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Dr. Irvin Yalom

Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., is an American author of fiction and nonfiction, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, an existentialist, and psychotherapist.

Early life[]

Irvin D. Yalom was born in Washington, D.C., June 13, 1931, of parents who immigrated from a small Russian village named Celtz near the Polish border. He grew up in the inner city of Washington, D.C. He and his family in a small apartment atop of his parents’ grocery store on First and Seaton Street. During his childhood, Washington D.C. was a segregated city, and he lived in the midst of a poor, black neighborhood. Life on the streets was often perilous. Indoor reading was his refuge and, twice a week, he made the hazardous bicycle trek to the central library at seventh and K streets to stock up on more material.

No counseling or direction was available to him at that time. His parents had no secular education, never read books and were focused on economic survival. His book choices were capricious and directed in part by the library architecture. The large, centrally placed bookcase on biography caught his attention early, and he spent an entire year working through that bookcase from John Adams to Zoroaster. But it was mainly in fiction where he found a refuge, an alternate, more satisfying world, a source of inspiration and wisdom. Sometime early in life he developed the persistent notion that writing a novel is the very finest thing a person can do.

When Dr. Yalom was young, career choices for young men were limited or perceived as limited. All of his peers either went to medical school or joined family businesses. He felt that medical school was closer to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and he entered upon his medical training already having decided to go into psychiatry. He found psychiatry endlessly intriguing and approaches all of his patients with a sense of wonderment as their stories unfold.

Writing Fiction and Nonfiction[]

Dr. Yalom first writings were scientific contributions to professional journals. His first book, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy has been widely used (seven hundred thousand copies) as a text for training therapists. It has been translated into twelve languages and is now in its fourth edition. His publisher for this book and every one of his subsequent books is Basic Books with whom he has had a long and excellent relationship. Instructors praise his group therapy text because it is based on the best available empirical evidence. He suspects, however, that it owes some of its success to story-telling—to a stream of brief human vignettes running throughout the text. For twenty years he has heard students tell him that it reads like a novel.

Other texts followed—Existential Psychotherapy (a textbook for a course that did not exist at the time), Inpatient Group Psychotherapy (a guide to leading groups in the inpatient psychiatric ward). Encounter Groups: First Facts a research monograph is out of print. Then, in an effort to teach aspects of Existential Therapy he turned to a literary conveyance and in the past several years have written a book of therapy tales (Love's Executioner), two teaching novels (When Nietzsche Wept and Lying on the Couch) and, my last book, Momma and the Meaning of Life (a collection of true and fictionalized tales of therapy).

Though these books have been best sellers to a general audience and have been reviewed often—both favorably and unfavorably—on their literary merit (When Nietzsche Wept won the Commonwealth Gold Medal for best fiction of 1993), He intended them as pedagogical works—books of teaching stories and a new genre—the teaching novel. They have been widely translated—each into about fifteen to twenty languages—and have had considerable distribution abroad. When Nietzsche Wept, for example, was on the top of the Israeli best seller list for over four years. An anthology, The Yalom Reader, was published by Basic books at the end of 1997. In addition to key excerpts from each of his other books it contains several new personal essays which provide introductions for mental health professionals to Love’s Executioner, When Nietzsche Wept and Lying on the Couch.

Professional Approach[]

Dr. Yalom believes that a different therapy must be constructed for each patient because each has a unique story. As the years pass, this attitude moved him farther from the center of professional psychiatry. He believes that psychiatry is fiercely driven by economic forces to only provide de-individualizing, symptom-based diagnoses and uniform, protocol-driven, brief therapy for all.

Family and Interests[]

Dr. Yalom's wife, Marilyn, received a Ph. D. in comparative literature (French and German) from Johns Hopkins and has had a highly successful career as a University Professor and writer who most recently published A History of the Breast (Knopf) and History of the Wife. His four children, all living in San Francisco Bay area, have chosen a variety of careers: medicine, photography, creative writing, theater directing, clinical psychology. He presently has five grandchildren.


  • Oscar Pfister Award for contributions to Religion and Psychiatry The American Psychiatric Association - 2002
  • Commonwealth Club Gold Medal Award for fiction Best Novel of 1992 - awarded Sept, 1993
  • Fellowship Award Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio, Italy, 1988
  • Fellowship Award Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto, California, 1977
  • Foundation's Fund Award for research in psychiatry - American Psychiatric Association, 1976
  • Edward Strecker Award -For significant contribution to the field of psychiatry patient care, 1974, presented by the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital
  • Phi Beta Kappa - 1953


  • Yalom, I.D., The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1970.
  • Lieberman, M.A., Yalom, I.D., Miles, M.B., Encounter Groups: First Facts. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
  • Yalom, I.D., Elkins, Ginny, Everyday Gets a Little Closer. New York: Basic Books, 1974. - ISBN 0-465-02118-2
  • Yalom, I.D., The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Second Edition. New York: , Basic Books, 1975.
  • Yalom, I.D., Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1980. - ISBN 0-465-02147-6
  • Yalom, I.D., Inpatient Group Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1983. - ISBN 0-465-03298-2
  • Yalom, I.D., The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Third Edition. New York: Basic Books, 1985. - ISBN 0-465-08447-8
  • Yalom, I.D., Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1989. Paperback Harper Collins, 1990. - ISBN 0-06-095834-0
  • Yalom, I.D., Vinogradov, S., Concise Guide to Group Psychotherapy. American Psychiatric Press, Inc. Washington, D.C., 1989. - ISBN 0-88048-327-X
  • Yalom, I.D., When Nietzsche Wept. New York: Basic Books/Harper, 1991. Paperback: arper Collins, 1992 (Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal for best fiction of 1993. - ISBN 0-06-097550-4
  • Yalom, I.D., The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Fourth Edition, 1995. New York: Basic Books. - ISBN 0-465-08448-6
  • Yalom, I.D., Lying on the Couch, Basic Books, 1996, New York. - ISBN 0-06-092851-4
  • Yalom, I.D., The Yalom Reader, Basic Books, 1998, New York. - ISBN 0-465-03610-4
  • Yalom, I.D., Momma and the Meaning of Life, Basic Books, 1999, New York. - ISBN 0-06-095838-3
  • Yalom, I.D., The Gift of Therapy, HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, New York.- ISBN 0-06-093811-0
  • Yalom, I.D., The Schopenhauer Cure, HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, New York. - ISBN 0-06-621441-6
  • Yalom, I.D., The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Fifth Edition, Basic Books, May, 2005, New York. - ISBN 0-465-09284-5


There are a number of DVDs available featuring Yalom:-

  • Irvin Yalom: Live Case Consultation
  • The Gift of Therapy: A Conversation with Irvin Yalom, MD
  • Understanding Group Psychotherapy Set of all 3 Volumes
    • Volume I, Outpatients
    • Volume II, Inpatients
    • Volume III, An Interview
  • When Nietzsche Wept

External links[]

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