Irvin Yalom (A complete guide)

In this brief blog, we will be talking about Irvin Yalom, the life of Irvin Yalom, the contributions of Irvin Yalom, and more information about Irvin Yalom.

The biography of Irvin Yalom

Irvin Yalom was born in Washington, D.C. on June 13, 1931, of parents who immigrated from Russia from a small village called Celtz near the Polish border, shortly after the first world war int his kind of time.

Home was the inner city of Washington where a small apartment atop his parents’ grocery store on First and Seaton Street at that time. 

During his childhood, Washington was a segregated city and he lived in the middle of a poor and black neighbourhood at that time.

Life on the streets was typically perilous as most people have learned. 

Indoor reading was his refuge and, twice a week, he made the hazardous bicycle trek to the central library at Seventh and K streets to stock up on supplies at that time.

No counselling or direction was available where his parents had virtually no secular education, never read books, and were fully consumed in the struggle for economic survival at that time.

His book choices were capricious, directed in part by the library architecture where the large and centrally placed bookcase on biography caught his attention early and he spent an entire year going through that bookcase from A starting from John Adams to Z which ended with Zoroaster. 

But it was mainly in fiction where he found a refuge, an alternate, more satisfying world, a source of inspiration and wisdom at that time.

Sometime early in life, he developed the notion where one which he has never relinquished that writing a novel is the very finest thing a person can do in life. 

To the ghetto mentality of his day, career choices for young men were limited or perceived as limited at that time.

All of his peers either went into medical school or into business with their fathers at that time. 

Medical school seemed closer to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and he entered upon his medical training already having decided to go into psychiatry.

This kind of field proved and proves to this day infinitely intriguing and he has approached all of his patients with a sense of wonderment at the story that will unfold. 

He believes that a different therapy must be constructed for each patient because each has a unique story to tell.

As the years pass, this kind of attitude moves him farther and farther from the centre of professional psychiatry which is now so fiercely driven by economic forces in precisely opposite directions, namely accurate de-individualizing or symptom-based diagnosis and uniform, protocol-driven, and brief therapy for all clients.

His first writings were scientific contributions to professional journals at that time. His first book titled The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy has been widely used and delivered seven hundred thousand copies as a text for training therapists at that time. 

This kind of book has been translated into twelve languages and is now in its fourth edition now.

His publisher for this book and every one of his subsequent books is Basic Books with whom he has had a long and excellent relationship to administer the beauty of his books. 

Professors praise his group therapy text because this kind of book is focused on the best available empirical evidence at that time.

He suspected, however, that this kind of book owes some of its success to story-telling which is to a stream of brief human vignettes running throughout the text.

For twenty years he has heard students tell him that this kind of book reads like a novel. 

Other texts followed such as Existential Psychotherapy which is a textbook for a course that did not exist at the time, Inpatient Group Psychotherapy which is a guide to leading groups in the inpatient psychiatric ward, and Encounter Groups: First Facts which is a research monograph that is out of print.

Then, in an effort to teach aspects of Existential Therapy he turned to a literary conveyance and in the past several years have written a book of therapy tales which are Love’s Executioner, Momma and the Meaning of Life – a collection of true and fictionalized tales of therapy and three teaching novels which are When Nietzsche Wept, Lying on the Couch, and The Schopenhauer Cure at that time.

Though these kinds of books have been bestsellers to a general audience and have been reviewed typically, both favourably and unfavourably, on their literary merit where the book titled When Nietzsche Wept won the Commonwealth Gold Medal for best fiction of 1993 and in 2009 was honoured by the Vienna Bookfair and one hundred thousand free copies distributed to the citizens of Vienna, he intended them as pedagogical works which are books of teaching stories and a new genre which is called the teaching novel.

These kinds of books have been widely translated and each into about fifteen to twenty languages and have had considerable distribution abroad at that time. 

The book titled When Nietzsche Wept, for instance, was on the top of the Israeli bestseller list for over four years at that time.

An anthology titled The Yalom Reader was published by Basic books at the end of 1997 as one of his books. 

In addition to key excerpts from each of his other books, this kind of book consists of several new personal essays which offer introductions for mental health professionals to the books titled Love’s Executioner, When Nietzsche Wept and Lying on the Couch.

A short story about the Hungarian Holocaust, I’m calling the Police, has been published as a book in several languages such as German, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch with him as the author as well.

His wife, Marilyn, achieved a Ph. D. in comparative literature which are French and German from Johns Hopkins and has had a highly successful career as a university professor and writer.

Her many works are the books titled Blood Sisters,  A History of the Breast, History of the Wife, The Birth of The Chess Queen and together with his son Reid Yalom which is The American Resting Place. 

His four children, all living in the San Francisco Bay area, have chosen a variety of careers such as medicine, photography, creative writing, theatre directing, and clinical psychology which are quite diverse in his view. He has eight grandchildren and counting for more.

Being an existential psychotherapist

As mentioned before, he started out in psychiatry in 1957. In America, you are meant to go to medical school, have a year of internship and then you start a residency at that time. 

He took three years at Johns Hopkins Hospital which is located in Baltimore, Maryland and while there he came across some very fine professors and became interested in a philosophical approach.

He remembered reading a book by Rollo May titled Existence and felt himself rather stimulated by that because he did not feel that either the orthodox psychoanalytical or the psycho-medical approach were sufficient to account for the kind of concerns he was seeing in patients.

That book was the first acquaintance he had with the European tradition of existential analytic thought as it prospered.

The book included translations of authors who were unknown to most of us back then where people such as Binswanger and Gebsattel and other Europeans who were therapists as well. 

What this kind of book meant to him was that there was something wrong with the way the history of psychotherapy had been taught in the US all that time.

Most of us had been taught that the history of our field had its foundations in 19th-century psychology, especially in the work of Freud and Jung in Vienna. 

But it seemed to him that this was a grievous error because philosophers and thinkers since the beginning of recorded history were dealing with concerns that are relevant to the field of psychiatry all along.

So he started reading a lot of philosophy such as Plato, of course, Epicurus especially and believed that many of the things that they were saying needed to be incorporated into our field all along. 

He concluded that most of us needed to not be so narrow in our thinking of what the human condition is all this time.

From the very early days of seeing patients, he observed that many of them seemed to be worried about concerns of their mortality and so the philosophy training he had taken started to seem rather important to him. 

He also started to write a good bit during his training in this field.

He wrote a lot of articles for professional journals on various topics, especially group therapy and working with people with sexual disorders and then he went to Stanford in California where he would spend his entire professional career. 

He was a professor of psychiatry at Stanford from 1962 until he retired in 1994 at that time.

Irvin Yalom’s experience in therapy

He was involved in therapy since it is customary for professionals in this field to get involved in therapy since the job is filled with stressful experiences from clients.

He was undergoing some psychological distress from patients who were undergoing cancer.

This situation has made him distressed since the experiences were too much without additional professional help.

This is where he was able to talk to Rollo May who was his therapist at that time and he was able to get himself ready to deal with his clients again for the need and want to help these affected people.

How does a person live according to Irvin Yalom’s existential theory?

According to Irvin Yalom’s theory, a person should live a regret-free life and this includes not having regrets for the things that you didn’t do but continue through life to experience new things and be done with the others.

This kind of theory can also influence to be more compassionate about who you are as a person.

This self-compassion can lead to an improved sens of group coonection where you are more empathetic towards others.

You should also live a life that is meant to do anything that interests you and do it because you love to do it and not because you are doing to leave out regrets of things that you haven’t done in your past.


In this brief blog, we have talked about Irvin Yalom, the life of Irvin Yalom, the contributions of Irvin Yalom, and more information about Irvin Yalom.

If you have any questions about Irvin Yalom, please let us know and the team will gladly answer your queries.

FAQs: irvin yalom

What is Yalom’s theory?

Yalom’s theory is considering the therapeutic factors that persuade change and healing in group therapy.

This kind of theory believes that the integration of hope can make a feeling of optimism in any person.

The feeling of universality can help group members realize that they are not isolated in their complications, impulses, and other concerns. 

What are the four givens of existence?

The four givens of existence are death, isolation, meaning, and freedom.

These kinds of givens were the basis of the field in psychology called existential psychotherapy.

These kinds of givens were defined by Irvin Yalom in 1980 when he was constructing his theory. 

What are the curative factors of groups according to Irvin Yalom and Ieszcz?

The curative factors of groups according to Irvin Yalom and Ieszcz are instillation of hope, imparting information, universality, altruism, development of socialising techniques, a corrective recapitulation of the primary family group, group cohesiveness, and interpersonal learning.

Is Victor Yalom related to Irvin Yalom?

Yes, Victor Yalom is related to Irvin Yalom. Victor Yalom is his son.

He was talking to Europe’s Journal of Psychology about his current work and the most inspirational people in the psychotherapy field he has been lucky enough to meet and interview during his psychotherapy career. 

What is the difference between humanistic and existential theories?

The difference between humanistic and existential theories is the humanistic school of psychology believes that people are persistently striving to be the best version of themselves that they can be while the existential school of psychology believes that people are looking for the meaning of life.


Independent. Irvin D Yalom interview: The grand old man of American psychiatry on what he has learnt about life (and death) in his still-flourishing career.

Yalom. Autobiographical Note.

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