Point of View

Point of View

Embracing Life, Facing Death: An interview with Irvin Yalom

By Ryan Howes

September/October 2010

Throughout his long career, Irvin Yalom, psychotherapy's most prominent practitioner of Existential Psychotherapy, has argued that most therapists don't go nearly deep enough with their clients, no matter how far they've delved into their family background or psychosexual dream life. For him, beneath the ordinary problems of depression, anxiety, anger, and insecurity that clients bring into therapy, there beats the muffled drumbeat of something darker. The focus of his work has been bringing to light the more universal and terrifying themes that lurk below the surface of clinical work—the challenge of freedom, the inevitability of human loneliness and isolation, the troubled search for meaning, and the real biggie: the certainty of death. That theme—facing the sure knowledge that all our fondest hopes, dreams, projects, and plans must end with our own oblivion, however diversified our portfolios may be—is the focus of his book Staring into the Sun, which he discusses in this interview.


RH: My 101-year-old grandmother is much closer to dying than a 37-year-old like myself, yet I worry, while she's at peace. She's fine with the idea of passing on.

YALOM: Well, your grandmother probably feels she's gone through her life's course and may feel relatively satisfied with the way she's lived. She may not be feeling she's sitting on a tremendous storehouse of unlived life, and she's comfortable with…

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