Book Commentary- The Schopenhauer Cure
The Schopenhauer Cure, by Irvin D. Yalom, follows the last year of therapist Julius Hertzfeld’s life. At a routine check-up, Julius Hertzfeld is told he has malignant melanoma, and only has approximately a year to live. Confronted with his own mortality, he decides to evaluate his life’s work. What has happened to his old patients? He remembers most of them as successful cases; he felt that he was able to help. No therapist can help every person; Julius knew that, and remembered a few cases he was not able to crack.
One patient in particular floated to the top of Julius’s thoughts: Philip Slate. Dr. Hertzfeld had treated Philip over twenty years ago for sex addiction; Philip came to every session for three years, though both knew the therapy was not working. So how was Philip Slate? To Julius’s surprise, Philip has become a philosophical counselor. He had overcome his addiction to sex by following the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, which he called the “Schopenhauer cure.”
To add to this shocking news, Philip then requests for Julius to supervise him so that he may obtain a license to practice, and in return, Philip promises to educate him in the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Reluctantly, Julius Hertzfeld agrees to this arrangement if one more condition is fulfilled: Philip must attend Julius’s therapy group for six months.
Soon, Julius begins to regret this arrangement. Philip is not interested in his own personality defects, or any of the group members’ individual problems. Instead, he is more concerned with educating the other members of Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy.
Ironically enough, however, one of the therapy group members is Pam, a woman whom Philip had had sexual relations with; she felt used and betrayed by Philip, and she wanted revenge. Her aggressiveness towards Philip proved to be of help towards his therapy. She continued to attack Philip, causing him to finally come out of the pessimistic, misanthropic shell the Schopenhauer cure had put him in.
I find it interesting how Philip’s sex addiction could not be cured by learning to care for other human beings first. Schopenhauer taught him to isolate himself from the world, and finally years later, one of Philip’s past mistakes corrected him. As another one of the therapy group members told Philip, “Schopenhauer has cured you, but now you need to be saved from the Schopenhauer cure” (330, Yalom). This made Philip think. Did he really need to be saved?
Another point I find intriguing that is related to the first would be that while Julius was unable to help Philip during their three years of one-on-one sessions, the group therapy seemed to work. Was this because the Schopenhauer cure had already been in effect, or because Julius Hertzfeld was simply unable to help Philip by himself? I think both had a play. Schopenhauer helped Philip quit his addiction to sex, but did not help his personality and ability to interact with others much. Being forced into a group where members had to talk about their problems on a personal level helped bring out the better side of Philip. I guess that shows that a licensed psychologist can fail in some cases, and a group of troubled individuals can help each other out with their problems.
(1) Yalom, Irvin D. The Schopenhauer Cure. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2005.