Working with Stuckness in the Room

A Hand and Face Statue

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.

Ah ha!

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.


Our Existence Validated When We Are Encountered

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).

How Does Existential Therapy Work with Stuckness in Life?

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.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Mag: a UKCP-accredited counselling psychologist and founder of Singapore’s first ever existential practice. My care philosophy is not to diagnose, label, or categorise but rather to work with the individual in front of me in the here and now.

My clinical credentials certainly play a significant role in defining my professional identity. But to foster a deeper connection and authenticity, I invite you to discover my other “Selves”, the various facets of who I am.

Learn more about me here

Ask Me Anything

Fill out the form below to ask me (Dr. Magdalen Cheng) questions about this article, existential therapy, or anything else.

Welcome to Encompassing Therapy & Counselling

We are Singapore’s first independent practice specialising in Existential Therapy for individuals, groups, and corporates.

What is Existential Therapy?

Existential Therapy helps you to discover you do not need to choose between your freedom and relationship with others. Both are possible at any one point.

The existential approach to psychotherapy and counselling is about the freedom to discover yourself and believe that you’re the expert of your own life. It can help you answer some of life’s biggest questions.

Search the Archives

Recent Articles

[scheduling site=""]