of Existential Therapy

Existential therapy through the eyes of Dr. Yalom is very fascinating. There is never a fixed life that each person is supposed to live. In his therapy the clients are allowed to find out for themselves what it is they need by receiving adequate questioning from Dr. Yalom. His questioning guides them down the existential path to freedom and responsibility.

“If we affirm life and live in the present as fully as possible, however, we will not be obsessed with the end of life”(Corey p.153). This is the way of thinking for the existential theorist when it comes to patients who deal with death anxiety. Dr. Yalom dealt with this issue when he did a study on bereavement. He put an ad in the paper that asked for volunteers who would be willing to be interviewed. In order to meet the requirements the people had to have grief in their life that they were unable to overcome. A chapter in Yalom’s book titled The Wrong One Died went into detail about a woman named Penny. Penny had lost a daughter four years prior to the interview. When she showed up at the office she told the secretary that she needed to see the Dr. Yalom immediately. Penny’s life was a struggle ever since the tragedy of losing her daughter. In explaining the reason for not being able to let it go after such a long time, she mentioned how she felt responsible for horrible death. After a few meetings of therapy Penny came to realize that her daughter was not coming back, and she began to deal with the real issues that were causing her so much pain. She told Dr. Yalom that the way she handled her daughter’s death made her feel extremely guilty. So guilty that she couldn’t even remember the actual dying process that her daughter went through. Dr. Yalom asked why she felt so guilty. In doing this he was looking for signs that would lead him to better understand the core of her prolonged grieving of the daughter. She told him that she never actually let herself believe that her daughter was going to die, even though it was as plain as day. And because of that, she never dealt with the real issues with her daughter. After several meetings Penny was finally able to see her own life and how this guilt she had was causing problems for the rest of the family. She had two sons. After finding out that neither of them lived at home, Dr. Yalom asked how Penny felt about it. This opened up doors for Penny and allowed her to take responsibility for the things in life that she could control. In the end, she had a good understanding of death and therefore was able to live life more fully by getting both kids back into the home and rejoining the family.
Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. We are put in certain situations that we have no control over, but we also have a choice in that situation as to what direction we are going to go. The ability to make that choice is freedom and going in the right direction, the one that benefits humanity and us is the responsible choice. This topic brings us to the chapter Fat Lady. In this chapter Dr. Yalom treats a woman by the name of Betty. This woman walked into his office for the first time weighing 250 lbs. She was not only overweight, but she was very depressed as well. This was a hard case for Dr. Yalom because he had never viewed obesity in a positive way. He was very cautious of the fact that this might affect his ability to treat her, but eventually felt comfortable with taking it on. Betty moved from New York to California because of her job. It was not a move that she took willingly, but she did it anyway, because she saw no reason not to. She told this to Dr. Yalom early on in the sessions. This was the first step in determining the initial cause of Betty’s depression. Eventually Dr. Yalom got Betty to realize that she was not allowing herself to confront real issues. She was keeping them inside and focusing on outside thing to make her feel better about herself. One thing she mentioned, after finally taking a risk at exploring her inside, was that she felt empty. In the sessions there was rarely any talk about Betty’s weight issue. This may be a surprise to some, but Dr. Yalom knew that that issue would be resolved once she took some responsibility for herself and the way she really felt inside. Betty walked out of the last session felling much better about herself. This was not simply because she lost weight, but because she finally realized she was free to make her own choices, and she was taking responsibility for her past in order to preserve her future.

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In order to have healthy relationships with people and enrich others with our company, we must first learn to tolerate ourselves. With this in mind we can also say that we can not get everything we need in order to survive from other people, because ultimately we are alone. Love’s Executioner is the title of a chapter in Yalom’s book that deals with a woman who is deeply in love, so deeply in love that her life is in ruins. Not only does this woman fail to live responsibly, but also she fails to live at all. This woman’s name is Thelma. At first, Dr. Yalom was critical of taking her in, because he did not like to work with people who were in love, but he did and ended up helping her make some major accomplishments. The reason Thelma was having issues was because she fell in love with her therapist. When she showed up for therapy all she could talk about was how much she missed him. One day Dr. Yalom had a breakthrough question when he asked how she would respond if her lover died. She told him that it would be all right as long as he expressed that he cared for her. This helped Dr. Yalom to understand that there was the closeness missing in Thelma’s life. He explained to her that she always avoided talking about the things that were more intimate. Later Dr. Yalom came to the conclusion that Thelma was at a point where she would not let anyone get close to her. She wouldn’t let him get close because she was hurt by her last therapist, she would let her husband get close because she was hiding the affair, and so on. This was the root of Thelma’s problems. Dr. Yalom was still not satisfied with Thelma’s progress. He decided to have Matthew, the therapist she fell in love with, to join in a three-way therapy session. After it was all said and done Thelma was still struggling. The was a research report done on her and it mentioned that she had improved in her self esteem, but she was still talking to Matthew every once in a while. Obviously she couldn’t let it go and probably never told her husband. In the realm of existentialism Thelma never fully understood what she needed and therefore relied on others.
Dr. Yalom’s style seems to be very effective, and his book made it easy to see that it was working. After reading and comparing each case, it was plain to see that, as far as his style went, he treated each case the same. He didn’t necessarily use detailed techniques to come to any exact conclusions. Instead, he let each person come up with there own answers by asking the right questions. One thing I liked about his work was that he laid everything on the table, and he didn’t let his first impressions affect his style. If he did have certain interpretations he used them to ask effective questions rather than making judgments and giving misleading advise.
From a Christian standpoint, this is a good style. Not only does it allow you to turn your judgments into thought provoking questions, but it also helps the client to see things there own way. This is where the freedom comes in. If the Therapist were to force something on the client by saying this is what’s wrong, and here is how you fix it, they might head in the right direction at first, but not because of their own will. By allowing them to make a conscious effort to help themselves it will mean more and last longer. In reading this book I learned a lot about the way existential therapy works, and how I can go about helping people that come to me for advise. Not only do I understand that people have the freedom to make there own choices, but also now I understand that people have the freedom of responsibility which allows them to change their lives and better themselves.



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