You may be thinking, from what I know about existential therapy, it sounds negative, dark, heavy, pessimistic and/or depressing. I’m not sure if it will make my life more depressed and anxious than I already am.
It's true that existential psychology acknowledges the inherent suffering in human existence, but this is not a call to embrace suffering itself. Instead, it encourages us to accept suffering as a part of life and, more importantly, to learn from it.
In my own experience, existential psychology books and articles can be quite difficult to comprehend. The abundance of jargon, hefty phrases, and unfamiliar terms like "being-in-the-world," "Dasein," or "ontological and ontic" can easily intimidate newcomers. I vividly recall that daunting feeling a decade ago!
It's a shame if we let this initial complexity discourage you from exploring a field that holds such profound insights into our human experience. My motivation to write this article is then to simplify existential psychology and therapy for you, hoping that it resonates with your lived experience as a fellow human being, earnestly striving to navigate the complexities of life.
It was Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning that first introduced me to the field of existential psychology. Back then, more than a decade ago, the book presented me with such positivity and hope despite the harsh conditions through which Frankl gave birth to his ideas.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way."- Viktor Frankl
Let’s turn to another famous existential philosopher, Albert Camus, for more insight. Through his book, The Myth of Sisyphus, he explored how a clever and tricky king named Sisyphus angered the gods with his actions. As a punishment, he was given a never-ending task.
His job? To roll a heavy boulder up a hill.
But here's the catch: every time he got it to the top, the boulder would just roll back down, and he had to start all over again. It seemed like a never-ending, pointless job.
Now, think about this:
What if your life felt a bit like Sisyphus' never-ending task?
You work hard, face challenges one after another, and sometimes it seems like everything you do is in vain.
That's the idea of "the absurd" - when life seems meaningless and a bit crazy.
But here's where the rebellious spirit comes in. Despite the absurdity of his task, Sisyphus didn't give up. He didn't let the meaninglessness bring him down. He chose to keep pushing that boulder with determination and a bit of defiance.
Here is where existentialists share this spirit.
We are not champions of despair, but advocates for resoluteness and courage.
Like Sisyphus, we can choose our attitude toward life's absurdities. We can rebel against the idea that everything is meaningless and find our own meaning.
Just as Albert Camus suggested, we can face the challenges of life with a fighting spirit, finding purpose even in the face of the absurd. As he declared: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
More than just the existential givens that we are familiar with (e.g. death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness), we need to consider what makes these themes existential.
Well, think about it. Even doctors, lawyers, social workers or policy makers consider these themes.
Agreeing with Ernesto Spinelli, what gives existential therapy its flavour is its foundational principles of relational, uncertainty and anxiety. These experiences are what make us human.
We, human beings, are fundamentally relational. From the very instance of birth, we are thrown into a web of interrelations in a world occupied by other human beings and non-human beings/objects alike.
Anything that I can say that I am or am not is not just dependent on some internal psychic awareness. It’s a relational understanding that emerges through all our interactions with the world and all the world’s interactions with me.
Whether direct or indirect, our actions influence others by creating ripples through the web of relations in which we are embedded. For example, while we may not intentionally or directly exploit children, our seemingly “innocent” and unaware buying of clothes made by fast fashion indirectly exploits children working in sweatshops at the other side of the world.
Let’s give another example, one that is hopefully closer to our lived experiences. Say we are feeling sad. We have probably all felt sad at one time or another. (I hope you have. Sadness is a very useful emotion!)
However, just because we know how sadness feels does not mean that all of us experience it in the same way. Some of us relate to sadness by binge eating. Others experience sadness by crying under the blanket covers while you may prefer to watch a sad movie on Netflix.
Our experience of sadness are varied because we are connected to our environment and past experiences differently.
That we can never predict how someone else will relate to the same reality as us. We cannot predetermine how others will respond to what we say. No matter how hard we try to prepare ourselves in social situations or to hope to steer a conversation in a way that will make us more comfortable, we can never predict how others will respond.
That can be quite unnerving, isn’t it?! To not know how the other person will respond.
This brings us to the second existential principal: Uncertainty.
The openness of existence forces our acknowledgement that uncertainty—as much as we may pursue the comforts of certainty—remains a constant given. At any moment, all structures of meaning, knowledge, values, beliefs, sense of self, your relationship with others and the world, are subjected to challenge, reinterpretation, and destruction.
On top of that, when we tear down the veil of rationality, certainty, and structure, all of which characterizes modern society, we uncover the processual nature of reality: time flows, and every single moment of time is never to be repeated, never identical ever again.
Yet, amidst the uncertainty, we are still called to make decisions in our lives. We still must decide if we want to confront our fears, speak up for ourselves when we feel marginalized or we want to change careers or settle down with the partner you have dated for years.
As Sartre says, we are condemned to freedom.
Freedom not in the sense that you can truly change everything, such as where we are born, but freedom to reinterpret your experience. While such freedom may be liberating, the vast selection of perspectives and actions one may adopt could cause overwhelming paralysis and anxiety.
You can decide to not to choose but that in itself is choosing.
What if it was the wrong decision? What if after you’ve made a choice, a better choice comes up? What if I regret making the decision?
With relationality and uncertainty, then, comes existential anxiety—that inevitable sense of unease and insecurity in your existence.
In existential thought, then, existential anxiety is neither avoidable nor a pathology, but a given of human existence that we must learn how to live with. Existential anxiety is a normal part of our human condition.
We cannot get rid of anxiety even if we wanted to. I would add, you would not want to remove, cure, overcome or heal anxiety. At healthy levels, anxiety can be life-enhancing.
Much of our lives we strive tirelessly—sometimes with desperation—for certainty and comfort. After all, who would want to live constantly in anxiety, uncertainty, and tension? Well, existentialism argues there is no way out of that tension, and we must find ways to navigate and embrace it.
The tension we feel emerges from the inherent paradoxes that characterize our existence. Some examples: the only certainty in life is uncertainty; the constraints of freedom; the emergence of individuality from embracing collectivity; the flourishing of life from confronting death.
It is when we run away from the binaries of paradoxes by pursuing only one of the extremes like certainty, that we beget more tension. Eventually, we lose touch with our existence, even if we are physically alive.
The existentialists say: Don’t run. Lean into it.
We will constantly be faced with irresolvable tension in our lives, and there is never going to be a completely satisfactory solution. In fact, much of the discomfort we feel deep down doesn’t come from the inherent paradoxes and tension of life, but from our running away from it.
All we can do is be truthful to our experiences. Don’t try too hard to convince ourselves that we should have another kind of experience and existence. Confront and embrace the one we are in right now and explore the possibilities within it.
When we hold that tension, instead of refusing it, you might be pleasantly surprised by the paradox of life.
An apt analogy would be how a tightrope walker navigates their way on the tightrope. The tightrope must be taut: a slack rope leads to the tightrope walker’s fall. In the same way, we must hold tightly, under our control, the paradoxes that is the rope of life on which we all balance, lest the paradoxes control and overwhelm us instead—and we fall.
This balancing act isn’t merely a matter of physical skill in balancing one’s weight: it is more so a visceral experience of the tightrope walker’s navigation of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety from the possibility of falling.
Wellness, then, isn’t at the ends of the tightrope. Rather, wellness is knowing how to navigate those emotions we will feel as we balance on the rope of life that we all must walk. When we are able to embrace the paradoxes of life and the emotions that come with it, we may begin to enjoy the view from up above.
Have you ever encountered someone, during which you experienced a profound sense of being alive, that you exist? I have.
Once, right before graduating from university, I went out for dinner with a group of friends, one of whom I was only recently acquainted with. While we were waiting for the bus, she shared that she was very stressed by the pressure from her parents to find a job right after graduation, which we did not expect as she was someone with a cheerful demeanor.
Someone suggested that she can share with her friends, us included.
She then lamented how her friends do not take her seriously when she tries to be serious. But she noted that’s partially her fault because she always laughs off, and makes jokes of, her own worries, which makes her friends laugh, too.
Unsurprisingly, she shared in a lighthearted tone, again joking about her concern. My other friends laughed along, too, consoling her jokingly. However, I sensed the sincerity behind her concern. I felt that deep down she didn’t feel seen and heard.
While others were making separate conversation, I took the chance to talk to her. In a serious but warm tone, I suggested to her: maybe it’s not that her friends don’t care about her; I believe they probably don’t wish to be overbearing, so they’re waiting patiently for when she’s ready to be vulnerable. She didn’t attempt to laugh off my words. Instead, as though she has contemplated my words carefully, she responded seriously and sincerely: “you’re right… maybe I should try to be serious about myself.”
That whole exchange lasted only 10 seconds, after which we both joined the conversation amongst our friends. However, in that 10 seconds, I felt like only the two of us existed in the world, that we were alive. The chatter around us, the engines of cars rushing up and down the road, were drowned out in the background by our small conversation.
The only way I could describe that experience is existential, as though we truly saw and heard each other. Although I was the one “dispensing advice,” I felt alive from taking someone seriously and in turn being taken seriously by them.
In those encounters, not much was said. It wasn’t that the person fully understood what I was going through; in fact, that is quite impossible for we all live under completely distinct circumstances.
Yet, through our tone, choice of words, our gaze, and our energy, we conveyed a felt sense of at-stake-ness in both our ironic attempts to continue existing in the world as human beings. Despite our differences, I felt a deep sense of connection to, and affirmation of, the very core of my being and theirs.
It wasn’t so much about the content and meaning of what was said, but the very act of articulation itself—the willingness to encounter one another sincerely and authentically, that through one another’s presence we came into existence in the world, finally alive.
During those encounters, what mattered was neither my grades, my occupation, my looks, my social status, nor the idea that “I am so-and-so.” What mattered was my trying my best with what I have to continue living. They affirmed the simple fact that, “I am,” therefore, I matter.
In existential therapy, we call that profound sense of connection and affirmation, existential validation.
What is existential therapy if it's not about treatment of a sick person? It is the therapeutic element lies in the mutual validation of existence between the therapist and client—between human beings.
Many of our daily interactions are instances of social validation, not existential validation. The former usually involves a dance of power exertion over social identity and status, which paradoxically is validation grounded in the denial of another’s place in society and the valorization one’s own. In that process, we deny one another’s existence as human beings.
In contrast, existential validation is the bestowment of existence from one being to another. In this sense, aligning with the existential principal of relatedness, existential therapy argues that one’s existence occurs outside of them and between another’s existence.
As Dr. Miles Groth succinctly posits: “Only another human being can observe and attest to my existence.”
However, existential validation is dual: it must happen both ways, not only from the therapist to the client. The reason for the client’s existence not being validated is because of their own failure to validate the existence of others.
In existential therapy, the primary goal is to reveal the client’s existence through mutual existential validation.
As the therapist illuminates the client’s existence to them, perhaps, the client may begin to validate the existence of the therapist and in turn of others, so that the client may once again come into the world, finally alive.
Make it sound more colloquial
Perhaps give an example of it. Anecdotes are what draw people’s attention
by Magdalen Cheng
Through the parents of Abigail and Lara, I am reminded of what it means to be an existential therapist.
Last Sunday, I read this article about a couple’s fight to have their daughters’ names recognised, even though their identities will not be “in the provision or use of government services throughout their lives”. If there isn’t a practical use to such an acknowledgement, why did it matter?
I found myself drawing striking parallels between the parents in this situation, what they are standing up for, and the essence of an existential therapist role.
In the same way the parents fight to validate their children’s existence, existential therapists fight to validate their clients’ existence. Maybe it’s impossible to relieve their plight. Maybe nothing in their circumstances will change. Maybe the struggles remain. But the recognition of the autonomy and dignity of a person is returned to the client.
Often times, people suffer not because of their problems but because nobody seems to care.
Their existence is dead and is deemed to have no significance. Just like what the parents said, “You're basically saying it doesn't matter what their names are, it doesn't matter who they are. They're dead, who cares, you know?”
When asking what is existential therapy, as articulated by Daseinanalyst Dr. Miles Groth, we care for the existence of the person, not for what he is. It is a care for or an attendance to someone, not a treatment of the body or mind.
The belief that their children had the potential like any other human being (even though it is no more) is what drove the parents to question and fight for their existence. Likewise, as therapists (whether existential or not), embracing the fundamental notion of human existence, acknowledging that we all exist or have existed at some point, can cultivate a certain presence in the way we relate to our clients, which can sometimes contribute to a more therapeutically healing than the mere application of tools and skills to relieve their pain and symptoms.
I came across this recent study by an existential therapist that sheds light on what effective therapists do in their first client sessions, and it got me reflecting on my own client-therapy approach.
There are two key research findings that deeply resonates with me:
I recall the time when I was seeking out a paediatrician (Because I gave birth at home, I wasn’t automatically assigned one), and my doula had advised me to actively go out and speak with doctors to find out how they work and, more importantly, if their philosophy of care aligns with my own values.
As someone inclined toward a natural approach, I know I wouldn’t be comfortable with a doctor who would default to taking the most aggressive route, such as prescribing antibiotics for every common ailment. And knowing my expectations had allowed me to narrow down my options, leading me to making a paediatrician choice that I was very happy with.
Applying this empowerment to finding the right therapist, it is important for clients to know what their options are before they decide. Clients should have the capacity to interview therapists and ensure their approach aligns with their vision of healing. And it is equally important for therapists to be able to support that.
This is why I call my initial session with a client a “chemistry session” rather than a “consultation”—to introduce the idea that the therapist may not be the only expert in the room and that the clients are also experts themselves.
I hope you too will find these research insights useful. And to my fellow therapist colleagues, feel free to share what are you doing to help your clients feel empowered and actively work with you as a team.
I stare at the clock as the minutes crawl by, feeling trapped in a groundhog day. No matter what doors I try to open, each one leads to a dead end or resistance. I want to do something yet feel powerless, any momentum halted by a wall I cannot seem to break through. Self-doubt creeps in that I am not good enough. I question if what I am doing is even making an impact at all.
You could be resonating with this in your life.
But what if I told you that this was my experience as a therapist in one of my sessions?
That’s right, therapists can get stuck too.
When she first walked into my office, she grappled with motivational issues and lack of career direction. Paralysis had set in. On paper, she was thriving - steady career progression, income well above his peers. But she just couldn't make decisions. The inertia was palpable.
2 years later, while her tendency to freeze in the moments of decision-making still lingers, her ability to cope with these moments have also become more sophisticated. Drawing healthier boundaries, increasing self-awareness, becoming more sensitive to her own needs etc.
Yet, in the last 6 months, I found myself feeling stuck in our work together. We would circle around the same issues about her inability to make bold decisions in her career. Her guilt around missed opportunities and her struggle with lost time.
I begin to feel tired, frustrated, or uncertain on how to move forward. I dreaded our sessions, questioning if therapy was even helping. Yet, I was reluctant to give up on us since.
In a moment of desperation, I leaned into this stuckness. I admitted to not-knowing what to do with us. To my surprise, she expressed feeling exactly same way. She revealed sitting in the waiting room each week, wondering if sessions are still helpful.
But is this a feeling she can even talk about it with me? She assumed that I knew what I was doing.
After all, I am the therapist here right? I should be the expert here. So she left it to me to decide what direction we should take in existential therapy.
It is this recognition of our shared experience of stuckness that led us to start moving again in therapy.
This movement is a felt sense in the room. The space between us no longer feels claustrophobic. This is no longer a space of stillness and struggle. There is once again lightness and possibility in the work we are doing. Now an energy of flow moves between us. Our conversation feels open and energized. And more importantly, it feels like time is moving again towards the future.
Nothing has changed. My client still has not solved her procrastination problem. We still do not know how to work on it for her.
However, it was in our encountering each other, human to human, in the present moment, that we recognise we are not alone in navigate this stuckness. It reminds me of a phrase that an Dr. Miles Groth, an existential analyst, once said, “being encountered is the initial moment of every instance of existential .”
Existential validation if the mutual conferring of us being human be-ings through as simple as a gaze, touch or speech.
Knowing that we share the same subjective reality with someone and to decide to walk through it together can be a powerful healing experience…even if we have not found a way out yet.
Yalom’s often-quoted thought beautifully captures this spirit: "It’s the relationship that heals." (Yalom, 1989, p. 91).
Existential therapy is fundamentally relational. Existential therapy may be based on a set of philosophical ideas but it is objectifying to be using a theoretical lens to view my clients. Instead, being relational means meeting my clients as a human being first; as a therapist second.
It is to engage in the here-and-now dialogical relationship between the two human persons where we flexibly attune to the each other’s relational needs In the therapy room, the therapist dances between focusing on the client, reflecting internally, and attuning to the relationship. This fluid dance leads to a deeper understanding of the client's subjectivity.
This is what happened in that particular session with my client. As I attuned to the stuckness in our therapeutic relationship and offered it as a discussion in our session, we uncover the parallel of how the stuckness in her daily life is repeated in the therapy room.
This relational way of working together reveals a key principle in existential psychotherapy: therapy is a microcosm of our social world. What happens in the therapy room often reflects processes occurring in our daily lives and relationships.
Understood in this way, the power of existential therapy in working with stuckness is neither teaching the client a set of new techniques nor encouraging them to change their thoughts or behaviors in a prescribed manner.
To learn more about Existential Therapy in Sinagpore and Aisa, visit our homepage.
As an Asian raised with collectivist values, I struggled to find my voice. Expressing my true thoughts and feelings didn't always align with keeping harmony.
I often wondered, "Can I really be my authentic self if I do not openly assert my individuality?"
Pop culture frequently equates authenticity with freely articulating your inner world. But my experience was more complex. I often felt muted by familial and cultural forces beyond my control.
I grew up hearing things like "Don't talk back" and "Keep problems inside the family." Essentially, the cultural narrative is: Speaking up disrupts harmony. Understandably, these conditioned me to silence my opinions to avoid conflicts. I internalized that subordinate role, believing my duty was to put others first, not express my true self. These relational patterns continue today, more common than we think.
I remember a client once told me, “preserving harmony is so important in my family that they are even willing to sacrifice honesty with each other. What we end up losing is more than that: warmth at home.”
Understandably, I used to feel inauthentic within these constraints. Authenticity scales would characterize me as inhibited and overly concerned with others' judgments. By those standards, I lacked "the unobstructed operation of one's true, or core, self in one's daily enterprise" (Kernis & Goldman, 2006).
My silence signalled I was denying my real voice.
Or was I?
My research into the lived experience of fellow Asians revealed a more nuanced inner reality. We often feel tension between deference to family and personal autonomy. Yet, we don't experience this as inauthentic. Honoring relational harmony also feels like an expression of self.
As one participant described, "Speaking up would jeopardize my parents' trust. I'd rather show care implicitly through actions, not confrontational words."
Another shared, "I contain certain feelings to avoid rocking the boat. But that doesn't make me fake. I'm being true to maintaining family ties."
What western notions of authenticity overlook are the collectivist values informing our choices. Silence can signify respect and conflict avoidance can demonstrate care. We aren't passive victims, but agents navigating complex loyalties. Our inner world isn't straightforward self-expression, but managing dialectical demands.
This resonates with existential philosopher Heidegger's conception of authenticity. He recognized that we are always already embedded in social contexts we did not choose. Authenticity isn't about following our personal desires, but owning our cultural "thrownness." We uniquely inhabit our communal identities.
My participants described this dynamic poignantly. As one said, "Belonging comes with responsibilities here. That's just reality, not inauthenticity. I try to integrate my individuality within existing bonds." Another noted, "Conforming feels natural to me, not forced. But so does finding my own way."
I realized external judgments can't pronounce others inauthentic. Only we can determine if we are acting or being in accordance with what is good for us as an individual rather than falling in with others and society. We have to hold the nuances and contradictions of our experience, not reduce ourselves to absolutes.
This insight empowered me. Now when I occasionally defer my self-expression to preserve harmony, I do so consciously. I act from understanding, not blind obedience. My identity encompasses both speaking up and staying quiet when appropriate. I've made peace with the dualities I embody.
Of course, discernment is still needed. Sometimes silence stems from learned helplessness, not free choice. Old dynamics may require courageous confrontation. Existential therapy provides tools to build that confidence.
With gentle guidance, I'm learning to respectfully engage in needed conversations. But the key is evaluating my intentions, not blindly asserting my individuality. Speaking my truth is pointless if done rashly.
Authenticity isn't a fixed destination, but an ongoing journey of aligning values with action. I've come to trust my inner compass more than external metrics.
So now I know: my voice doesn't need to shout to be real.
Authenticity can speak softly too, in its own tongue. I am no less myself in honoring the relational web that shaped me. My identity integrates both individual and collective notes into a harmonious chord.
At last, I feel comfortable in my own skin, silence and all.
There are decisions you want to make in life but have been stuck making them. You are prepared to embark on your own therapy journey and find a professional who can support you as you make these decisions. However, there are many therapists out there and it's difficult finding the right one! Some of you may have even taken a leap of faith to see a therapist, felt judged by them and stopped returning.
This is yet another decision to make and it mirrors all the other decisions you have to make in your life. You're stuck.
Is this something you relate to ?
This is something we have heard numerous times from our clients and that is why we have our first-session therapy to empower them to make the right decision. They have found it very useful and many has suggested that if only they knew about these earlier!
In this information sharing session, we will be looking at empowering you to find the right therapist. Therapy can be a deeply satisfying journey of self-discovery and healing that is experienced on your own terms. Healing begins when we know owning our decisions is now a possibility- starting from deciding on the right therapist for ourselves.
Date: 14th May 2023
Time: 3:00pm to 4:00 pm - Singapore Standard Time
The Zoom room for this event will lock 10 minutes after the start time. If you arrive after this time, it will not be possible to admit you to the event.
Existential crisis is like a call from our soul. It is calling out to us to live more meaningfully.
As long as we are humans, we can't avoid going through an existential crisis.
Even psychotherapists do. In fact, I went through one myself in 2020.
Let's walk down memory lane.
2 weeks into our circuit breaker in 2020, Singaporeans find ourselves having to endure another 4 weeks.
Why can’t the government just call this circuit breaker a lockdown like other countries?! I want to loiter around aimlessly, why can’t I?! There is nobody on the streets, why do I need to wear a mask?!
These were some of the questions I was asked in the first two weeks. At the time, I had the inner resources to fend myself from these frustrated-filled outbursts from the people around me.
Hope. I had it.
This was going to be like a retreat. Finally, some time to myself! A luxury I’d been yearning for since the beginning of my doctoral journey anyways. No work. No problem. I will just need to spend less. I have supportive family and friends. I have a direction in my life- writing my thesis and setting up my private practice. All is set, what more do I need for these 4 weeks?
But, hope can be such an elusive thing. I had it but it can be taken away so quickly at the same time too.
Precisely at the moment when I found out that our remaining 2 weeks had extended itself to 6.
Now I find myself asking those questions as well.
This is an existential crisis we are all in.
People are dying without their loved ones to send them off on their last journey. We have to make lifestyle changes that we would prefer not to. Parents are anxious that their children with mental health issues are going to be caught not wearing their masks on the streets yet they’re limited by what they can do. Elderlies are suffering from insomnia, triggered by anxiety and worry, but do not dare go to a hospital for fear that they may get affected themselves. Children are forced to consider balancing risks with concern about their demented parent’s welfare in terms of isolation and lack of stimulus way before the circuit breaker kicked in.
Even for the people who are bent on not being defeated by it mentally or emotionally finds themselves affected by it one way or another. One poignant example is the mad rush for bubble tea before the stricter restrictions set in. In a way, it’s a death of some sort. Not the physical kind but we have to die to some of our desires, cravings and needs.
Today, more than ever, humanity needs to turn to existential philosophy for wisdom and direction.
It’s a great reminder, especially now, that man exists.
And to exist in existential terms is not the passive ‘lying around’ understanding that many of us hold today.
The etymology for ‘exist’ in Latin is ex-sistere which means to ‘come into being’ or to ‘take a stand’. This standing out takes on an active feel that contrasts sharply with the passivity that comes with saying ‘unicorn exists’, meaning that unicorns are lying somewhere in the world waiting to be found.
As active agents in the world, we are not bound by our essence or a fixed nature which goes on to set our purpose or function in the world.
As Sartre said, man is not a manufactured thing. Instead, our existence is a dynamic one where we are capable of going beyond ourselves.
Yet, today, my authentic selfhood, and probably for some of you here too, has been thrown into the limelight once again and up for scrutiny as I question what it means to be myself in these crazy times.
Authenticity as ‘an openness to existence, an acceptance of what is given, as well as our freedom to respond to it’ given by Hans Cohn may become, paradoxically, inspiring and empty at the same time for some of us.
We may have the intention to transcend ourselves, as existence necessarily calls for. For me, I want to commit to being a better student, counsellor, friend, wife or even just a better human being. I believe fully in being the author of my life, fulfilling my responsibilities with the resoluteness and passion that existential philosophers like Heidegger and Kierkegaard had talked about.
Yet, the hardest part is not in commitment but it is more so that the extended restrictions that stops us from giving our wholehearted yes to life in the near future.
For many of us, the existential crisis lies in how to move forward with our lives.
How should we even start making sense of 2020?
However, these existential philosophers also remind us that existence is not an individual endeavour.
We live in a world. This world is not just an environment that is independent from those who talk about it. The word ‘world’ comes from the Old English compound, weor-old, and taken etymologically, it means the ‘age of man’. As such, when we talk of us living in the world, we have to take into consideration that the human factor is essential in our concept of the world. Our existence is impossible to be apart from other people. In other words, we need others to exist.
Yes, existentialists are wary against people who lose themselves in the ‘herd’ or ‘crowd’. However, funnily, the hyphens in Heidegger’s being-in-the-world serves as a solace for me as well, especially at this time where I am reminded that we do not live in isolation.
Existentialism is not as individualistic and despairing as it seems to be. Man exists as persons only in a community of other persons and no authentic existence can lack a social dimension.
Reinterpreting Mick Cooper’s words in his book Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy, an authentic being-with-self can only be obtained while being-with-others.
In the midst of losing my mojo, I appreciate my existential philosopher friends more so than over. As I read their work, I am called to appreciate the solidarity that I have witness so far in the local community where friends are reaching out to one another in inventive ways like zoom lunches and the public volunteering themselves in their own ways to support those needing an extra emotional or mental boost.
At its core, existence is paradoxical.
Authentic selfhood requires the exercise of individual freedom, will and decision for its attainment.
Yet, at the same time, we can only exist as persons in the world with others. This inherent paradox in an authentic existence becomes all the more prominent now with our second wave of restrictions.
And the existential question many of us could be asking as a society and as a human race at the moment is:
How we can continue to exercise our freedom, will and creativity, being the active agent that existence requires of us, while not being swallowed up by the new restrictions that are continually being rolled everyday (for good reasons)?
I don’t yet have an answer. And maybe I don’t need one. I don’t know.
But I’d like to think that the question is a hopeful rather than a despairing one.
A process group is a safe space where the standard rules that govern ‘polite’ social interactions are intentionally put aside so that we can may way for authentic and honest conversations. Different from a support groups and psychoeducational groups, process groups provides a safe environment for us to identify and explore feelings and, practice new, healthier and more intimate ways of relating to others and self.
To find out more about what process groups are, click here!
This process group is designed for anyone, lay persons or professionals, who is interested in:
No previous experience with any form of group work is required to attend a Process Group. To ensure a meaningful experince , participants are encouraged to come with an open and curious attitude.
After participating, you'll get to learn about the power of a Process Group:
2023 dates for the upcoming Preview sessions are out!
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I don’t know what to ask my therapist to decide if we are a good fit! I don’t even know what my options are!
I don’t know what to ask my therapist to decide if we are a good fit! I don’t even know what my options are!
This is a common feedback I often receive from those who are considering therapy. Choosing the right fit with a therapist can be a daunting experience in itself. This could be especially so if we have had bad therapeutic experiences in the past.
As a client, what are your preferences though?
Clients may be surprised to be asked, and assume that therapy is like other practitioner-led ‘treatments’. Like when you visit the doctors, you do not tell him or her what medications you’d like to take or how you’d wanted to be treated. You tell them your symptoms and they prescribe you what they think is useful for your issues.
Well, sure, many doctors work that way.
But not all doctors have the same philosophy of care.
Philosophy of care. Such big terms. Do not get fazed by it and stay with me a little longer as I explain what it means and how it can help you as you go on your search for a therapist you can click with.
I was introduced to this notion while I went through my pregnancy.
I am a firm believer of how a good birth experience affects how fast I recover and in turn impacts on maternal mother and child bonding. I will need an obstetrician and a paediatrician who can support me to achieve what I want.
Yet, with no experience giving birth, how do I go about even finding the right doctor?
I had the good fortune of a doula accompanying me throughout my pregnancy. As she patiently explained what my options are giving birth in Singapore and what decisions are in my power to make to get the kind of birth experience that I am hoping for, I was given the opportunity to think through my own preferences as we drew up my birth plan.
An advise from one of my doula that has stuck with me till today was to go doctor shopping!
Essentially, visit different doctors. Ask them how they work. Look not only at their bedside manners (i.e. managing our anxiety, showing empathy or building strong rapport with patients) but whether they believe in the same care goals and values as you do.
If your philosophy of care is to recover with as few interventions as possible, an aggressive medicalised approach is just not going to cut it.
And as I surrounded myself with care providers of the same philosophy of care, I felt held and supported. Even if I did not experience the birth that I hoped for, I know I will still be empowered to make the right decisions in any birth situation I find myself in.
Then, it occured to me that if we can go doctor shopping, we should go therapist shopping too.
Then, it occured to me that if we can go doctor shopping, we should go therapist shopping too.
I don't not mean going for therapy with different therapists at the same time. That’d not be healthy as different therapists may provide contradicting advises which confuse us more than we probably already are.
Go interview different therapists. Find out their views of mental health struggles and how they’d work with your presenting issue. As you chat with them, you should be able to get a feel of their philosophy of care.
It is one thing to know your therapist’s philosophy of care. It is another to know what your preferences are before you can decide if your philosophy of care even fit your therapist's.
Research suggests that clients’ psychotherapy preferences make valuable contribution to outcomes in therapy. It can be a good starting point for a genuine exchange about how you can get the most out of their psychotherapy.
Aside from the usual questions around therapeutic contracts (i.e.g number of sessions, session fees and payment terms etc), I recommend 4 main areas to reflect on as you figure out your therapy preferences.
Do you prefer for your therapist to:
Adapted from the Cooper-Norcross Inventory of Preferences (C-NIP) developed by John Norcross and Mick Cooper, these 4 areas form part of a standardised instrument which was developed with the goal of stimulating dialogues between therapist and client. You can find a copy of the instrument here.
If you are completing this questionnaire for yourself, please ensure that you have someone whom you can talk to should any of the questions cause any distress. In the unlikely event that you are distressed after completing the questionnaire, you can contact Samaritans or other mental health hotlines.
A doula helped me give birth to life by empowering me with options I never knew I had and walking alongside me as I figure them out. She has since inspired me to think about what philosophy of care Encompassing Therapy and Counselling holds:
It is not only to provide good existential therapy. I strive to be a therapy doula by supporting clients to find the right fit with their therapist.
So you’ve decided that you need therapy. The next question to ask is "when should I begin?"
The fact that we need therapy does not always mean that now is always the right time.
I like to share this with my clients: therapy is only 50 minutes per week. That’s a very short time to solve anything. For therapy to be effective, it is important that we are not only able to commit ourselves to working in the therapy room but to also engage with what we have learnt about ourselves in the week before we bring it back to therapy again. It is in the dance of taking our issues into the room, living it out in our lives and bringing newfound meanings, ideas and questions back into the room that often contributes to seeing quicker changes in clients’ lives. Are they ready to take part in this dance?
For therapy to work, you have to do the work between sessions to really solidify and process everything you have learnt within sessions.
For therapy to work, you have to do the work between sessions to really solidify and process everything you have learnt within sessions.
Of course, there are many other factors involved that contributes to our readiness for therapy. Finding the right fit with your therapist is one of them (more can be read here). Yet, it is our capacity to commit to working on ourselves on our own and with the help of others that is often overlooked. Below are three areas to consider to help you decide if you are ready for therapy:
Be willing to work on yourself
I’ve worked with many clients who have been brought into therapy by others. Though they have issues that needs to be addressed, they may not often be ready for it now. It may also be the case that they know they have issues to work on themselves but they are not ready yet.
The most fundamental question to check our readiness is "am I open to committing to doing things differently now?" If the answer is “ no, I’m not", then the time is not ripe. It is ok to wait till you are ready.
Having the time and energy to work on yourself
Change takes time. Sometimes, the difficult emotions that we are working on (anxiety, guilt, worry, angst, grief etc) intensifies after sessions. This may not mean therapy is not working. It could mean that emotions underlying our issues are surfacing and it requires time to process them.
It is important to consider how much time you can commit to working on yourself each week. Aside from considering the frequency of therapy (weekly, biweekly, multiple sessions in one week or as-needed sessions), one should consider their capacity to engage with themselves outside of therapy. Are there other priorities in life (e.g. work, family, studies, physical health etc) that will come in the way of working on myself outside of therapy?
Evaluate financial commitment to therapy
Let’s face it. Therapy can be expensive. You’ll want to consider the treatment costs and whether it’s sustainable financially. Individual therapy sessions are not typically impactful in and of themselves. Therapy is a cumulative process, and we can't predict when growth will come. It is important to weigh the costs of therapy in the context of an ongoing process instead of the cost of a single session. Am I ready to pay for therapy or would the money be more wisely spent on other areas of my life?
In the event that therapy does not fit your budget at the moment, there are lower costs options to consider. First, check if your insurance covers mental health services. You can also ask your therapist for sliding scale, discounted rates or shorter sessions options. Alternatively, check if your company offers Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Read up more here on what to do when therapy is not financially possible.
Therapy can be incredibly useful for lots of things including depression, anxiety, phobia, grief, trauma etc. It can also lead us into becoming better people even if we do not have serious issues to cope with. Yet, therapy is not helpful when we are not ready to do the work ourselves. At Encompassing Therapy and Counselling, we believe in supporting our clients to help them discern whether they are ready for therapy. Book a First Session Therapy with us today to discuss if you are ready for therapy.