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Yalom Irvin’s Psychotherapy Theories Research Paper


Yalom is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Stanford. He is the author of numerous highly appreciated textbooks, which include The Theory and Practice of Group psychotherapy and Essential Psychotherapy.

He also wrote several novels and stories related to psychotherapy. Some good examples are Nietzsche Wept, love’s Executioner, Momma and the Meaning of Life, Lying on The Couch and The Schopenhauer Cure. His most recent non-fiction work is Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (Barlow & Burlingame, 2006).

His Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy

Yalom is a paramount theorist of group psychotherapy. One should take his works seriously as he truly deserves it. His bulky tone is rightly regarded as one of the necessary treaties in the field of psychotherapy. It has similarities with Yalom’s other works about existential psychotherapy.

Despite this factor, it is very difficult to detect the connection between his curiosities in these two different fields. The basic aim of Yalom is to analyze the making-up of group dynamics. He scrutinizes the entire group life cycle, beginning from its formation until its break up.

He is greatly concerned with the group leaders’ function, nature, and his role in the group (Bion, 1991). He discusses different ways through which groups go astray. Yalom came up with four theories. These are interpersonal theory, psychodynamic theory, system theory and action oriented theory. All the things he puts across are interesting and provide useful information.

Interpersonal theory

According to Yalom, a child perceives the environment and acts in the environment in a way that can enable him or her to develop strong connectivity and acceptance mostly by the parents. During the early years, behavior develops during this particular period. This is the main basic feature of personality (Bion, 1991).

Interpersonal view is greatly compatible with group psychotherapy. This is because problems can be solved through observation of their group members. The members have the opportunity to observe each others’ points of view on life issues. This will provide a great chance for one to learn how others feel about him or her. This is because the group traditions encourage the members to talk about their points of view on specific matters.

Therefore, it enables one to get the chance to express personal thoughts with minimum fear. Yalom takes the group in form of a microsom or a little world (Barlow & Burlingame, 2006). He believes that everybody will try to manifest their interpersonal styles whenever they move to.

In this case, the person will have to learn different aspects of life in a way that gives a chance to interact with a variety of personalities. The interpersonal group therapy works from this perspective. Those responses that bring many difficulties will have to cause alternative despondences from another group. This will help members of different groups experience life in a more diversified manner than being in one area without any person to intermingle.

Psychodynamic theory

This type of theory is highly compatible with interpersonal theory. Within a group of people, there are many other theoretical approaches. Examples include ego psychology, self-psychology together with object relation theory. It is from Yalom’s perspective that personality development comes from psychodynamic perspective through different stages. He observes that there exist tasks and conflicts within each stage (Yalom, 2005).

It depends on how the child addresses the issues that contribute to the personality development during adult stage. Psychodynamic looks at personality as processes and features that one can access consciously and that reside out of conscious awareness (Yalom, 2005).

Psychodynamic proves that during the growth period individuals develop defense mechanism to keep out of psychological contents like fantasies, affects and impulses that are quite intolerable to them. The psychodynamic therapist takes advantage of the situation to utilize his or her skills. This is because a group will provide the best medium like individuals and the group proceed through different stages of development.

Systems theory

According to Yalom, a group is a type of force that resides within a space in life or environment. It is from his point that as the group moves towards the intended goals, the forces found inside and outside of the group, its goals and other forces, pull the group against attaining its objectives. For example, when a group of inpatients discussion is cut short by an alarm that alerts people of the broken fire, this prevents them from achieving their objectives.

This is taken as a restraining factor in the progress of the group since the therapist will have to stop and try to observe the safety of the patients together with his/her own life (Bion, 1991). On the other hand, when the team of therapists arrive at the discussion place at the required time, this can act as a driving force to the group members leading them to continue with the sessions until the end of the discussion. For a group to archive its goals, it greatly depends on the restraining and driving forces.

In this context, each group member is also another force in the group (Yalom, 2005). It is possible that each group member has his/her goals. The goals are exposed to restraining and driving forces towards attaining or failure in attaining the goals. He puts across that a group is a form of system and individuals form subsystems.

Therefore, in this context, the systems according to hierarchy, are related and that there are no boundaries between subsystems and systems. They are porous and they allow sharing of information. For example, if an outpatient has a distinctive form of authority, then the authority can get into the system of the health institution.

Action oriented theory

Action-oriented theory has its base on physical activities where members of the group plan on how to dramatize their own experiences in life. In this context, the other entire member is able to experience the same form of life (Bion, 1991). This is a powerful tool since it gives all the group members the chance to socialize and give different kinds of experiences thus enriching themselves.

The psychodramatic is a form of role, which is an individual’s way to relate with others. For instance, if a female person who suffered from emotional anxiety can give part of action to let his/her group members realize the effects on the person’s personality development. The group members can offer assistance to help guide others who may undergo the same problem in future.


Yalom wrote this wonderful book for both psychiatrists who are in the field and those who will come later. He consciously notes several considerations that the clinicians have to put in mind when they are forming a group and then how to lead this particular group. He also provides important information to the clinicians who have been in the field with great ideas that help them sharpen and improve their skills (Barlow & Burlingame, 2006).

He incorporated most of his own experiences with people in different groups. This makes it very interesting in the fact that it may look like a storybook. He highlights important issues in today’s life beginning with therapy then revealing much more in the contemporary world. The most important part of his work deals with treatment models and diagnostic methods for managing care in the health institutions which most of the writers have never dealt with.


Barlow, S. & Burlingame, G. (2006). Essential Theory, Processes, and Procedures for Successful Group Psychotherapy: Group Cohesion as Exemplar. Washington DC, McGraw-Hill.

Bion, W. (1991). Experiences in Groups; and other papers. New York, NY: Routledge.

Yalom, I. (2005). Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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