I began today feeling completely exhausted! I don’t know if I am a bit under the weather at the moment, or it was because I was up till quite late the night before, writing – but either way, I felt like death. I told everyone at check in, though, and made sure I drank plenty of coffee through the day, in a bid to keep myself alert and participating. Having very nearly not come in, I was glad I did, as the day’s subject matter was introduced – existential counselling – my favourite! I was actually really pleased, for purely selfish reasons, that we would be talking about a subject that already resonated so strongly with me, as I knew it would be more likely to keep me lively for the discussion.
We discussed the basics of existential philosophy, the four givens – death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness, and expanded as to how those subjects can be further developed for a counselling approach using the four dimensions of human existence – the physical, social, psychological and spiritual realms. The most prominent existential counselling theorists; Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Emmy Van Deurzen and Mick Cooper, were discussed (I think I have mentioned all of them in previous journals at one point or another – they seem to be the counselling texts I am drawn to and take the most from) and we – the group- read through a few texts together, prompting lots of lively discussion about how we felt about this approach. The exercise that followed from this discussion didn’t sit too well with everybody in the group – maybe it was a little too morbid for some? But for me it was, although emotional, a breeze. We were asked to imagine our death, consider what we would like to have written as our epitaph, imagine our funeral and contemplate our life and death, meditating thoroughly on them. The exercise itself posed no problem for me – I visit these places daily, I think about them constantly. What was harder for me was sharing that with the group. You see, I like to think that I project a fairly sunny disposition, generally – I like to make people laugh, and think – I like to get people talking and enjoying debate, but what I do try not to talk about so much is my own private thoughts, as I feel that they are probably too dark to share.
I had a near death experience 13 years ago when my son was born. My heart stopped beating and I had to be revived, and I had the whole ‘floating above my body, shining white light’ thing that so many others talk of. I didn’t die though – the thing that pulled me back from the peaceful place was the fact that I had just become a mother, and I needed to see my son, and as such I spent the following ten years throwing myself into the role of mother and wife wholeheartedly, up until my divorce, anyway. I think I have also mentioned in previous journals, that I am not what one would describe as a ‘well’ person; constantly anaemic, a crohn’s sufferer and bipolar. I suppose it is living with these things and having been through what I have, that gives me my general questioning outlook on life – what is it all about? Am I living my life the way I want to live it? What if I were to die tomorrow? Or be incapacitated? What things give me meaning? I am quite sure that my experiences have automatically made me confront the concepts of the four givens, so as to not be afraid of them. Although, to a degree, I think that the questioning within me may have always been there – I have always counted Camus, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy among my favourite fictional authors, and I love to read books on philosophy generally.
Anyway, as I said, my funeral has been long planned – all of my close friends and family know what I want, I tell them regularly. The epitaph was a nice follow on from that thought – ideas that I had already toyed with – what I feel I am compared with what I want to be. I have to say that after the many years of therapy I have been in, I don’t feel too incongruent with what I want to be. Of course, I have more I want to achieve – this course would be nice, for starters! I think that the main difference of note between them is the element of ‘fear’ – there are still fears that I have, and such I still don’t feel free to fully pursue the life I want to. But I am getting better at confronting them. Recently I have felt a huge shift within me, I think I have noticeably taken a step closer to being the person I want to be – maybe it is the feeling as the end of the course approaches, or maybe it is the fact that I have been on new ‘mind meds’, and that these ones actually seem to suit me quite well!
The recognition of the emotional journey that I feel i have gone on, the questions that I have asked myself, I think do undoubtedly affect my style within the counselling relationship. Although I have been working from a ‘person centred’ orientation, I feel that the congruence required of the counsellor in this ‘school’ is very much in an ‘existential’ style, and that I do already include my perception of these issues in my style in the counselling room. Likewise, the freedom offered within this approach, the humanistic foundation of considering the client as whole and their experiences, what meaning or lack thereof do they gain from that, the autonomy that both the client and counsellor are aiming for – these correlate with the existential counselling values completely, to me.
Skills practise in the afternoon; being aware that I was using these principles as a place to come from, made me realize that actually this was completely natural to me – this is what I already do. It was a natural, flowing session, like any that I would have with a regular client within my placement. So, well – there I have it – I guess I could describe myself as an existential counsellor, but actually, one of the things that my ‘existential’ approach to myself has taught me is that I don’t like labels particularly, certainly not on myself – so I will hold off on trying to pigeon-hole myself for a while longer yet…
- Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals (danielmiessler.com)
- How to Manage Your Existential Dread in Light of, Oh, Everything (jezebel.com)