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Book Report

A Psychiatrist's Journey

By Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson
Irvin D. Yalom
memoir
Cover of Becoming Myself
Photograph by Will Kirk

For decades, San Francisco–based psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom has enthralled readers with insightful books about therapy and the human mind. In his bestselling Love’s Executioner (1989), Yalom recounts 10 heartrending stories of patients struggling to live full lives even as they grapple with the philosophical truth of human mortality. In his novel When Nietzsche Wept (1992), Yalom fictionalizes an encounter in 1882 between the respected psychoanalyst Josef Breuer and the famous philosopher as they use talk therapy to address Nietzsche’s suicidal thoughts. Now Yalom, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, has turned his astute eye on himself.

Becoming Myself is a memoir that recounts how Yalom’s life led him to his particular form of existential psychotherapy. Yalom is a first-generation American, born to immigrant Russian Jews, and he describes the racial and social tensions of his childhood in segregated Washington, D.C. These early years sparked empathy for the human condition that would later drive his work.

Yalom takes readers behind the scenes of the psychiatry world, including his formative years in training at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s. During his residency, Yalom worked with a patient, Sarah B., who had been mute for many months. Yalom talked to her week after week, in the hopes of understanding her silence. One day, after Yalom had prescribed a different medication, Sarah finally spoke. Yalom admitted to his patient that he’d had doubts that his hours spent talking to her when she couldn’t respond had helped. She said they did. “All through that time you were my bread and butter,” she said. Yalom’s story reminds us how empathy, intellect, compassion, and self-will can coalesce to help us create meaningful lives.

“I was her bread and butter. I have never forgotten that utterance and that moment. It returns to my mind often when I’m with a patient, clueless about what is going on, unable to make helpful or coherent remarks. It is then that I think of dear Sarah B. and remind myself that a therapist’s presence, inquiries, attention may be nourishing in ways we cannot imagine.”
Cover of Jailcare

Jailcare

Carolyn Sufrin

A Johns Hopkins gynecologist uses her experience as an OB-GYN in the San Francisco County Jail to describe the contradictory ways that care and maternal identity emerge within a punitive space presumed to be devoid of support. For the thousands of pregnant women incarcerated every year, jail can serve as a safety net.

Cover of Childrens' Medicines

Children's Medicines

Edward A. Bell

Parents understandably worry about the side effects and possible longterm consequences of any medicine administered to their child. In this exhaustive user’s guide, a pediatric pharmacist draws on the latest science to gauge the benefits, risks, and effectiveness of everything from cough suppressants to vaccinations.

Cover of Redefining Aging

Redefining Aging

Ann Kaiser Stearns

Caring for an elderly family member can be overwhelming. Stearns, a behavioral scientist, explores the practical and personal challenges of both caregiving and successful aging. The author shares stories and lessons on how best to manage, and prepare for, these golden years.

Lillie D. Shockney

Portrait by Tina Berning

5 Picks

Lillie E. Shockney's picks for books on coping and living with cancer.

Lillie D. Shockney, a twotime breast cancer survivor, is a professor of surgery and oncology, and administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Breast Center.

  1. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

    Siddhartha Mukherjee
    Scribner (2011)
  2. When Breath Becomes Air

    Paul Kalanithi
    Random House (2016)
  3. The Cancer Survival Cookbook

    Donna Weihofen and Christina Marino
    John Wiley & Sons (1998)
  4. Because...Someone I Love Has Cancer: Kids' Activity Book

    American Cancer Society
    American Cancer Society (2002)
  5. Navigating Breast Cancer: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed

    Lillie D. Shockney
    Jones & Bartlett Learning (2010)

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