Star psychiatrist, author honored at Athens event

Celebrated psychoanalyst and author Irvin Yalom became an honorary doctor at the Panteion University in Athens last Thursday. During the evening, Areti Ketime interpreted traditional Greek songs on the dulcimer, while the entire event was broadcast live on the Panteion website. A packed audience included academics, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists at the university’s main ceremony hall, while students filled both of the Sakis Karagiorgas amphitheaters, where the event was screened on a video wall. All those in charge of organizing Yalom’s Athenian visit were present at a joint press conference earlier on the same day – representatives from Agra Publications and the Panteion University, president of the Group Psychotherapy Association Matthaios Yosafat and Athens University psychiatry professor Constantinos Stathatos. Yalom’s presence in Athens was twofold: Besides the honorary doctorate was the launch of the Greek edition of his most recent work, «The Schopenhauer Cure» (in a translation by Yiannis Zervas and Evangelia Andritsanou). What emerged from last week’s meeting with this superstar of psychiatry and literature? First of all, it seems that his books are more popular in Greece than the United States – in relation to the size of the countries. «To me, Greece is an unusual case,» said Yalom to the local press, referring to the level of interest his books draw in this country. Meanwhile his works are also highly popular in Argentina, Germany, Scandinavia (particularly Norway), Israel and Turkey. In France, on the other hand, translations of his works began quite recently. «When I look at my patients I always want to concentrate on the here and now. And what is happening right now here is that you can’t wait to ask questions and listen to my answers. So I would rather listen to you,» he said at the press conference. In reply to an array of questions, Yalom observed that the traditional notion of psychoanalysis is undergoing major changes and that psychoanalysts are no longer uninvolved or neutral. Through his books, he said, his aim is to demystify psychoanalysis, while it has never been his intention to write do-it-yourself books. Nevertheless, he did acknowledge the fact that for some readers, book therapy might suffice. «I wrote the books in order to aid teaching; they are pedagogical novels,» he said, adding that in the United States, psychotherapists tend to be scorned. «That is why I came up with ‘The Schopenhauer Cure,’» he said, «to show audiences what really goes on in group therapy, which is a particularly powerful method of therapy. It’s like a ship of mercy transporting a group to a safe haven.» Yalom also spoke about out-of-control drug prescription. «In the United States it’s a disaster. Psychiatrists are abandoning the field of psychotherapy, while the young generation isn’t even properly trained. Insurance companies pay them to become drug-psychiatrists.» Irvin Yalom’s comments were translated from the Greek text.