Six long psychotherapy narratives—four based on actual cases, two fictional—that comprise a worthy sequel to the author’s bestselling Love’s Executioner: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy (1989).
Yalom, author of many other books on psychotherapy, focuses here on how life can be enriched by emotionally integrating close encounters with loved ones’ deaths and with one’s own mortality. What particularly makes this book worth many times its price is a stunning piece entitled “Seven Advanced Lessons in the Therapy of Grief.” Here Yalom captures seven years of work with the emotionally frozen if often acerbic Irene, who during adolescence lost a beloved brother in a car accident and is about to lose her husband to brain cancer. He vividly describes such therapeutic concepts as “rage grief,” the way in which a bereaved person often feels an acutely heightened sense of his or her mortality, and how flashes of intense anger between patient and therapist can paradoxically strengthen the bond between them. In all these pieces, Yalom also illustrates his approach of actively exploring the “here and now,” or in-session emotional dynamics, even when this involves either side expressing particularly erotic, hostile, or other charged feelings. With the single exception of one passage, where Yalom reports at too great length on a therapists’ seminar on countertransference (strong feelings the clinician has for the patient), he again displays the great narrative drive and wit evident in Love’s Executioner. At least as much as that book, Momma and the Meaning of Life contains some truly profound observations on death, the sometimes desperate attempts to modify one’s personality so as to live more fully, and other human struggles.
These six engrossing narratives are very valuable gleanings from a master therapist’s professional and personal experience.