The Schopenhauer Cure – Irvin D. Yalom

Book review, some spoilers … ish.

This book chronicles how one therapist (Julius) near the end of his life seeks to ascertain whether he has been helpful to his clients. One client sticks out in his mind: Philip. So Julius contacts him and arranges a meeting. Philip is an unlikable character, pompous and unfeeling … the last person you would expect to be pursuing a career as a therapist—which is exactly what Philip wishes to do. He proposes, from his point of view, a mutually beneficial arrangement in which Julius supervises him while Philip imparts some wonderful enlightening information about Schopenhauer that will in some way benefit the terminally ill Julius. The stipulation that Julius posits is requiring Philip to spend time in his therapy group, which happens to be for people who have trouble forming relationships, before he will agree to supervise him … as Philip is not currently able to exude the type of empathy needed to be a therapist.

Philip said his own treatment with Julius was mostly a failure, but somehow Schopenhauer’s work helped him. Philip, a recovering sex addict, views people as disposable, but he still wants to be a therapist. At one point in the book he makes a remark about needing the money as a reason for pursuing this line of work; however, I don’t believe that being a therapist will yield much more income than what he is currently making teaching college courses. Anyone in the mental health field knows, one does not do it for the money. So that aspect of his rationale confused me and I viewed it as mistaken information.

I did catch myself in a judgmental moment about sex addicts while reading this book. Ideally, in my mind, they would not exploit other people somehow. They would only hook up with other sex addicts? I’m not sure how that worked out in my head, but something was eating at me and I was trying to find a way that sex addicts could be in active addiction without deceiving other people. Maybe that’s part of the game for some, and not for others? I’ve no idea. Philip’s “longing” for Pam on page 308 of my version utterly disgusts me and my soul was vomiting while I read it, I couldn’t get myself to believe that he actually cared about her at all. Ever. It seemed like all he wanted to do was possess her/conquer her. His jealousy toward the man she was currently intimate with had no real substance to it other than someone who is envious of another’s sparkly trinket.

Philip’s character seems unbelievable to me for the most part. He seems completely devoid of desire for any type of connection, but this goes beyond sociopath for me and into the unrealistic and unbelievable. He does not seem to really care about anything other than spouting philosophical babble, like a robot. Nothing gives him lasting fulfillment. He usually responds to people by quoting other people. I found myself continually wondering if he has a personality or an original thought.

The dialog between the group members seemed contrived and unnatural at times. The group members become fixated on and intrigued with Philip, which annoyed me.I found myself waiting for the page when people would confront him on his bullshit. I was gleefully delighted when Pam finally did. I wanted him to squirm, but perhaps that’s due to my own vengeful nature. When he finally had his “breakthrough” near the end of the book, I was sorely disappointed. The core belief he has is that he is unlovable which I found very cliche. This revelation was anticlimactic for me and I wanted more from him, more pain, more remorse, more human-ness, more something.  I hated the ending… it was so abrupt. It actually saddens me to say all of that since I absolutely loved the way this book was written.

Even with my disappointment with the ending, the book definitely kept my attention and was a pleasure to read as part of my group counseling coursework. Four out of five stars I’d say.

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