The Gift of Therapy

Various scholars and psychotherapists have come up with a number of techniques which may be useful in helping patients overcome their life challenges. Even though there has not been a unanimous agreement on which techniques or modalities to be considered superior to the others, most psychologists seem to agree that the techniques proposed by Irvin Yalom in his book The Gift of Therapy is an effective guide to those involved in group therapy; especially the young therapists. This write up presents the critique of the book The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom.

Yalom organizes his book The Gift of Therapy in terms of an open letter which is addressed to “a new generation of therapists and their patients”. The book contains a number of short essays the total number of which reaches 85. The short essays gives a clear reflection of Yalom’s experienced for the entire period he was in the practice of therapy. The use of case studies to elaborate on his arguments makes it interesting and informative. For instance, Yalom begins writing his book by posing a question regarding the instrument that any therapist would consider as the most valuable. According to him, it is “The therapist’s own self.” He notes that the therapists must be able to convince the patients of his/her “willingness to enter into deep intimacy…” with them (Yalom, 2009). 

Objecting the initial practices, Yalom stresses the need of relationship in therapy. He sees this as the best way to obtain the most reliable data on the patient the therapist is dealing with. Additionally, Yalom organizes his book into clear sections. In his first section, Yalom explores what kind of relationship he believes should exist between any therapist and his or her patient. He successfully provides an answer to the question of how a therapist can win his/her patient’s honesty; that is being empathetic. Yalom also emphasized on the need for the therapists to possess interpersonal skills; to him, this is more necessary compared to securing the patient’s biography (Yalom, 2009).

Yalom further demonstrated the effectiveness of his book when he, in the section two of the book, brings in the aspect of concerns that may arise regarding his proposed approach to the therapy. He admits that “patients fall into despairs as a result of confrontation with harsh facts of the human condition- the ‘givens’ of existence” (Yalom, 2009). He uses the approach of existential psychotherapy to explain this; “noting that central to the approach is the fact that people normally experience self conflict not only due to the strivings of their instincts and what they have internalized from their relationship with those around them, but also from the way they confront the ‘givens” (Yalom, 2009).

It is with this knowledge that Yalom is in support of a number of strategies, aimed at addressing problems related to death, meaning in one’s life, freedom, and isolation. To him, existential therapy should never be treated as a freestanding and discreet entity. He thus emphasized the need of the therapists to create an environment that enables their patients to accept the role they played in the creation of the problems which they find themselves into. To Yalom, it is only when the patients agree to take responsibility that they will be able to realize that “… they, and only they, have the power to change that situation.” This is in line with what most therapists agree with; that the therapists can only propose decisions that can help their clients’ situation to change but they cannot decide for them. According to Yalom, “making a decision cuts us off from other possibilities” (Yalom, 2009). He adds that even though everything will ultimately fade, alternatives will exclude..

Additionally, Yalom has clearly explained his position that no therapist can escape the influence of his/her patients. He advices the practitioners to be transparent and honest as they deal with their patients. To make the process even more effective, Yalom proposes a number of questions which can be posed by the therapists to help build their relationship with their clients. An example of such questions is “How close are we today?” (Yalom, 2009). He warns that therapists should allow some level of vulnerability since the same is also expected of their clients for the process to be successful.


In conclusion, Yalom’s book The Gift of Therapy presents simple techniques which can effectively be implemented even by the young therapists. Through the effective use of several case studies, the book is specifically instrumental in helping the therapists know the level to which they can give themselves to their patients. Moreover, Yalom writes his book using story telling that makes it both enjoyable and informative.

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