Therapy will not offer the solution to all your problems. It is not the salve to your suffering or the answer to every dilemma. No single intervention or engagement every is. However, therapy can provide a well needed time out of a pressured life to sit and reflect, to unburden your heart and mind, to unravel, reconsider and make sense of your life and your relationships. To explore how experiences of the past still affect you in the present and give attention to your hopes and fears about your future.
The therapeutic relationship that can be built is a key ingredient in how useful - or not - the sessions are. Ideally you should feel you are in the presence of someone who attends and attunes to you, becomes your supportive ally, whilst also encouraging and challenging you to find the personal strength to face your difficulties, to understand your choices and to live according to your personal values with more confidence and honesty.
Some people need a therapist who provides a consistent, loving, trustworthy presence to counteract a lack of safe, dependable, healthy connections growing up or currently in their life. Others require a therapist who they can turn to as a relational resource when they need to express their emotion burdens and figure things out that are baffling or unbearable to do alone. I have a flexible approach to the actual delivery of therapy, with space for people to come for weekly or fortnightly sessions or use therapy on a more ad hoc basis after an initial period of regular sessions to build a connection and respond to whatever brought you initially to therapy.
People seeking therapy often want something in their life to change. They want to stop suffering and they want to make sense of their dilemmas so it can propel them towards making better choices in their life. Change is always a decision we make moment by moment and therefore can always alter. It takes the practice of living well inside our choices that allows our lives to feel more harmonious. Therapy can be a good resource for this vital life practice. And practice it is!
Just as a yogi needs to keep returning to their mat to practise their asana’s, or a buddhist must develop a regular meditation routine. So too must the person seeking therapy put into action what they discuss and discover during their sessions. Just showing up for sessions is not enough in and of itself.
The reason we stay stuck in patterns or situations that seem untenable and experience ourselves as unable to change, is largely (although not always) down to the way we make meaning of ourselves and our lives. We are born into a random, changeable world and we are tasked with identifying our own reasons for living, for suffering, for loving, for impermanence. Meaning is found by the way we contribute to life and the way we interpret our experiences. We both find and create meaning. Life questions us and we question life. Or at least those of us who think about life in any depth will experience it this way.
“You cannot prevent birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair”
Existential therapy can help you understand how you construct meaning or how you evade it and why. It can help you face up to the choices you make, don’t make or kid yourself that you are making. It is a robust therapy with an emphasis on living in ‘good faith’ more than you live in ‘bad faith.’ These concepts Jean-Paul Sartre introduced, to describe the type of inauthentic living when we either hide from our own conscience and human condition, or we accept the choices we make and the consequences that inevitably, and sometimes unexpectedly, flow from our choices.
My own training as a counsellor and then psychotherapist started with being involved as a 19-year-old in the co-counselling community. This allowed me to give and receive therapeutic work affordably as a student. I went on to train as a person-centred counsellor, which provided me with the invaluable grounding of a deep respect, compassion and a relational and ethical stance towards clients who sought out counselling.
Seven years later I realised this approach had its limitations. My search then took me towards undertaking an MA in existential phenomenological psychotherapy (what an off-putting mouthful). Here was the rigor I was seeking. There was a call to conscience, to finding your own values beyond the norm and seeing if you could live according to them.
An existential approach aims to help you find your own answers to your own questions. Through dialogue, a therapeutic relationship and with genuine curiosity and an open mind. It is about helping you become more truthful with yourself, not hiding from your anxieties, fears, dreams and fantasies. It is about taking yourself seriously but with a light touch. It helps you confront what limits you, whilst acknowledging that you cannot have a problem-free existence. There is encouragement for you to find the strength and courage to face up to what can feel impossible to address, in order to take a deep breath, make sense of your experiences and responses and then decide what you want for yourself after considering your problems and dilemmas more directly.
What really helps is letting go of a need to control the uncertainties of life and an impulse to immediately cut out that which causes pain and turn instead to a flexible acceptance of life’s inevitable and often unavoidable challenges.