The Schopenhauer Cure Alyssa K. Engblom Winona State University In the book The Schopenhauer Cure, Yalom portrays a group therapist, Julius, who uses a variety of group facilitation techniques in order for the group to be run effectively. The first technique Julius uses in the group is to switch the focus from content to process. “Julius intervened by using the group therapist’s most common and most effective tactic—he switched the focus from the content to the process, that is, away from the words being spoken to the nature of the relationship of the interacting parties” (Yalom, 2005, p. 132).
During this scenario, Bonnie is feeling insecure about herself and confronts Rebecca about “preening” for the men in the group. Phillip is still new to the group, and the other members are not too sure what to think of him yet. In order for the group to be refocused, Julius tells everyone to “take a step back…and to try to understand what’s happening. Let me first put out this question to all of you: what do you see going on in the relationship between Bonnie and Rebecca? ” (Yalom, 2005, p. 132). Julius does not want everyone to focus solely on what Bonnie and Rebecca are saying to each other, but rather on their relationship with each other.
The second technique Julius uses is to have group members focus on the “Here and Now. ” An off-shoot of the Here and Now technique is to have members of the group talk directly to each other, instead of talking about them. Julius “had done what the good group therapist should do: he had translated one of his patient’s central issues into the here-and-now, where it could be explored firsthand. It was always more productive to focus on the here-and-now than to work on the patient’s reconstructions of an event from the past or from current outside life” (Yalom, 2005, p. 158).
During this group meeting, Julius is trying to get to the root of why Bonnie feels that everyone else is more valuable or more important to the group than her. However, all of her explanations are all external and the other group members feel that her answers are regressive or don’t make sense. Julius then moves into another technique. “In his view the work in therapy consisted of two phases: first interaction, often emotional, and second, understanding that interaction. That’s the way therapy should proceed—an alternating sequence of evocation of emotions and then understanding” (Yalom, 2005, p. 60). To get to this second stage, Julius asks the group to look back at what occurred in the past few minutes. He was trying to get Bonnie to see that she takes situations or comments and then punishes herself with them. The third technique Julius “taught to his group therapy students was: Members should never be punished for self-disclosure. On the contrary, risk taking must always be supported and reinforced” (Yalom, 2005, p. 218). At this point in the book, the group members are upset at Gill for not telling them sooner that he has a drinking problem.
They are angry that he was blaming all his difficulties on his wife, Rose, and not talking about the real problem. Julius then goes on to use a fourth facilitation technique, Horizontal vs. Vertical Disclosure. “Julius always taught students the difference between vertical and horizontal self-disclosure. The group was pressing, as expected, for vertical disclosure—details about the past, including such queries as the scope and the duration of his drinking—whereas horizontal disclosure, that is, disclosure about the disclosure, was always far more productive” (Yalom, 2005, p. 19). He then asks Gill what made it possible for him to open up to them at this particular meeting. At the beginning of the story, Philip did not seem like an appealing character. However, by the end of the book and after I got to know his character a bit more, I could see certain strengths peeking out. Philip is an extremely intelligent, bright, and committed individual. He was dedicated to finding a solution to his sexual addiction, and worked hard to achieve the result he desired. In the group experience, he offered up bits of advice to the other members.
The advice may not have helped them extensively, but at least he was trying to contribute. Philip also challenged the other members of the group as well as Julius. His personality was not very inviting, but this forced the others (and Julius) to try harder to understand him and what made him tick. When Pam returns to the group from her retreat, the mood immediately becomes darker when she sees Philip in her “cozy” group. She does not feel comfortable having him in the group because he had caused her so much pain in the past.
Julius found it hard to find “forgiveness” for Philip, but he tried to identify with him to try to understand why he would have done the things he did. Tony sided with Pam and questioned some of Philip’s statements, whereas Rebecca defended Philip against Tony’s “attacks”. Stuart also seemed to protect Philip against Tony’s attacks. He reminded Tony that he hadn’t seemed sorry for his sexual assault charges in the past. At the end of this confrontational chapter, Pam behaved towards Philip as if he were invisible.
Farther on into the “role changes”, Pam revealed that she felt defiled that Philip was a part of her group. He was also, in a way, taking away her role as the intellectual of the group. In order to handle these various changes, Julius tries to understand where each person is coming from, whether it is Pam, Philip, Tony, etc. Additionally, he made sure that each group member voiced what they were feeling and if they were comfortable with how the group was proceeding. Bonnie and Rebecca each have different things to say about their own beauty and attractiveness. Bonnie does not believe that she is attractive in any way.
She feels that she isn’t interesting or worth anyone’s time. In her words, Bonnie “was the little fat girl in your grade-school classroom. Very chubby, very clumsy, hair too curly. The one who was pathetic in gym, got the fewest valentines, cried a lot, never had best friends, always walked home alone, never had a prom invitation, was so terrified that she never raised her hand in class even though she was smart as hell and knew all the right answers…” (Yalom, 2005, p. 129-130). She even mentioned that Rebecca was the type of person she envied and wished she could be.
Some of those feelings are probably still raw for Bonnie. Those feelings were recreated in the group when Rebecca started “preening” for Philip when he entered the group as a new member. Rebecca, on the other hand, used to stop conversation when she walked into restaurants. She never had to worry about feeling unattractive or unwanted. However, now that she is getting older, her outward beauty is fading from what it used to be. She no longer stops conversation like she used to. Philip seems to sum it up perfectly: “Bonnie and Rebecca have similar afflictions.
Bonnie cannot tolerate being unpopular, whereas Rebecca cannot tolerate being no longer popular… Happiness, for the both of them, lies in the hands and heads of others. And for both the solution is the same: the more one has in oneself, the less one will want from others” (Yalom, 2005, p. 157). As the group gives Bonnie and Rebecca feedback, the criticism is not always taken happily. The comments sting, but they do help both women. Rebecca realizes that she likes to be admired, loved, and adored. She likes love. She then goes on later to discuss why she relates more with men than with women.
In her discussion with Bonnie, she admits that she finds it more exciting to related to men or to date rather than spend time with girlfriends. After this group discussion and feedback session about why Bonnie and Rebecca react the way they do to beauty/attention, they both seem to be more aware of their unconscious actions or why they seem to do certain actions. When Pam first returned to the group after her retreat, it was a huge shock to see Philip sitting in the room. I’m sure she never expected to see the man who made her life so confusing and turbulent at just age 18.
Pam was extremely upset and did not seem to have any inclination towards ever forgiving Philip for what he did to her, as well as to her friend Molly. Philip did not even seem to have any emotions about the whole situation, which was frustrating for the whole group. How could anyone not have any emotion about such an important confrontation? Over the course of the group, Philip showed small changes in his behavior. He started to make eye-contact and use the group members’ names when addressing them in conversation. Pam starts to acknowledge Philip in the conversation eventually, though it was heated.
On page 290, Philip and Pam get into an argument. In response to Pam’s assertion that some things are not forgivable, Philip says, “Because you are unforgiving does not mean that things are unforgivable. Many years ago you and I made a short-term social contract… I explicitly stated in our conversation following that event that I had a pleasurable evening but did not wish to continue our relationship. How could I not have been clearer? ” (Yalom, 2005, p. 290-291). In a meeting a few weeks later, Pam receives a lot of feedback from the group concerning her rage and why exactly the decided to have an affair with Tony.
Philip observes that she “honors” contracts when it suits her. When Philip broke off their social contract, Pam was livid, but when she broke off her social contract with Tony, she didn’t seem to have many emotions about the situation at all. After this particular meeting, Philip could not keep his mind off of Pam. Later on, Pam explains that it is easier for her to forgive others because she wasn’t a personal victim of their offenses. With Philip, her life was altered by what happened. “But there’s more. I can forgive others here because they’ve shown remorse and, above all, because they’ve changed” (Yalom, 2005, p. 16). Philip eventually confesses to everyone that he thought about Pam after the previous session. It was the first time he had actually opened himself up to everyone. On page 328, Philip actually admits to needing therapy, because he needs to get his intentions and his behavior on the same page. He needs to be congruent. Ultimately, Philip breaks down when he describes what he thinks he truly is: “A monster. A predator. Alone. An insect killer. Full of blind rage. An untouchable. No one who has known me has loved me. Ever. No one could love me” (Yalom, 2005, p. 334).
Pam shows great strength and kindness when she comforts Philip. “I could have loved you Philip. You were the most beautiful man…” (Yalom, 2005, p. 334-335). After Julius died and the group members went their separate ways, Philip, Pam, and Tony all stuck together. Through all the feedback, criticism, and hard-work, Pam and Philip were able to move past the “event” of the past and live in the present. When in a working group, one does not only focus on his or her own problems. Each group member brings different life experiences, opinions, and feedback to the table.
This creates a unique environment in which each member can receive feedback from more than one person. Members may receive advice or feel a bond they might not have had with the group leader/one-on-one therapist. Most of the 12 “universal healing factors” appear in The Schopenhauer Cure, but I will only discuss a few of them. Instillation of hope and Universality seem to go hand-in-hand with each other. As the members of this group talked about their personal problems and fears, they discovered that other members shared some of these same problems and fears. This gave them hope that they could potentially overcome these issues.
Altruism is an especially helpful factor for Bonnie. The other members helped her put her self-esteem issues into perspective and to see that she is, indeed, important. Pam used Catharsis when she recapped her traumatic experience with Philip. This probably lifted a huge weight off her shoulders of the event being a secret. The positive response of the group members to support her after her confession brought them together even more. Group cohesiveness played an extensive part in this novel. Without a cohesive or trust-worthy group, nobody would ever open up and reveal their problems.
When various members, Gill, Pam, Tony, Rebecca, etc. , revealed potentially humiliating information about themselves, it was essential that they trusted their fellow group members to keep the information confidential. The Schopenhauer Cure was an excellent example of a working group. It was great to see the different techniques used in diverse scenarios throughout the book. Without these examples, I wouldn’t have the good outline of how a group works that I do today. Reference Yalom, I. D. (2005). The Schopenhauer Cure. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.