Review – Love’s Executioner – Counselling

Love’s Executioner

An essential book for counselling students

Love’s Executioner written by Irvin D Yalom an American Existential Psychotherapist based in San Francisco. It is one of the most read books by students of counselling and psychotherapy.

Love's Executioner - Irvin D Yalom

Love’s Executioner is the story  of ten individuals who turned to psychotherapy as a way of dealing with the with the reality of existence. Each chapter is  an acute observation of how clients deal with the reality of existence. The book tellingly explores  how a therapist observes their own reactions to ,counter -transference and personal prejudice.

He also explores the existential reality of life. The idea that we exist for a finite time and at some level struggle with this knowledge. Yalom expresses himself  succinctly in this passage taken directly from the book ;-

“Four givens are particularly in the relevant for psycho-therapy: the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life.”

How is the book written?

The book is presented in ten chapters. Each discussing a different client and includes :

  • The story of a woman who cannot move on from the death of her daughter. She is so preoccupied that she neglects her two living sons.
  • A 60-year-old  woman , who’s fantasy relationship with a man nearly half her age is an attempt to avoid the frightening  reality of aging and death .
  • A male client who has predatory sexual thoughts. Even though cancer is destroying his body.
  • Another man, who for over three decades cannot throw away love letters.  Because to do so would make him face his own mortality.
  • A chapter entitled ” Fat Lady ” who managed to lose 100 pounds while exploring her feelings around the death of her father.

So why is ‘Love’s Executioner’ so popular with students of counselling and psychotherapy ?

While Yalom tells us stories of the individuals he worked with, he also tells his own. He is disarming honest about his own flaws and human weakness.Especially the chapter entitled ‘Fat lady’ ,Yalom is brutely honest in his views stating-

“When I see a fat lady eat, I move down a couple of rungs on the ladder of human understanding. I want to tear the food away. To push her face into the ice cream. . . . I`d like to wire her jaws shut”

It is this level of candor, that yes, counsellors and psychotherapists have personal prejudices , dark sides and sometimes irrational thoughts.

‘Love’s Executioner’  brings so much  humanity to  a profession, that sometimes gives the message to students of counselling and psychotherapy, that they must be perfect.

The other lesson the book teaches is never to stereotype, the final few paragraphs of ‘Fat lady’ proved quite a revelation . It is worth buying the book just to find out what this is.

Suggested reference for the book .

Yalom I. Love’s Executioner. New York: Harper Collins ; 1989.

For more information please watch Rory’s video book review below