In the world of psychotherapy, Irving D. Yalom is a big man. You could say that he is a bridge builder between psychotherapy and philosophy. From 1962 until his retirement in 1994, this American writer and psychiatrist was associated with the psychiatry course at the prestigious Stanford University: as a therapist, teacher, researcher and counselor of therapists. He obtained his doctorate in 1968. His specialty was existential therapy; it is based on the ideas of Western European philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre or Martin Heidegger. The existential therapist, together with the client, looks at how you stand in life, how you shape life, how you experience yourself and life and what you encounter. Yalom has written several books on these themes. He has also written several novels, in which these themes also play a prominent role. His best-known titles include the titles “When Nietzsche Wept” (1992), “The Schopenhauer Cure” (2005) and “The Spinoza Problem” from 2012, which have also been translated into Dutch.
Swiss filmmaker Sabine Gisiger read Yalom’s books and was so inspired by his work that she decided to travel to California to ask if she could take a documentary about the best man. Fortunately for her, Yalom agreed. The film “Yalom’s Cure” (2014) is “sold” with the subtitle “A Guide to Happiness”. The quest that many undergo to find happiness is a bait here, because “Yalom’s Cure” is mainly the story of Irving Yalom himself. He tells how his parents from the Soviet Union decided to seek happiness in the United States. They ended up in Washington, where Irving was born in 1931. Another crucial element in his life is his wife Marilyn, with whom he has been together for decades and with whom he feels a special connection. It is remarkable that, unlike their parents, none of Yalom’s children lasted long with the same partner!
As for the subtitle; Yalom does point out a few things that many of us think about or struggle with: what is the meaning of life, why are we afraid of death and what exactly does the concept of freedom mean. However, none of these themes has a universal answer; people have to look for that in themselves because life questions like these have a different answer for everyone. The strength of the film lies in the fact that on paper Yalom discusses heavy topics such as “the meaning of life” in a light, simple and humorous way. In this way it becomes recognizable and tangible for everyone. Irving Yalom is also an endearing figure; sympathetic and a great storyteller. Sabine Gisiger’s ambition was to make a film that would appeal to viewers as much as Yalom’s books did to her, and she succeeds very well in that regard. Of course this is by no means a guide to eternal happiness, but the story of Yalom is certainly inspiring and makes you think about your own reason for being – if only for a moment.