Existential counselling is a process of meeting with a cousellor to discuss challenges that you are facing in life with relationships, career path, patterns of behavior or deeper issues like coming to know who you truly are and what your purpose is. Together we will evaluate your current situation in an attempt to gain insight into your life and discover what is blocking you from reaching your full potential.
How is it different from psychotherapy?
Existential counselling is different from psychotherapy in that it is focused on improving the lives of healthy people not currently in crisis. It may be able to help people who struggle with excessive anxiety, apathy, alienation, nihilism, avoidance, shame, addiction, despair, mild depression, guilt, anger, rage, resentment, embitterment, and purposelessness. It cannot treat people struggling with severe mental health disorders. Existential counselling differs from life coaching and cognitive behavioral therapy in that it is focused on self-awareness and not behavioral change, respecting the clients’ freedom to choose what they do, if anything, with their new-found awareness.
I will not rescue you. For you are not powerless. I will not fix you. For you are not broken. I will not heal you. For I see you in your wholeness. I will walk with you through the darkness, as you remember your light.
– A Medicine Persons Prayer
Why is existential counselling necessary?
Not living to one’s full potential is one of the tragedies of human existence. It can, however, be remedied. In the rapidly changing world that we find ourselves in, we have to make our own meaning in life and follow our own sense of direction. If we want to experience being fully alive, we cannot simply accept a life that other people or our culture want for us. We have to be the authors of our own destinies and walk our own paths.
Why is it necessary to have guidance on our path?
In choosing our own path it is essential that we not take on the burden of reinventing the wheel.
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.” – Joseph Campbell
We have the freedom to choose this path and to follow the “heroes of all time” but the path is fraught with challenges and offers liberties as well as constraints. Self-deception and unconscious patterns are impossible to conquer alone, we all need guides to keep us going in the right direction and to help us face the challenge with curiosity, gratitude, and wonder. Authentic living requires us to have clarity in our intentions as well as a realistic assessment of our weaknesses and abilities. True self-awareness can be found when it is reflected through others, like counsellors, who have no other intentions in the relationship than helping us to find it.
What is existential anxiety?
Existential anxiety is the starting point of our work together. It is felt in the uneasy feeling we experience as soon as we realize how free we are to make choices in life. It is also present in the fear that we will have no option but to accept that freedom and risk the comfort we enjoy in our current lives by leaping into new ones.
This kind of anxiety is actually very helpful because it is a measure of the extent to which we are willing to face the basic question: whether we want to be fully alive or not.
My approach is not to eliminate existential anxiety in my clients but use that anxiety as a spark to help them begin their journey despite it. In my experience, the joy you will find in overcoming that anxiety is equal only to how great it was in the beginning.
What is the process?
Existential counselling is a series of one-on-one sessions that will last as long as it takes for you to continue your work alone. It starts with a process of taking stock of your life by clarifying the assumptions that you hold about yourself and the world. Together we will establish the values you hold and the concerns that preoccupy you. Many people unintentionally lead lives that are not in line with their values. They do things they know are wrong, do jobs they see no value in, and behave in ways that they criticize others for. Our goal will be to lead your life in a direction that is more in line with your core values and free you from the discomfort of an inauthentic life.
“Following your own star means isolation, not knowing where to go, having to find out a completely new way for yourself instead of just going on the trodden path everybody else runs along. That’s why there’s always been a tendency in humans to project the uniqueness and the greatness of their own inner self onto outer personalities and become the servants, the devoted servants, admirers, and imitators of outer personalities.
It is much easier to admire a great personality and become a pupil or follower of a guru or a religious prophet, or an admirer of a big, official personality – a President of the United States – or live your life for some military general whom you admire. That is much easier than following your own star.”
― Marie-Louise von Franz, The Way of the Dream
The emphasis of the work will be on the full scope of your life rather than your current predicament or a set of defined goals. For many people, the way forward can be found in how your past is influencing your present. In the process, all of our assumptions will be deeply investigated and any value judgments questioned. The objective will not be to comfort or judge, but to courageously reveal truth.
Whether big “T” or small “T” we have all experienced trauma. Trauma disconnects us to protect us. Healing is the process of you reconnecting to yourself and the world and becoming whole again. The questions we will explore together are: what are you disconnected from? What’s getting in the way of connection? Is a part of you unwittingly participating in that disconnection? What does that part need to step out of the way?
We will also work to define and elaborate your strengths, talents, and abilities that have not yet been recognized and put to full use. We will work to help you understand and master emotions so you can ride the waves of human experience with grace and clear intention. We will bring light into the dark shadows of your life and reveal what has been covered up over the years. We will seek to find the depth of your hidden potential and quiet the voices of self-doubt and criticism.