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.
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.
A substantial portion of the people struggling with mental illness that I have spoken to recently seem not to understand the crucial importance of psychotherapy to their long-term healing. These are people who were prescribed medicine for their condition, and are now under the impression that faithfully taking their daily dosage will completely cure their illness.