A short book review of Love’s Executioner focused on existentialism, feminism and psychotherapy.
Read for: Psychotherapy, Existentialism. Not Feminist.
Before we begin, this is not a new book. Published in 1989, Love’s Executioner is one of Yalom’s collections of case studies. It is a book of its time, as you will notice from the chapter ‘Fat Lady’. Thankfully, times have changed.
In this book, Yalom discusses ten clients, their therapy journey and his own development as an existential psychotherapist. I like Yalom because he is raw and honest in this book and he is unafraid to showcase his mistakes, fears and vulnerabilities. For example, he is quick to note in ‘Therapeutic Monogamy’ that he made a ‘colossal mistake’. I appreciate that. It is refreshing.
Yalom’s writing style flows; it will not take you long to finish the book and it will leave you with the impression of having gone on a journey yourself.
Existentialism and Psychotherapy rating
From the point of view of existential psychotherapy, and as a trainee therapist, I really appreciate Yalom’s skill in explaining some difficult existential concept with ease and simplicity (unlike Heidegger’s trudging, heavy words). Yalom presents some very important topics, especially human beings’ unacknowledged fear of death. He does so in a non-morbid way. I have found reading this book very edifying and useful in my own practice.
The clients are human and real. I was able to see myself in their worries, questions, thoughts and fears. I was particularly touched by the female characters of Thelma and Penny. They really came alive in the book.
From a feminist point of view, I realise that this book is one of many written by old white men and it shows. There is little awareness of the experience of being a woman in a world dominated by men and, I believe, a clear bias in the way that the male clients’ and the female clients’ sexuality is explored. There are serious examples of sexual objectification, especially in the chapters “Therapeutic Monogamy” and “Two Smiles”, where Yalom repeatedly refers to the clients as ‘sexy’ or even says that he felt like the ‘protector of this regal woman’, something he does not say about any of his male clients in this book. 1989 is not that long ago.
I wonder about this because Yalom’s late wife, Marilyn Yalom, was a feminist writer from the beginning of their marriage (as he states in his recently released autobiography Becoming Myself ). Has he not learned? The concept of sexual identification has been around at least since De Beauvoir’s seminal work The Second Sex, but Yalom fails to mention or even notice that he might be objectifying his clients.
Overall, I recommend Love’s Executioner to anyone interested in psychotherapy and in real-life stories of therapy. All the case studies are alive and easy to read and you will learn a thing or two about yourself too.
I hope you found this book review of Love’s Executioner useful!
If you find yourself struggling and would like more information about therapy, I have written an article with some useful links.
4 thoughts on “Book Review: Love’s Executioner, Irvin D. Yalom”
This is the first time I’ve come across a blog post reviewing Yalom’s work! (I’ve clearly not been looking in the right places)
His book “Staring at the sun” really helped me in my (still ongoing) journey with confronting death anxiety, and I completely agree with you that it’s so cathartic to hear him admit his own shortcomings, and to relate to his patients’ case studies so easily.
Really interesting that you included a feminist review! This should be done on the work of every male therapist IMO. I’m tempted to read this soon, so thank you!
Hi Annie, thank you for taking the time to read my review (rant)!
I am yet to read ‘Staring at the Sun’ so it’s going straight to the top of the list – I know I still have a long way to go on my ‘death anxiety’ journey!
And YES, agreed – tired of the binary male/female authors category, there should be feminist reviews of all books!
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Irvin Yalom is expressing his natural masculinity when he describes a client as sexy or wanting to protect. Without that drive none of us would exist on this earth. The fear of death is naturally feminine because you are the givers of life. Men are willing to die for their families. Death anxiety is only an issue for women and feminine men. Unfortunately feminism with the best of intentions is destroying respect for motherhood, masculinity and relations between the genders. Gender is not a ‘construct’ – it is based on biology and your projections are the perfect evidence of a soon to be old white female.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts James. We all read books differently and have our own opinions.