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Momma and the Meaning of Life: Tales of Psychotherapy Paperback – September 19, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Tales of therapy are also tales of therapists, and Irvin D. Yalom--author of much bestselling psychiatric fiction and nonfiction--is a seasoned storyteller. This new collection of "tales from the couch," part memoir and part fiction, is the work of a therapist unafraid to become deeply engaged with his patients; people, not pathology, are the stuff of Yalom's psychotherapy. Ego, doubt, and fantasy are rarely confined to the couch, and the doctor learns as much from his patients as they from him.

Here Yalom introduces us to Paula, whose losing fight against cancer teaches us that fear is only one of the many colors that brighten our dying; to Irene, a skilled surgeon whose dreams provide tantalizing clues for the psychological gumshoe intent on discovering the irrational terror behind her impressive intellect; to Magnolia, the earth mother whose inexplicable paralysis and imaginary infestations seemed her body's way of punishing her for aspirations aimed too high; and to Momma herself, half protector, half mythological monster, guardian at the gates of the psychotherapist's own unconscious. And, opening up the case files of the fictional Ernest Lash, Yalom reminds us that psychiatrists, too, are human. Like Oliver Sacks, Yalom spins the labyrinth threads of consciousness into the rich tapestry of something much grander. Therapy is not for the weak of heart, doctor or patient; in these pages, the journey toward healing and self-awareness reveals itself to be not about passivity, but courage. --Patrizia DiLucchio --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Following the "tales from the clinic" formula that helped make his Love's Executioner a bestseller, psychiatrist Yalom reveals much more of himself this time around. He starts with a soul-baring account of his relationship with his mother, in Yalom's description a domineering woman who was intensely proud of her famous son. Their dance of mutual fear, control and deceit instilled patterns that took Yalom years to unlearn. Committed to egalitarian, mutually enriching relationships with his patients, Yalom tells of his grandiose fantasies of rescuing distressed damsels, as well as of his abiding need for a consoling mother figure. He found one such in Magnolia, a 70-year-old black woman working through her own feelings of childhood abandonment by her widowed mother. Another patient, Paula, a woman with terminal breast cancer, initially radiates an inner serenity but eventually unveils to Yalom her "anger rock," the symbolic repository of her pent-up rage and despair. We also meet Martin, an elderly, wheelchair-bound man whose exhausted caretaker son mocks his suicide attempt; Rosa, an 80-pound anorexic who is fed intravenously; Irene, an imperious surgeon who agonizes over her husband's terminal illness; and Linda, a furious divorc?e whose privacy was abusively violated as a girl by her father. Yalom's therapeutic encounters, as recorded here, are often painful crucibles of personal transformation, in which people grow in unexpected ways by releasing reservoirs of guilt, fear, sadness, anger and denial. Author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060958383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060958381
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. Author of nonfiction psychiatry texts, novels, and books of stories. Currently in private practice of psychiatry in Palo Alto and San Francisco, California.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on March 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Some of Yalom's previous writings (such as "Love's Executioner") led me to perceive him as a skilled, although somewhat narcissistic, therapist. But this recent volume changed my mind. Yalom provides an unusually revealing look into the mind of a therapist as he struggles to help his patients, while dealing with his own his mortality and losses. The chapter describing his work with a troubled but courageous young widow is particularly moving. The inclusion of fictional short stories (the last two chapters of the book) was interesting, but did not flow well with the other real-life vignettes. I recommend reading the first four chapters, putting the book aside for a couple of weeks, then finishing the the last two. Overall, this is an excellent book for anyone interested in therapy, mortality, and the search for meaning in life.
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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Barley on November 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Not so long ago a paper was presented at a large psychological conference in America intriguingly entitled "Professors' office door decorations: what do they tell?" One wonders at the cryptic meanings to be read from the various brass, plastic, glass and wooden runes on professorial doors scattered across the land. Beyond door decorations, and into the seemingly mysterious world of human relations behind the therapy door, we are fortunate to have the doubly gifted storyteller and psychotherapist Irvin Yalom to let us in. His new book `Momma and the Meaning of Life' is a second collection of therapy tales which, I am glad to say, carry the same spellbinding quality, grasp and erudition as his first collection contained in `Love's Executioner'. For reader's unfamiliar to Yalom the pleasure of his writing is his darned ability to pull out sparkling insights from the darkest of places. Add to that a genius for telling stories and you are a little closer to understanding why this man's writing is so compelling. What is special about this book is that he reveals more about himself, through `Momma', than any of his other books. His mother and a dream are the start of a trail that criss-crosses his life.
What about momma, what was she like? Yalom draws a picture of an ill tempered, overpowering and vain woman with whom he never remembers sharing `a warm moment'. But she's not all-bad. Yalom shares a moment of them together, a moment when she enjoying her son's books. Unable to read them because of a sight problem, she handles then tenderly and says, "Big books. Beautiful books". The rational son, on the other hand, points out that it is what is 'in' the books that is important not how they feel. "Oyvin, don't talk narishkeit - foolishness. Beautiful books!
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Once again I find myself deeply drawn to the stories of Irvin Yalom. For those unfamiliar with his work, he is one of the most pre-eminent psychotherapists living today, who has published several groundbreaking books on Group Psychotherapy and Existential Psychotherapy. But when he turned to writing his personal stories and then original fiction stories, as he does again in this book, any reader interested in therapy or dreams will find themselves involved in both an intellectual and intriguing way. His honest thoughts about his own patients, and the way he exposes his own vulnerabilites as a therapist are a fascinating method of exploring what actually goes on in the mental life of a therapist. And as any person who has ever been in therapy, or curious about the process of psychotherapy, one can become involved in both an intellectually satisfying and entertaining way as they read this collection of six stories. This is definitely one of the best books I have read which enters and then explores thelives and minds of a therapist and his patients.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Once again Yalom has written a book that holds our interest, and informs us at the same time. His intimate story about his mother must strike a cord in most of us who are told by society we should love our mother. (maybe she wasn't so loveable a lot of the time). The other stories are very entertaining, and informative; revealing what the psychiatrist is thinking about during and between sessions.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Momma and the meaning of life" is definately worth reading. As in his other books, Dr. Yalom articulately exposes his sometimes not so PC thoughts in order to illustrate his existential style of therapy. His stories are enlightening and create such empathy for his characters. However, if you haven't read "When Nietzsche Wept" or "Love's Executioner" you should start with those two books.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is a marvel of characterization and artful narrative. So many storytellers have as unconscious agenda the wish to make themselves and their characters likeable; Yalom is far beyond that. He has the gift of making them intensely interesting. The final story, The Hungarian Cat Curse, is an unbelievably skillful use of fiction to describe what an emotional healer does, what the practice demands of him. It's also deliciously successful on its face as story, rich and strange with a surreal mitteleeropean flavor. An unforgettable book, and one that no one without Yalom's unique combination of gifts could have written.
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