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Book Review: Becoming Myself by Irvin Yalom

April 18, 2018

 

 

 

 

Becoming Myself - Reading the book and reading myself

 


Irvin Yalom has written a masterful retrospective of his life. His writing shares his passion for literature, thought, conversation, friendship, therapy and for writing. I have spent the past week immersed in his thought and have had great difficulty either putting the book down or with ending the reading!

 

 

Completing the book is a goodbye I am ill prepared for. Becoming Myself is an introduction to a great proponent of the art of sharing a story and of a wonderful human being willing to share his vulnerabilities.

 


I have been aware of Love’s Executioner for over 8 years and had not read the book until recently. I am reminded of a few lines from Love’s Executioner where Irvin reminds the reader The Wrong One Died ‘In a curious way her disclosure helped us to deal with the ending of therapy, since it brought us full circle, back to the beginning of therapy...’ Reminding both therapists and clients that some of the material discussed at the start of psychotherapeutic work can and often does return in the ending.

 

 

 

 

Completing the book is a goodbye I am ill prepared for. Becoming Myself is an introduction to a great proponent of the art of sharing a story and of a wonderful human being willing to share his vulnerabilities.

 

 


‘Becoming Myself’ shares Irvin Yalom’s history from simple beginnings in Washington DC with his Russian Jewish immigrant parents above the grocery store that they owned and ran. In the first 10 pages of the book I felt that I was reading about my life too. This was an odd realisation as our lives couldn’t have been more different. He growing up in the 1930s U.S. and me in the 1970’s London England. His mum and dad fleeing Russia as a result of the war. My parents leaving both Ghana and Guyana as economic migrants.

 

 

With these obvious differences Yalom has been able to include part of my life’s journey in his – an incredibly magical feat. He is also able to speak about feeling as though he was an outsider and did not belong for much of his young life, again finding a particularly significant vulnerable spot of mine.

 


The book is organised in short chapters that offer vignettes of Yalom’s early life, the pains of leaving home for university, experiences of his many travels and development of his awe inspiring career. Names in psychotherapy appear in the text that have stopped me reading to recognise the span of Yalom’s industrious and long career. Noticeable names such as: Rogers, Bowlby, Frankl, R.D. Laing and Rollo May as well as countless others litter the story and appear at critical junctures like stars lighting his path. The moments of well-known names of psychotherapy invite me to romanticise of what could have been?

 


As an existential psychotherapist, topics involving living and dying appear frequently throughout ‘Becoming Myself’. At no point did I find these mentions sombre or challenging. I believe Yalom’s skill at sharing observations are that he does so reflexively with humour, honestly and this sublime ability has made me a recent admirer. Yalom’s deep friendships are also enviable with notable figures in science, medicine, psychotherapy, literature  and  psychiatry which shows the man’s curiosity and flexibility of thought.

 

 

 

 

Noticeable names such as: Rogers, Bowlby, Frankl, R.D. Laing and Rollo May as well as countless others litter the story and appear at critical junctures like stars lighting his path.

 

 

 


Becoming Myself shares his primary relationship with his wife Marilyn above all as being of huge significance and impact to the numerous successes of his life. His children and grandchildren also appear as important figures throughout the book.

 

 

I have been impressed and stunned by Yalom’s willingness to disclose his occasional drug use including LSD and Marijuana, falling in love with a few of his clients and his enduring wish to teach all that happen to read his books about therapy.

 

 

What has opened up for me is the back catalogue of books by him I am yet to read. I recently shared one of Yalom’s stories with a group I facilitate. It was the story of the Rabbi visiting both Hell and Heaven. What followed was an honest discussion from all members of the room. Vicariously he is able to touch the lives of many!

 


I loved reading Becoming Myself as the book shares more than one man’s life, it has the capacity to speak with millions in a deeply personal way. Transcending the everydayness of reading an autobiography. Becoming Myself is written intimately for you/me/him. I hope that ‘Becoming Myself’ is not his last, as something of me will be lost in the what could have been… 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author's Bio

Michael Opoku-Forfieh, the Counsellors Café’s new Contributing Editor, is an experienced integrative therapist who utilises a range of techniques including; person centred, psychodynamic, CBT, Walk and Talk Therapy, Baking Therapy and Basketball Therapy to support you therapeutically. He approaches psychotherapy creatively. Working with clients in a holistic way to resolve concerns. 

 

You can get in touch with Michael via his website here

 

 

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