As I wrote in Sunday’s Printers Row section of the Chicago Tribune, psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom’s new book Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy deals with the emotions, fears and terrors that human beings — his clients and himself — bring to the subject of death.
In ten short chapters, each of which, for the most part, deals with a single client, the fear of the end of life is often hidden in seemingly unrelated behaviors and thoughts.
It’s Yalom’s skill as a therapist as well as the hard work and vulnerability of his patients that gets beyond those initial symptoms to the deeper causes of personal unrest and unhappiness.
In Creatures of a Day, Irvin D. Yalom is up-front about many of his techniques as a psychotherapist. This is likely to be of great help to other therapists, particularly those new to the field.
Even more, these methods can be used by people in therapy and those who are simply trying to examine and improve their lives. They’re various strategies for going deeper and facing essential truths and challenges.
Here are some:
• Being there: “The most valuable thing I have to offer is my sheer presence.”
• Employing an “old reliable” strategy: “I believe it would help our work today if you’d take me through, in detail, a typical twenty-four-hour day in your life. Pick a day earlier this week, and let’s start with your waking in the morning.”
• Being open to learning: “Oh what a pleasure it was to be with Andrew! As he taught himself, he taught me too.”
• Using first names: “How would you feel if we went by first names?”
• Suggesting free association: “Just free-associate…, by which I mean: you try to let your mind run free and just observe it as though from a distance…almost as though you were watching a screen.”
• Being open to the client: “Any questions you have for me?”
• Using hunches as a gentle way of putting ideas into the give-and-take: “I have a hunch…”
• Being “loose” about the therapist’s own experience: “I knew I was being a bit loose, but that often paid off — patients generally appreciate my sharing something of myself, and it usually works to accelerate more sharing.”
• Asking about dreams: “Sometimes thoughts enter the mind involuntarily in daydreams, for example, or night dreams.”
• Exploring the therapeutic relationship: “I always teach my students that, when you’re in trouble in a session, you can always bail yourself out by calling on your ever-reliable tool, the ‘process check’ — you halt the action and explore the relationship between you and the patient.”
• Seeing therapy as a relationship: “The compelling two-person drama I had engaged in.”
Patrick T. Reardon