Rollo May Books

Rollo May's Books

Rollo May explains his motive for writing

“For whom am I writing? And, what am I trying to do in my writing?
First, I do not write for my fellow psychologists and other colleagues. It always seemed to me a waste of time, and a denial of the wisdom our discipline of psychology should exemplify, to write only for the limited number of one’s colleagues. I write for intelligent, open-minded, questioning, motivated laypeople  My writings are an endeavor to interpret to a larger public—that public of which is intelligently concerned with understanding themselves and the place and function of human beings in the world—what I have learned in my journeys into the depth-psychology of human beings.”   
Reflections and Commentary by Rollo May in The Psychology of Rollo May by Clement Reeves, 1977)

Rollo May's Books in Chronological Order

The Art of Counseling: How to Gain and Give Mental Health

The Art of Counseling: How to Gain and Give Mental Health 

Publication: 1938.
Summary:  Drawing heavily on Alfred Adler’s writings, May was twenty-nine years old when this seminal book was published.  It was perhaps the first book published in the United States with the word “counseling” in the title and was far ahead of its time in highlighting the importance of empathy in therapeutic work.   
Words of Wisdom: “As counselors we must learn to empathize…losing one’s own personality temporarily and finding it a hundred-fold richer in the other person.” 

The Springs of Creative Living

The Springs of Creative Living 

Publication: 1940.
Summary: A follow-up to The Art of Counseling, it was published when May was a minister at a small-town New Jersey church. With such chapter titles as “The thirst for meaning,” “Too much freedom makes us mad,” and “A theology of life,” it was a more overtly religious work than The Art of Counseling, yet drawing upon such secular psychological thinkers as Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Otto Rank.       

Words of Wisdom: “Living creatively means growing, expressing one’s  potentialities, developing one’s possibilities, and therefore finding  continuously new interest in persons and things…to fulfill one’s human destiny.” 

The Ministry of Counseling

The Ministry of Counseling

Publication: 1943.

Summary: May wrote this practical booklet (which went into five printings) for U.S. military chaplains during World War II, the vast majority of whom had little or no formal training in counseling. It has recently been published as a 75th anniversary edition with an introduction by Edward Hoffman.   
Words of Wisdom: “Counseling means being concerned with the person rather than with the isolated problem.”  

The Meaning of Anxiety

The Meaning of Anxiety

Publication: 1950, 1977

Summary: Based on Rollo May’s doctoral dissertation in clinical psychology at Columbia University, this seminal work had far-reaching impact. Following his dissertation mentor Paul Tillich’s advice, May sought to present everything psychologically known about anxiety to show its positive as well as negative features in what the British poet W.H. Auden had called “The Age of Anxiety.”    May revised it in 1977.  

Words of Wisdom: “Anxiety is not merely an abstract theoretical concept, any more than swimming is to a person whose boat has capsized a mile from shore.”


Man’s Search for Himself

Man’s Search for Himself  

Publication: 1953
Summary: This book built on The Meaning of Anxiety to diagnose the existential maladies of contemporary men and women including loneliness and anxiety, and to suggest appropriate remedies. 

Words of Wisdom: 

“The chief problem of people {today} is emptiness…not only that many people do not know what they want; they often do not know what they feel.”  

Existence Rollo May


Publication: 1958.

Summary: Co-edited with Ernest Angel, this was a landmark book of ten chapters on existential psychotherapy, the first two of which were written by May. It was highly influential in introducing existential  psychology and existential psychotherapy to English-reading mental health professionals.  

Words of Wisdom: “Existential therapists… {have] observed that the most profound 

psychological experiences are peculiarly those which shake the individual’s relation to time.” 

Existential Psychology Rollo May

Existential Psychology 

Publication: 1960, 1969 (2nd edition) 

Summary: Edited by Rollo May, this was an anthology of six chapters, two of which were written by May as well as the preface.  Other contributors included Allport, Maslow, and Rogers. The book originated in presentations made at the APA Annual Convention in 1959. 

Words of Wisdom: "You can never know or discover truth by sitting in an armchair."

Rollo May Symbolism in Religion and Literature

Symbolism in Religion and Literature

Publication: 1960

Summary: A relatively obscure anthology edited by May, for which he also wrote the introduction. Focusing on the role of symbols in human life, it nine contributors included Paul Tillich, Werner Heisenberg, and A.N. Whitehead. 

Words of Wisdom: “Just as one cannot set out to “construct symbols”, so one cannot confront a genuine symbol on merely conscious, rational levels. One must… engage and struggle with it on all levels of affect and willing.”

Rollo May Psychology and the Human Dilemma

Psychology and the Human Dilemma

Publication: 1967. 

Summary: More academic in tone than most of May’s books, it roamed over topics he had earlier discussed, such as anxiety, existential psychotherapy, and the loss of values in contemporary Western civilization.     

Words of Wisdom: “{Do we} betray or live out our potentialities…faithful to needs,

powers, {and} sensitivities in ourselves?”


Dreams and Symbols Rollo May

Dreams and Symbols: 
     Man's Unconscious Language 

Publication: 1968 

Summary: A fascinating, little-known collaboration. May presented his psychological theory and practice regarding dreams, as he unraveling those of a young woman treated by his colleague at the William Allison White Institute. 

Words of Wisdom: "Dreaming comes out of more profound capacities than we generally assume. I believe also that dreaming has some connection with (our) distinctive capacity for transcendence.. and break through the immediate objective limits of our existence."

Love and Will 

Publication: 1969. 

Summary: May’s bestseller on romantic love, widely praised for its erudition and insight. He emphasized the importance of the will in forging strong bonds of love and decried the shallowness of romance and sex in American society at the time.   

Words of Wisdom: “The conditions of our world make the tasks of loving and willing peculiarly difficult…actual personal communication is exceedingly difficult and rare.”

Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence

Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence

Publication: 1972.
Summary: A probing analysis on the roots of violence in American society, with such chapter titles as “Powerlessness corrupts,” “The distrust of words,” and “Obscenity and violence.” May viewed individual power as a double-edged sword with great potential for effecting beneficial change as well as destruction.     
Words of Wisdom: “To understand the power and the sources of violence, we must ask more profound questions than are customary. We must probe the problem of what it means to be human.”  

Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship  

Publication: 1973.

Summary: As indicated by the subtitle, May reminisces about his long friendship with the prominent German emigre Protestant theologian Paul Tillich. The two enjoyed a friendship that spanned more than thirty years, ending only with Tillich’s death in 1965.   

Words of Wisdom: “The best way to understand the spiritual temper of a historical period is to look at its art.”

The Courage to Create

The Courage to Create

Publication: 1975 

Summary: A slender book of seven chapters (three of which May had previously published in books and academic journals), it emphasized creativity as essential to optimal living—though requiring the courage to be oneself.  

Words of Wisdom: “If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being you will have betrayed yourself. And also you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”

Freedom and Destiny

Freedom and Destiny

Publication: 1981

Summary: Among May’s most important books, it examined the nature of individual freedom at its deepest levels and included a fascinating set of chapters on what he termed “The New Narcissism.”

Words of Wisdom: “Freedom is…the mother of all values…Take the value of love. How can I prize a person’s love if I know the love is not given with some degree of freedom?”  

The Discovery of Being 


Publication: 1983. 

Summary: In this book, May presented a variety of concepts and methods pertaining to existential psychotherapy; four of the twelve chapters had appeared earlier in his books and journal articles. 

Words of Wisdom: 

“We all seem in our culture to be hesitant to talk of being. Is it too revealing, too intimate, too profound? In covering up being, we lose just those things we most cherish in life.”  

My Quest for Beauty

My Quest for Beauty

Publication: 1985. 

Summary: The most autobiographic and poetic of May’s books, it focused on the importance of aesthetics (involving both nature and the arts) for joy and well-being in his life, and by extrapolation, in individual life in general.  

Words of Wisdom: “We must preserve the capacity for wonder—which is the awareness that we can never fully explain the inner experience  of beauty.”  


Rollo May The Cry for Myth

The Cry for Myth    


Publication: 1991. 

Summary: May’s widely praised book on the necessity for new myths to guide humanity in an age of transition. May linked the widespread loss of compelling myths to a growing emptiness in American social life.   

Words of Wisdom: “The presence of a home, a place where one is listened to, where one can feel at home’ is essential to healthy myth.” 

The Psychology of Existence: An Integrative, Clinical Perspective

The Psychology of Existence: An Integrative, Clinical Perspective

Publication: 1994. 

Summary: Rollo May’s final book, co-authored with Kirk Schneider as senior author, presented case studies to show principles and methods of existential psychotherapy. Dr. Schneider has been a leading figure in this field with several books on the psychology of awe.  

Words of Wisdom: “Creativity is one of the products of the right relationship between nature

and infinity.”  

Releasing the Self for Creative Living

Rollo May Article (October 6th, 1958).