Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Irvin Yalom

Basic Books, 2015

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

"All of us are creatures of a day," wrote Marcus Aurelius, "rememberer and remembered alike." In his long-awaited new collection of stories, renowned psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom describes his patients' struggles, as well as his own, to come to terms with the two great challenges of existence: how to have a meaningful life, and how to reckon with its inevitable end. In these pages, we meet a nurse, angry and adrift in a morass of misery where she has lost a son to a world of drugs and crime, and yet who must comfort the more privileged through their own pain; a successful businessman who, in the wake of a suicide, despairs about the gaps and secrets that infect every relationship; a newly minted psychologist whose study of the human condition damages her treasured memories of a lost friend; and a man whose rejection of philosophy forces even Yalom himself into a crisis of confidence. Their names and stories will linger long after the book's last page is turned.

Like Love's Executioner, which established Yalom's preeminence as a storyteller illuminating the drama of existential therapy, Creatures of a Day is funny, earthy, and often shocking; it is a radically honest statement about the difficulties of human life, but also a celebration of some of the finest fruits (love, family, friendship) that life can bear. We are all creatures of a day. With Yalom as a guide, we can find in this book the means not just to make our own day bearable, but meaningful, and perhaps even joyful.


“Irvin Yalom has, over the last 40 years, become a master of the art of psychotherapy storytelling. To his latest collection of clinical tales, Creatures of a Day, Dr. Yalom has brought his characteristic warmth and wisdom, but there is something new here as well: urgency.... The result is a collection of tightly written and deeply moving testaments to the brevity of life and the existential imperative to live it well.”
New York Journal of Books

“Yalom keeps the reader enticed with personal narratives that are concise, profound and well-woven into his overarching theme.... Rather than adopting a fatalistic view of the inevitable, Creatures of a Day embraces the power of human resilience. And by demonstrating the capacity to repair and better ourselves through an authentic healing relationship, this book presents us with a remedy more powerful than any fad or pill could promise.” 
Washington Post

"Yalom is a magisterial writer, of both novels and psychological nonfiction. And he has done it again in this well-crafted, beautifully written, and thoughtful compilation of 10 different case studies…. These are wonderful teaching stories, filled with showing how a meaningful psychotherapy can be conducted…. This is an erudite book, profound yet straightforwardly conceived captivatingly executed. It is well worth reading…. [Creatures of a Day is] compelling, admirably written."  
The American Journal of Psychiatry

“[A] poignant and bracing collection of stories based on [Yalom’s] therapeutic work. Yalom, a published novelist with decades of clinical experience, offers vivid and generous descriptions of patients brought face-to-face with their mortality.... Watching ‘Irv,’ as his patients call him, convince patients to unpack their baggage is the chief pleasure of this book. He is overtly kind, sympathetic, and generous, but subtly merciless.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

“Personal, honest, sensitive, and respectful, Yalom, now in his 80s, describes frustration and mistakes amid much success. His combination of confidence and humility shows how these qualities work in psychotherapy – a process too often burdened with theory and/or mystique.... This book will inspire therapists at any stage along with lay readers intrigued by the psyche, relationships, and the possibilities of change.”
Library Journal (starred)

Creatures of a Day is a series of moving, if partly fictionalized, tales illuminating Yalom’s hand-crafted approach to treating grief, loss, regret and, above all, encroaching mortality.... [Yalom] is a student of the human condition whose literary, as well as therapeutic, voice mixes wonder and humility.”
Boston Globe

“[A] stunning collection of essays chronicling [Yalom’s] years as a therapist.”

“[Creatures of a Day is] a book that circles around the crisis of our mortality and finds redemption in our capacity for growth, in love and in language... [Yalom] tempers his admissions of his shortcomings with a confident narrative voice and a generous attitude toward both himself and his patients.”
Palo Alto Weekly

“A quarter of a century ago, I wrote a review in the Tribune of Yalom’s first book for the general public, Love’s Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy, a similar collection of case studies. What struck me then and what strikes me now with his latest book is Yalom’s willingness to expose his flaws and failures.... Just as Yalom’s description of the hard-working but flawed therapist rings true, so do his descriptions of his patients and their struggles, especially their struggles with the reality of death.... Yalom sees the therapist as a poet. He sees therapy as an art. And he sees his clients as fellow poets, working the high wire, alone and with him. In their sessions, he and they are alive to the moment – or trying to be. And that’s what life is, isn’t it?”
Chicago Tribune

“[Yalom] writes amiably, certainly sympathetically, and always wisely from his point of view as an octogenarian therapist who has seen it all – well, maybe almost all – and who has some useful thoughts about the mysteries of the mind.... [He] offers plenty of pointers for up-and-coming therapists and does so without staking out ideological territory in the ongoing battles among post-Freudians, post-Jungians, and post-everyone-elsians. A humane, highly knowledgeable glimpse of the therapist’s couch."
Kirkus Reviews

“Novelist and psychiatrist Yalom offers 10 tales from his clients that illuminate the gifts of psychotherapy, particularly the hopeful lessons one can glean from it in the context of aging and death.... [He] has genuinely inspiring insights to share about the value of therapy.... The stories Yalom offers of his patients’ failures and triumphs are frequently moving and will invoke the reader’s empathy.”
Publisher's Weekly

Creatures of a Day serves as something of a companion volume to Love’s Executioner, again offering 10 revealing and creatively crafted clinical case studies of real people.... Throughout, Yalom is wise and well-read, citing passages from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marcus Aurelius, Yeats and Greek mythology.... Through Yalom’s gentle wisdom, expertise and leading – coupled with dream recognition and patients taking him through the minutiae of a day in their lives – bonding and healing occurs.... [He] welcomes each new case and patient dilemma with an analytical mind, personal empathy and an innate curiosity that drives and shapes the two-person narrative dramas that fill this book.”
— Shelf Awareness

“In a profession that exists exclusively behind closed doors, it’s rare and precious to get a real peek through the window to witness the raw power of the therapeutic process.... This book is the best of its kind I’ve read to date, offering a tender and credible look behind the curtain, through a powerful series of vignettes…. This book is incredibly powerful."