At one time or another, all of us have wondered what we'd do in the face of death. Suddenly confronted with his own mortality after a routine check-up, distinguished psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld is forced to reexamine his life and work. He feels compelled to contact his patients of long ago. Has he really made an enduring difference in their lives? And what about the patients he failed to help? What has happened to them? Now that he was wiser and riper, can he rescue them yet?
Reaching beyond the safety of his thriving San Francisco practice, Julius feels compelled to seek out Philip Slate, whom he treated for sex addiction some twenty-three years earlier. At that time, Philip's only means of connecting to humans was through brief sexual interludes with countless women, and Julius's therapy did not change that. He meets with Philip who claims to have cured himself-by reading the pessimistic and misanthropic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
Much to Julius's surprise, Philip has become a philosophical counselor and requests that Julius provide him with the supervisory hours he needs to obtain a license to practice. In return, Philip offers to tutor Julius in the work of Schopenhauer. Julius hesitates. How can Philip possibly become a therapist? He is still the same arrogant, uncaring, self-absorbed person he had always been. In fact, in every way he resembles his mentor, Schopenhauer. But eventually they strike a Faustian bargain: Julius agrees to supervise Philip, provided that Philip first join his therapy group. Julius is hoping that six months with the group will address Philip's misanthropy and that by being part of a circle of fellow patients he will develop the relationship skills necessary to become a therapist.
Philip enters the group, but he is more interested in educating the members in Schopenhauer's philosophy-which he claims is all the therapy anyone should need-than he is in their (or his) individual problems. Soon Julius and Philip, using very different therapy approaches, are competing for the hearts and minds of the group members. Is this going to be Julius's swan song-a splintered group and years of good work down the drain? Or will all the members, including Philip, find a way to rise to the occasion that brings with it the potential for extraordinary change.
This novel knits together fact and fiction and contains an accurate portrayal of group therapy in action as well as a presentation of the life and influence of Arthur Schopenhauer, Philip's personal guru and professional inspiration.
Irvin D. Yalom is the bestselling author of Love's Executioner, Momma and the Meaning of Life and The Gift of Therapy as well as several classic textbooks on psychotherapy, including the monumental work that has long been the standard text in the field, Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.
Copyright © 2004 by HarperCollins