Synchronicities, Serpents, and “Something Else-ness”: A Meta-Dialogue on Philosophy and Psychotherapy1

Philosophical Practice 4 (3):519-534 (2009)

Lou Marinoff
City College of New York (CUNY)
Synchronicity IIn the summer of 2006, I read several books by well-known existential psychiatrist and insightful novelist Irvin Yalom.2 They were all thought-provoking and mightily entertaining. Dr. Yalom sustains lively interests in philosophical aspects of psychiatry, as well as in psychiatric aspects of philosophy. Among other works, he has written two profoundly philosophical novels, namely The SchopenhauerCure and When Nietzsche Wept, in which he has delved deeply and creatively into the psyches of these two outstanding thinkers via the refracting media of literary and historical fiction, and through lenses of eclectic existential psychiatry.Yalom’s fictive excursions are not confined to philosophical realms—far from it. In a delightfully ironic novel entitled Lying on the Couch Yalom takes to task some perennially unfinished business of psychoanalysis, namely analysts’ perpetual struggles with counter-transference issues. Even the most seasoned psychoanalysts, so Yalomartfully reveals, have not yet had their own egos sufficiently shrunk. In consequence, they are apt to experience all kinds of problems with patients, and not always of the patients’ making. To be sure, patients are wont to deceive their analysts at times, whether subconsciously, diffidently, or maliciously. And analysts themselves are prone to all the vanities catalogued by Ecclesiastes in antiquity,3 egoisms and egotisms alike that appear innately rooted in the human psyche, and which inevitably contribute to self-deception. If an analyst’s vanities, self-deceptions, and unresolved counter-transferences were skillfully exploited by a professional con-artist posing as a patient, personal and professional mayhemwould result. This is one of the conspicuous threads in the rich tapestry of untruths, vanities and self deceptions that Yalom weaves in Lying on The Couch.One particular episode in Yalom’s novel rather jarred me when I encountered it in August 2006, because it coincided with an uncannily similar episode that was unfolding in my own life at precisely the same time
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