Written by Karleen Nevery RTC MTC RCS
The Schopenhauer Cure, by Author Irvin Yale
review by Karleen Nevery Counsellor, Trust Oriented Therapist and gentle and talented co-facilitator of a group for women experiencing mid-life, Living With Heart, Passion and Joy, Vancouver BC
The Schopenhauer Cure combines historic accounts and modern day fiction in a fascinating novel about mortality and personal transformation. The main plot is about a fictional support group, facilitated by prominent Psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld in the last year of his life. Intertwined in this plot, is the story of Philosopher Schopenhauer, much of which is based on a non fiction account of his life and work during the 1800’s.
At the beginning of the tale, Psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld learns he has terminal cancer. Upon discovering this, he begins to examine his life’s work. He begins to ask himself if his work made a meaningful or long lasting difference to the lives of his patients. He starts to focus mainly on the patients he suspects he had failed and then decides to contact one. He seeks out Philip Slate who he had treated 23 years previously for a sex addiction. Philip tells him that yes, Julius had failed him utterly during their 3 years of therapy, but that he is now cured through reading the work of philosopher Arther Schopenhauer.
Julius is stunned by this news and more so to learn that Philip has become a Therapist ( or a Philosophical Counselor) himself: Philip, whose main struggle had been that he could not connect with humans, except briefly through sexual activity. Philip who Julius had considered arrogant, self absorbed and uncaring about others.
Through Julius’s concern about the harm Philip could do to patients if he does not learn to connect with others and Philip’s need for a supervisor, they strike a deal that Julius will supervise Philip, provided that Philip first join Julius’s therapy group. Julius is hoping that through six months of being part of a circle of fellow patients he will develop the relationship skills necessary to become an effective therapist.
Philip enters the group, but he is more interested in educating the members in Schopenhauer’s philosophy (which he purports is all thetherapy anyone needs), than he is in forming connections. However, one by one, he succeeds in impacting and influencing the group members. Soon Julius and Philip, using very different approaches, are competing for the hearts and minds of the group members.
As a therapist, facilitator and member of support groups, I found this book very entertaining and enlightening. It is also a good read for people outside the field. As well as being an interesting character study, it is an up close look at a man facing mortality and seeking meaning and closure in his remaining days. The only shortfall was the ending of the story, which I found a bit rushed and abrupt.
Good luck and I hope you enjoy the book – I certainly did!
“Considers the value and limits of therapy and those points at which philosophy and psychology converge.” —Washington Post
“Meticulous. [Yalom’s] re-creation of a working therapy group is utterly convincing.” — Publishers Weekly
“The world’s first accurate group-therapy novel, a mezmerizing story of two men’s search for meaning.” —Greensboro News & Record
“Yalom’s enthusiasm is contagious. And he certainly knows how to tell a page-turning story.” — Los Angeles Times