What approach do you take before reading a book? Do you do a research on the story, or you just start reading the book without any prior information? As I personally prefer the latter option, I started reading “When Nietzsche Wept” without having any idea what it was about … The enthusiastic recommendation of my friend Roxi (thank you!!) was enough to buy it and simply start reading it.

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Lovely illustration by Grace Easton

In a nutshell

The novel tells the story of an unusual doctor-patient relationship in the 19th-century Vienna between Joseph Breuer, one of the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, and Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the great philosophers of  Europe. The core topic of the novel is their developing relationship, from which stem other themes such as family life, obsession, and fear.

A teaching novel

In understanding the context of the book it is useful to know that the author of the book is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. And that he likes to use stories at the beginning of his lectures and articles, as “a springboard for pedagogical instruction“.

Being preoccupied with teaching his students (and the professional psychotherapy community) the fundamentals of existential therapy, Yalom created a new pedagogical instrument – a teaching novel. I found this concept of teaching novel really fascinating, as I am a strong believer that people learn better through stories and practice.

Reality vs. fiction

Going back to our novel, you cannot imagine my high level of confusion after I finished it. How much was fiction and how much was reality? I knew Nietzsche and Breuer existed in real life, but did they ever meet or talk? I will not answer these questions, but what I can tell you is that reading the author’s notes at the end of the novel was very insightful and provided a very good closure of the reading experience.

nietzsche wept book review readers high tea


Overall I enjoyed reading the book and I recommend it if you’re interested (even a tiny bit) in the psychological field. Yalom wrote a very captivating teaching novel that will not only introduce you to the psychotherapy approach, but also provide an interesting case-study of a doctor-patient relationship.

Have you read any teaching novels? I am interested in reading other novels with an educational touch, so any recommendation would be very useful 🙂 

‘Till next time … happy reading!


Images: Grace Easton | Youtube.com | Wikipedia.com | Fotoseimagenes.net

2 thoughts on “A teaching novel on psychotherapy: When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom (book review)

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