Having just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming, it felt like some sort of divine intervention that the next book I picked up was Irvin D. Yalom’s Becoming Myself. It felt as if the universe was sending out a message to me: Mansour, it’s time for you to become!
Who is Yalom?
Irvin D. Yalom is currently a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and is considered to be on the world’s leading psychotherapist. Even though he was initially considered to be an existential psychiatrist, it was his later works with groups that led him to be considered an expert in group psychotherapy.
His parents immigrated to the US from Russia and Yalom grew up in a busy neighborhood, always spending time reading books above his parents’ grocery store. He had set his eyes on becoming a doctor that eventually led to becoming very prominent, at home and internationally, in the world of psychiatry.
However, it was his writings and work with group therapy that really catapulted him to be recognized the world over.
“His writings on existential psychology center on what he refers to as the four “givens” of the human condition: 1. Isolation; 2. Meaningless; 3. Mortality; and 4. Freedom. He mostly discusses wats in which the human person can respond to these concerns either in a functional or dysfunctional fashion.” (excerpt is taken from Wikipedia).
Becoming Myself is the book that the world had been waiting for. This book is a memoir by Yalom himself and gives us that rare and unique insight into his life as a therapist.
The first chapter in the book is titled The Birth of Empathy, which talks about how he developed this need to show empathy towards others.
There are 40 chapters, and it is the last chapter that truly captivated me. Titled A Novice at Growing Old, Yalom beautifully shares his words with us about his fears, apprehensions, and ultimately accepting the reality about death.
The chapters all offer a vignette of his life- dealing with his family, his university, his work, and his experiences with other therapists and clients.
That is what the best part for me was: his sessions with his clients. It is interesting to know what’s going on with the client, but it sure is definitely more interesting to know what’s going on in the mind of Yalom himself, and Yalom gives us that rare pleasure of knowing what it is to feel like a therapist.
His family (his wife and children) all play a huge role in his life and they get prominent coverage towards the end of the book.
He covers extensively in the book is the concept of growing old and accepting the reality of death. He talks about his through his experiences of dreaming about death and then experiencing the death of his loved ones. interestingly, his talks of death don’t seem morbid or depressing but rather enlightening.
Yalom doesn’t hold back from disclosing anything (who would have thought he had s dabbled with LSD and marijuana?) and bares his soul to us. The fact that he can articulate himself to wonderfully well makes it a joy to read his book. He expresses himself with deep feelings and emotions, which helps us relate to him on a very human level.
One of Yalom’s dilemma he talks about is whether he should retire or not. At the age of 85, he wants some peace and quiet but at the same time feels very deeply about his work as a therapist.
The cover of the book is something akin to the rings in a tree. These rings tell us two things: the age of the tree and the kind of weather it endured over the years. Similarly, we all have something like rings within us, and we grow each year, and the rings tell a story about our lives.
He gives a lot of hope, which becomes infectious, and to people like me, who have started work as a therapist, reading Yalom’s words gives me that motivation and inspiration to become the best version of myself! He has this incredible for empathy and a superpower to be able to look deep into the human soul to help them become who they are meant to become.
He quotes the words of Charles Dickens: “For, as I draw closer and closer to the end, I travel in a circle nearer and nearer to the beginning.”
And that is what played on my mind to explore this within my own life.