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With typical verve, Minuchin des-cribed his approach in terms as far from dry theory as one can imagine:
"The idea was to help the dancers dance, and the therapist would be the one leading the do-si-do."
It still sounds like fun.
Irvin Yalom is a consummate storyteller, whose stories are mainly about therapists, their patients, and the complex ritual called psychotherapy. He's one of the field's leading experts in group therapy—his magisterial work on the subject, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, has gone through five editions and sold more than 700,000 copies since first published in 1970. He's also the country's best-known theorist and practitioner of existential psychotherapy. And yet it's undoubtedly his works of fiction about psychotherapy that have made him famous, including the bestselling books Love's Executioner, When Nietzsche Wept, and Momma and the Meaning of Life.
The son of poor Russian Jewish immigrants, he might have become a writer. But in the "ghetto mentality" of his youth, writing wasn't an acceptable career choice for an upwardly mobile youth. Medical school, he remembers in an autobiographical note, "seemed closer to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky" than business.
A beginning psychiatric trainee, he was assigned as his first patient a lesbian, whom he was to see twice a week for 12 weeks. He knew nothing about psychiatry or therapy, and certainly nothing about lesbianism. "What could I possibly offer her?" he writes in the introduction to The Yalom Reader. "All I could do, I ultimately decided, was to allow her to be my guide and to explore her world as best I could. Her previous experience with men had been horrendous, and I was the first of my sex to listen, respectfully and attentively, to her. Her story touched me. I thought about her often between our meetings, and over the weeks we developed a tender, even loving, relationship." The woman improved rapidly.
At the presentation of the case for his fellow students, psychiatric faculty, and various psychoanalytic bigwigs, he talked about the meetings with this patient and the loving feelings they'd developed. Normally on these occasions, the assembled experts harshly questioned the presenter. This time, however, nobody interrupted. Afterward Yalom was astonished to receive "lavish, even embarrassing, praise" from some, while others said his presentation "spoke for itself and nothing more needed to be said."