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I love this book! Ive heard people, again and again, make the assertion that philosophy, and in particular existential philosophy, has no real-life, down-to-earth, practical use. Well, Irvin Yaloms Existential Psychotherapy proves that to be false.Yalom draws on the insights of existentialism in order to formulate an approach to psychotherapy that is grounded in the ultimate concerns of life; namely the concerns of death, freedom, existential isolation, and meaninglessness. These concerns, Yalom reports, are part of the ontological foundation of human existence, and it is our struggle with these issues that characterizes many of our neurotic difficulties. We often avoid thinking about these things consciously because they provoke dread in us, but Yalom insists, as do all the great existentialist philosophers, confronting these issues is absolutely crucial in the quest toward authenticity. Ultimately there is nothing that we can do about the fact that we will die, that we are responsible for our own choices, that we are alone among others, and that we must cobble together our own form of meaning in life. These are just facts about the nature of human existence. What we can do, however, is to grab hold of our situation, face it and dive into the flow of life rather than allowing ourselves to become cynical and detached from the world.The one aspect of Yaloms book that puzzles me is his treatment of meaninglessness. In the rest of this work, Yalom suggests that facing the reality of the human condition head-on is key to becoming psychologically healthy, mature and authentic. However, when it comes to the issue of meaninglessness, Yalom suggests that the therapist help patients to look away from the question rather than grappling with it directly. (p. 483) His point is that in all of its manifestations, the experience of meaninglessness is rooted in the fact that meaning does not exist ready-made, waiting to be discovered, as a part of the world. Meaning, as existential philosophy tells us, is something that humans confer upon the world. The person who becomes too focused on the question, What is the meaning of life? runs the risk of thinking that there is a potential answer to this question on par with questions such as, What is 1+1? or What is the definition of the word dog? This, of course, would be a delusion, and inevitably leads to despair and disappointment. Better, then, claims Yalom, to avoid this particular question and instead invest energy and effort into actually making life meaningful by becoming engaged in the flow of life.I understand Yaloms point, however I do think there is something positive to be gained by directly confronting the issue of the meaninglessness. While there may be practical utility attached to diverting ones attention from the worlds lack of intrinsic meaning, there is, I think, a greater degree of existential wisdom to be gained by meditating upon just this situation. I fully disagree with Yaloms characterization of nihilism, in particular, as a kind of existential sickness. Heidegger suggests in his book on Nietzsche that there is nothing necessarily negative about nihilism, and with this I agree. Nihilism is not a sickness, but an ontological condition in which humans desire a meaningless world to exhibit meaning. Understanding this, rather than simply looking away from the situation is, I think, a necessary part of living authentically and fully accepting our own responsibility for pursuing the life projects that we choose. The danger of simply throwing ones self into the flow of life without first questioning why we are doing so is to run the risk of forgetting an important feature of the human condition. Since nihilism is part of the human experience, I think it is something that we can and should learn from. Any time that we are encouraged to think deeply about the fundamental aspects of our being-in-the-world, we alleviate at least some of our self-alienation. The hasty rush to overcome nihilism may harbor its own kinds of destructive consequences.Nonetheless, as stated above, I love this book. It is clear, well written and deeply insightful. Especially today, when it is more common for people to seek quick fixes to their psychological troubles through drugs and gimmicks than through deep, philosophical reflection, Yaloms message is very important.

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