Cover image for Momma and the meaning of life : tales of psychotherapy
Momma and the meaning of life : tales of psychotherapy
Yalom, Irvin D., 1931-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
vii, 247 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
890 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
RC480.5 .Y338 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
RC480.5 .Y338 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As the public grows disillusioned with therapeutic quick fixes, people are looking for a deeper psychotherapeutic experience to make life more meaningful and satisfying. What really happens in therapy? What promises and perils does it hold for them?No one writes about therapy - or indeed the dilemmas of the human condition - with more acuity, style, and heart than Irvin Yalom. Here he combines the storytelling skills so widely praised in Love's Executioner with the wisdom of the compassionate and fully engaged psychotherapist.In these six compelling tales of therapy, Yalom introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters: Paula, who faces death and stares it down; Magnolia, into whose ample lap Yalom longs to pour his own sorrows; Irene, who learns to seek out anger and plunge into it. And there's Momma, old-fashioned, ill-tempered, who drifts into Yalom's dreams and tramples through his thoughts. At once wildly entertaining and deeply thoughtful, Momma and the Meaning of Life is a work of rare insight and imagination.

Author Notes

Irvin D. Yalom was born in Washington, D.C. on June 13, 1931, of parents who immigrated from Russia shortly after World War I. Yalom entered into medical school intent on studying the field of psychiatry. His first writings were scientific contributions to professional journals. His first book, "The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy" was widely used as a text for training therapists. It has been translated into twelve languages and spawned four editions.

"Existential Psychotherapy" followed, which was a textbook for a course that did not exist at the time, and then "Inpatient Group Psychotherapy," a guide to leading groups in the inpatient psychiatric ward. In an effort to teach aspects of Existential Therapy, Yalom turned to a literary conveyance and wrote a book of therapy tales called "Love's Executioner", two teaching novels, "When Nietzsche Wept" and "Lying on the Couch" and, "Momma and the Meaning of Life," a collection of true and fictionalized tales of therapy.

These books went on to be best sellers, and "When Nietzsche Wept" won the Commonwealth Gold Medal for best fiction of 1993. They have been widely translated,each into about fifteen to twenty languages, and have had considerable distribution abroad.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Yalom, psychotherapist and author of When Nietzsche Wept (1992) and Lying on the Couch (1996), uses his experiences with patients and his own life challenges to explore the process of psychotherapy and the search for meaning in life. He begins this collection of six stories with his dreams about his mother several years after her death. He recalls a difficult woman and wonders at her continued hold on him until he is able to reconcile their relationship in his dreams. Paula is a patient with a voracious cancer eating at her organs but not sapping her sense of life. Their roles are blurred as the doctor is captivated by Paula's self-assurance and spirituality even in the face of her death, an admiration that allows her to "educate" him. Another story recounts a distrustful, almost hostile, relationship between a psychotherapist and a female patient. She begins to open up when she accidentally gets hold of the doctor's notes and defends herself against his off-the-cuff remarks. Throughout, Yalom absorbingly recounts the resilience some patients bring to the task of healing themselves and is brutally frank about the limitations of modern medicine. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Psychiatrist and gifted storyteller Yalom (Love's Executioner) returns with six engaging tales of psychotherapy. In this collection, which includes two fictional narratives, Yalom explores his own dreams and fantasies, relationships with colleagues, and work as a hospital therapy group leader and director of research projects. Whether dealing with issues raised by his memory of the quintessential Jewish mother or supporting a widow working through her grief, Yalom reveals his thoughts, feelings, and reactions with sensitive honesty. Along the way, he portrays the therapeutic process as a journey of discovery for both patient and psychiatrist. Highly recommended for all collections.ÄLucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
1 Momma and the Meaning of Lifep. 1
2 Travels with Paulap. 15
3 Southern Comfortp. 53
4 Seven Advanced Lessons in the Therapy of Griefp. 83
5 Double Exposurep. 155
6 The Hungarian Cat Cursep. 201
Author's Notep. 247