Would you like to get insight into both sides of the therapeutic couch? If so, Where To Talk highly recommends two books to anyone interested in gaining insight into psychotherapy.

These are, ‘Tales of Unknowing’ and ‘Love’s Executioner’. I was lucky enough to be a student of Ernesto Spinelli who wrote ‘Tales of Unknowing’ while the writer, Irvin Yalom of ‘Love’s Executioner’ is an eminent  and distinguished psychotherapist. Both authors write about their personal experiences and from an existential approach to life.

These tales show how the therapist learns as much from the therapeutic encounter as the client.


Loves Executioner by Irvin Yalom

In these 10 eloquent, engaging tales of personal transformation, each client comes face to face with ‘existential’ problems such as the inevitability of death or the need to give one’s life meaning.

Yalom presents an excellent account of how psychotherapy might unfold for both patient and clinician.

He illuminates some of the fundamental challenges associated with providing therapy and pulls no punches when providing introspective accounts of his own vulnerability. After all, the therapist is also dealing with existence pain just as much as the patient and resonates with Yalom’s motto, ‘It’s the relationship that heals’.

Yalom offers penetrating insight that apply to each of us who is caught, inescapably and firmly, in the grips of the human condition.


Tales of Unknowing by Ernesto Spinelli  

Spinelli’s book is organized around eight case studies. Successfully conveyed in these patient narratives is the essentially relational nature of the existential approach.

Spinelli’s existential approach has important implications for the relationship between therapist and client. Since the therapist brings his own self-construct to the encounter, he cannot be a detached critical observer. Thus for both client and therapist alike,

Spinelli advocates an openness to what he describes as un-knowing. Un-knowing refers to the attempt to remain open to the various ways of conceiving the self-world, self-other relationship.

What is refreshing about Spinelli’s use of case studies is that they do not interpret but describe the client’s way-of-being as one picture among others with not only its own limitations, but also its own possibilities.

As such, the quotation from Beckett’s Worstward Ho! with which Spinelli concludes his prologue may serve as an epigraph for the whole of his therapeutic enterprise:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”.