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What Would Yalom Do? Wisdom for Counselors

5. Isolation Exists Only in Isolation
Nietzsche’s emotional release results in a profound understanding by Breuer,

“Isolation exists only in isolation. Once shared, it evaporates.”

The importance of social supports is well documented in the research and the therapeutic relationship provides an intimate and significant relationship for many of our clients. For some, it may be the first time that they have told their stories. This is powerful. Up to that moment of disclosure, it has remained a secret that has anchored the client to the experience and the emotional turmoil that is attached to the experience.

6. Choose your Fate. Love your Fate
Yalom’s Nietzsche confronts Dr. Breuer about agency in one’s life offering that we make choices in our life that contribute to our experiences. He further contends

“…The spirit of a man is constructed out of his choices!”

So often our clients present to counseling feeling stuck in a life that they feel has happened to them. They do not feel that they have agency in their life. It can be powerful to simply offer that they possess the ability to choose much of their experiences in life and they always have the ability to choose how they wish to respond to their circumstance.

7. Take Time to Chimney Sweep
Chimney sweep is a term in the text that is synonymous to brainstorming and relative to the technique free association. It refers to the free flowing of thoughts around a topic or idea as a means to access meaning.

This process, however, requires us to unplug and put aside all other activities that may distract us from this housekeeping of sorts. Additionally, chimney sweeping requires adequate time to empty our cluttered thoughts, turn our attention and eventually meditate on, the topic of interest. As a result, a purging of thoughts, ideas and meanings tangled within the threads of the subject matter takes place. It adds to clarity of mind and peace of body.

8. Be more Generous to Your Own Humanity
Yalom’s Nietzsche declared a granite sentence of the human experience to be to “Become who you are.” He continued,

“That means not only to perfect yourself but also not to fall prey to another’s designs for you.”

Dr. Kristin Neff, associate professor of human development and culture in the educational psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of the book entitled “Self-Compassion” writes in her online blog dated June 25, 2011:

Instead of endlessly chasing self-esteem as if it were the pot of gold at the end of the
rainbow, therefore, I would argue that we should encourage the development of
self-compassion. That way, whether we’re on top of the world or at the bottom of
the heap, we can embrace ourselves with a sense a kindness, connectedness and
emotional balance. We can provide the emotional safety needed to see ourselves
clearly and make whatever changes are necessary to address our suffering. We can
learn to feel good about ourselves not because we’re special and above average, but
because we’re human beings intrinsically worthy of respect.

9. Die at the Right Time
Yalom’s Nietzsche and Breuer agonized over mortality and Nietzsche proposed,

“Die at the right time. Live when you live! Death loses its terror if one dies when one has consummated one’s life? If one does not live in the right time, then one can never die at the right time.”

Consummating one’s life necessarily requires the shunning of distractions of the past and concerns for the future. It requires us to be fully present in the moment. It commands courage to take risks in life and love. This results in vulnerability (there it is, again!). However, to live fully means to embrace all aspects of the human experience. Pain, suffering, joy, and ecstasy are all shared experiences of humanity. Would I give up one aspect for another?

Now armed with several, though certainly not all, of the nuggets of wisdom provided by the brilliant Dr. Irvin Yalom, I leave you with one final thought from my humble experience as a counselor:

10. We are People, Not Pathologies.
We are human beings seeking relationship, wanting to belong in community. We want to love and be loved. As counselors we have the greatest privilege in being asked to enter into the most vulnerable spaces with others and to be in relationship. That is a sacred gift and the secret to therapy.

Insightful book photo available from Shutterstock

What Would Yalom Do? Wisdom for Counselors