Last week, I flew out to Portland, OR to attend the Association for Humanistic Counseling conference. I was scheduled to co-present a workshop on experiential learning with a professor from my graduate program, and I couldn’t wait to make my official appearance on the humanistic scene for the first time in my counseling career.
Heavy metal music is arguably the most misunderstood style of music in the entertainment world. Metal heads consistently get a bad rep. They are thought of as secret members of a demented cult, harboring satanic allegiances and wishing death upon their fellow man. They are misconstrued in the media as hateful, drug addicted, and ceaselessly violent decedents of the “Trenchcoat Mafia,” or as outcasts, “freaks”, or enemies of modern society.
I’ve been doing some thinking about ACA Conference 2016 and the possibility of presenting a poster discussion. It has struck me that our graduate programs still lack a standardized, required course in suicide assessment, intervention, and legalities/ethical considerations for involuntary hospitalization.
If we think about the goals of counseling, a client’s death is clearly the absolute worst possible outcome. It seems a glaring deficiency in our gatekeeping process that neophyte counselors aren’t required to study theory and technique on the assessment, counsel, and ethical management of a client presenting with suicidal ideation and behavior.
Last week, I had an interesting conversation with an extremely analytical friend of mine that turned my sights upon an issue I believe many people don’t even know they are facing. The discussion was about emotions, and their usefulness in decision-making. I’ve found that many people believe that there is a clear difference between thinking and feeling. To most of us, these two common human processes are experienced very differently, and we often opt to make our decisions based on one preference or the other.
Closely related to the Ultimate Concern of death is that of meaning. In the existential sense, meaning (and its fearsome evil twin, meaninglessness), holds the power to steer the thrust of our lives depending on where we believe we find it. Many people never fully reckon with the scope of this vital concern, which can become a serious detriment to their quality of life.
Let’s take a closer look at what is meant by “meaning”.
Existentialism in psychotherapy represents an intimately human lens through which we can view the client before us. Though we acknowledge their cognitive distortions, irrational beliefs, and awfulizing, and while we take seriously any evidence of true mental illness, we view these symptoms as being connected to a deep common thread that strings through all of us – the concerns of being human. And if we can help the client to connect the dots of their symptoms to their concern, then perhaps we can do greater work than any psychoactive drug or structured therapy model ever could.
A powerful new approach to counseling that could help clients who require active/directive exploration as well as warm, deep introspection is a theoretical integration of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Existential Therapy. I find an incredible synthesis between these two theories in that they reciprocally make up what they individually lack.