Existential therapy: the power of the choices we make
Choices, Freedom and Responsibility
Existential therapy is one of the approaches I use in psychotherapy. Common themes include your freedom, your responsibility and your choices; these are all related. According to existentialist philosophers like Sartre our identities and characteristics are the consequences of the choices we have made during our lives. Thus, who you are and what you become are influenced greatly by the choices you make. The capacity to make choices is powerful.
This does not mean that you are to blame for all your problems. Thus if you are a victim of domestic violence it is not your fault. In participating in existential therapy you can learn that although you cannot change certain events in your life you can change the way you view these events and you can change how you react to these events. You are free to choose among alternatives and are challenged to accept responsibility for directing your life. An existential therapist may invite you to recognize how you have let others decide for you and encourage you to move towards making your own individual choices and decisions.
Living a meaningful life
You might think that happiness or the pursuit of happiness will make you feel better about your life. However, research indicates that finding greater meaning in our lives is more fulfilling.
“While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away…Meaning on the other hand, is enduring. It connects to the past to the present to the future.”
Emily Esfahani Smith
“There’s More to Life than Being Happy” by Emily Esfahani Smith; http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-th…
Here is a poem I once wrote:
TIDES OF THE MIND
a series of moments,
like waves t’ward the shore,
never to return;
like surfer’s mindful eye,
to catch, and ride on high.
a fleeting, illusive sense of security
like a breaker on the reef,
cherished moments remaining forever,
to ebb and flow…ebb and flow
with the tides of the mind.
Of course it is great to feel happy, to have fun and enjoyment in your life and to create happy memories that stay with you forever. However, like all of us, you will be challenged with other more difficult emotions during your life e.g sadness and grief, anger and resentment, fear and insecurity and so on.
Existential therapy helps you to explore meaning and purpose in your life even when you don’t feel happy.
Meaning and Purpose
The struggle for a sense of significance, meaning and purpose in life is central to human endeavours. To live without a sense of purpose can lead to a feeling of emptiness and a sense that being-in-the-world is pointless; meaninglessness in life.
A survivor of the horrors of being interned in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, existentialist Viktor Frankl, focused each day on finding meaning in his existence and in the future he would find when the brutality was over. It is worth reading about his experience and philosophy in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.
According to Frankl you can find meaning even in the context of great adversity because it is always possible to exercise your individual freedom and choose your attitude. In the Nazi concentration camps Frankl was able to find meaning in spite of loss, suffering, isolation, uncertainty, and death anxiety.
Frankl has suggested three avenues to meaning:
- Experiencing something or someone you value. Frankl thinks that the love you feel towards another is the highest goal to which you can aspire.
- Via creative values, by becoming involved in one’s projects; this includes creativity in art, writing, and inventing.
- Via your attitude e.g showing compassion, bravery, a good sense of humour and so on.
According to Frankl your existence is characterized by freedom, by the capacity for decision-making and by responsibility.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
What is it you live for? How can you make your life more meaningful? These kind of questions became particularly important to me when I was faced with having to deal with a life-threatening illness.
If you would like to explore happiness and meaning in your life call me now to make an appointment
to see me: Vivienne 0478 783 506 or 9943 2400