Dr. Irv Yalom's book, Staring At The Sun Overcoming The Terror of Death confronts the most demanding challenge we all face: overcoming our own fears of death and dying.
Written in Irv Yalom's inimitable story-telling style, Staring at the Sun is a profoundly encouraging approach to the universal issue of mortality. In this opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an "awakening experience"—a dream, or loss (the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or home), illness, trauma, or aging.
Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.
Filled with touching personal stories of people who are grappling with the terror of death—including the author—Staring at the Sun offers specific methods to cope with terror and is ultimately life affirming. Most important, Dr. Yalom encourages us to strive for more direct engagement with others. Compassionate connection, combined with the wisdom of the great thinkers who have wrestled with mortality, enables us to overcome the terror of death and lead happier, more meaningful lives.
Dr Irv Yalom was born in Washington, D.C., June 13, 1931, of parents who immigrated from Russia (from a small village named Celtz near the Polish border) shortly after the first world war. Home was the inner city of Washington—a small apartment atop my parents’ grocery store on First and Seaton Street. During my childhood, Washington was a segregated city, and I lived in the midst of a poor, black neighborhood. Life on the streets was often perilous. Indoor reading was my refuge and, twice a week, I made the hazardous bicycle trek to the central library at seventh and K streets to stock up on supplies.
No counseling or direction was available: his parents had virtually no secular education, never read books and were entirely consumed in the struggle for economic survival. His book choices were capricious, directed in part by the library architecture;
To the ghetto mentality of his day, career choices for young men were limited or perceived as limited. All of his peers either went into medical school or into business with their fathers. Medical school seemed closer to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and he entered upon his medical training already having decided to go into psychiatry. Psychiatry proved (and proves to this day) endlessly intriguing, and he has approached all of his patients with a sense of wonderment at the story that will unfold. He believes that a different therapy must be constructed for each patient because each has a unique story. As the years pass, this attitude moves him farther and farther from the center of professional psychiatry, which is now so fiercely driven by economic forces in precisely opposite directions—namely accurate de-individualizing (symptom-based)
His first writings were scientific contributions to professional journals. His first book, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy has been widely used (seven hundred thousand copies) as a text for training therapists. It has been translated into twelve languages and is now in its fourth edition. His publisher for this book and every one of his subsequent books is Basic Books with whom he has had a long and excellent relationship. Instructors praise his group therapy text because it is based on the best available empirical evidence. I suspect, however, that it owes some of its success to story-telling—
Other texts followed—Existential Psychotherapy (a textbook for a course that did not exist at the time), Inpatient Group Psychotherapy (a guide to leading groups in the inpatient psychiatric ward). Encounter Groups: First Facts a research monograph is out of print. Then, in an effort to teach aspects of Existential Therapy I turned to a literary conveyance and in the past several years have written a book of therapy tales (Love's Executioner)
Though these books have been best sellers to a general audience and have been reviewed often—both favorably and unfavorably—
His wife, Marilyn, received a Ph. D. in comparative literature (French and German) from Johns Hopkins and has had a highly successful career as a University Professor and writer (most recently A History of the Breast (Knopf) and is currently writing History of the Wife. My four Children, all living in San Francisco Bay area, have chosen a variety of careers—medicine, photography, creative writing, theater directing, clinical psychology. Five grandchildren and counting.
# # #
Your Mental Health is a program that deals with mental health issues and illness as well as the stigmas attached to people who suffer from various forms of mental illness.