‘Love’s Executioner’ by Irvin Yalom

The psychotherapy case study genre was invented by Freud, but it was perfected by Yalom in the collection bearing this story’s name. The narratives by which we live – and evade life – are the subject of this weird, unsettling tale. An ageing woman comes to a therapist and tells him about her passion for a much younger man. We begin to see she’s trapped in a delusion, and the therapist realises it’s his task to set her free by murdering her love – that is, destroying her fantasy. We listen in on this most private and painful of conversations, rapt. Strictly speaking this is nonfiction: it’s an account of a real-life encounter from Yalom’s own psychotherapy practice. But only an expert writer could bring to life all the drama that takes place when two people sit together in a single room.

First published in Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, Bloomsbury, 1989