“Would you wiling to repeat the precise life you have lived again and again throughout eternity?”
Being confronted with cancer and his own death the psychotherapist Julius Hertzferd, try to re-examine his life and work. For reasons that he cannot clearly understands he seeks out Philip Slate, a sex-addict and old patient, which he failed to help. Philip, now a doctor of philosophy, claims to have been cured with the help of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. He says that he wants to be a philosophical therapist, and asks Julius to tutor him. Philip’s misanthropic stance poses a challenge to Julius and he invites him to join his therapy group for six months in exchange for his tutoring in counselling.
The group’s therapy sessions illustrate the interpersonal dynamics and the problems in human relations. Sexuality, betrayal, fear of aging, forgiveness, self-delusion and morality, powerful emotions and feelings, separate and connect the members of the group, shape their characters and their relations.
Through Philip, philosophy and especially Schopenhauer’s ideas are developing throughout the book. His life and philosophy are intertwined in a brilliant way with the group’s interpersonal relations, the unrevealing of their secrets and deepest emotions.
Irvin Yalom very cleverly, allows his characters to be developed in a gradual way; the process of exposure is slow, sometimes very painful and heavily emotional. Reading the book, I caught myself being attached to some of the characters, especially to untouchable Philip. His persistence to preciseness and speech intelligibility, his cleverness and self-possession in contrast to his lack of empathy and interpersonal skills – I wouldn’t say misanthropism – form an enticing and seemingly strong personality. Only, when his secret is revealed, the flaws in his philosophical armour exposed him to his real self, a man full of rage, shocking lonely, a man that no one has ever loved him.
In a truthful and powerful manner, Yalom, who has had a long involvement with therapy groups, show that emotional accessibility is the key to build bonds and organise attachment behaviour with others. It’s a great reading.