Existential Therapy

 


IN THE THERAPY ROOM, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “UNSPEAKABLE” OR “SHAMEFUL”. MY AIM IS TO HELP PATIENTS REORGANISE OLD WAYS OF NEGATIVE THINKING SO THAT THEY DO NOT FEEL A NEED TO REPRESS, WITHHOLD, FEEL ASHAMED, OR SHUT DOWN THEIR FEELINGS.

[COMFORT SHIELDS]


Existential philosophy informs all of my practice. It focuses on free will, self-determination, living authentically, and the search for meaning. My therapy work is most closely informed by Robert Stolorow’s psychoanalytic approach to existentialism, which is developmental in nature. According to Stolorow, people only exist authentically if they are able to dwell in the emotional pain that is part of the finitude of human existence. This non-evasive emotional dwelling, according to Stolorow, requires patterns in one’s life of healthy relationships so that individuals can develop the capacity to incorporate the painful emotions that are part of human existence into their lives. Without healthy relationships, people are more likely to experience what Stolorow calls traumatic temporality, or an inability to integrate the past, present, and future, and instead a feeling of being ‘stuck’ in time.

The full realisation of the truth of our existence creates unbearable existential anxiety, and can make us feel overcome by nothingness. We feel that all of our choices are final. Since time is finite, every choice we make destroys all of the options we did not realise. Individuals cannot possibly live with the existential anxiety that goes along with the full consciousness of the deep-structure of our existence, at least when we do not have a safe place to “hold” the feelings that coincide with this reality.

Therefore, to survive emotionally and psychologically, we live in what Heidegger calls a state of inauthenticity; we cling to the system of everyday significance that provides us with structure, meaning and safety. Our culture is enamoured with quick-fix methods that promise overnight relief. Facing the tragic dimension of human existence is no longer popular in our culture that perpetuates the myth of immortality, and repeats the mantra that happiness is a birthright. The problem is that without acknowledging that our existence is limited–that we have limitations that cannot be overcome,  that we can only realise freedom when we face our personal and existential limitations–psychopathology ensues, as we are living inauthentically, or in a delusional version of reality.

Thus, an important part of my work with clients is to accept that there will always be an inability to control all aspects of their lives. Additionally, strengthening relationships is key to managing existential anxiety.