It is not surprising that I’m drawn to Existentialist Psychotherapy in the lineage of Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Vicktor Frankl practicing the philosophies of Kierkagaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Husserl and others. The basic premise as Irvin Yalom explains below is the humble defense of the ancient belief that self-awareness leads to a meaningful fulfilling life even if the process of self-discovery is painful:
Wisdom does not lead to madness, nor denial to sanity: the confrontation with the givens of existence is painful but ultimately healing. Good therapeutic work is always coupled with reality testing and the search for personal enlightenment; the therapist who decides that certain aspects of reality and truth are to be eschewed is on treacherous ground.Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 190-192). Kindle Edition.
In working and volunteering at different contexts such as hospice, domestic violence shelter, food pantries, community health, grief and loss counseling, my role and mission is simple: To invite self-aware ease in myself and in others with me. Sometimes that means asking gentle guiding questions, sometimes breathing, sometimes guiding meditations, sometimes just sitting in silence and making space for self-inquiry.
Self-inquiry is painful, as Plato describes in the Republic, the released prisoner is blinded and stumbling, heading out of the cave. The turning towards truth or meaning is daunting and frightening. The journey inward can only be sustained by moments of ease. Self-awareness rests on self-care. This is the balance I’m trying to learn and practice. Each person sitting with me teaches me a different version.
The existential position emphasizes a different kind of basic conflict: neither a conflict with suppressed instinctual strivings nor one with internalized significant adults, but instead a conflict that flows from the individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence. And I mean by “givens” of existence certain ultimate concerns, certain intrinsic properties ties that are a part, and an inescapable part, of the human being’s existence in the world.Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 107-109). Kindle Edition.
I hope to practice the humility of the Existentialist perspective: I can never know your experience, your suffering, your confrontation with life, however, I can guide you to map your internal valleys and mountains, joys and sorrows, to know yourself . I am able to do so because I walk with self-aware ease despite the sufferings of my own life. This of course leads to concerns of therapeutic transference. That exploration will have to wait for another post.
Whether you are a counselor, therapist, teacher, creative, what is your mission? Why is it your mission? How do you confront the givens of existence: death, isolation, freedom or meaninglessness?
Bring self-aware ease. Seems so simple, yet it is a life’s work. Mine.
Wishing you self-aware ease,
Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Productions