Category Archives: Existential Perspectives in Therapy

Comments on existential perspectives in counseling and psychotherapy

On the need for emphasizing spiritual and phenomenological human experiences in therapy and counseling

“As I understand many people ( who I personally interact with, and others at large with whom I have had experience in dealing with in my life time, or have come to know of others through my reading of books or through media) practice some form of faith of religious or spiritual nature that are beyond the parameter of experimental investigations.

Such practice of faith helps them to deal with the Reality of Uncertainty and the Unknown. The faith based areas of spheres may operate independently of other areas of their everyday life or professional science or knowledge based practice, and do not appear to be amenable to any rational discourse. People appear to be quite happy or contented in having these compartmentalized domains of functioning, which may follow different sets of rules or logic, avoiding any experience of cognitive dissonance or disparities between various forms of knowledge, say same science based concepts, such as theory of evolution or evidence from astronomy with their personal religious beliefs and practices.

Even within the experience based paradigms of knowledge, there are different ways of conceptualizing the Experiential Reality.. Emphasis on a particular research or advocacy in no way negates the reality of other types of research and advocacy for a particular point of view as the case may be. Human behaviors and functioning can be viewed from different perspectives, and from different dimensions. It is difficult to say which one is more valid than others. So it often better to avoid comparisons, rather make a case on its own merit. Of course, there are situations where comparative studies and experimentation are necessary to evaluate effectiveness of one over the other, as is routinely done in research studies involving criteria that are operationally and objectively defined, but they have limitations to areas of complex human behaviors. Making a case of acceptability and valuation of a particular model or idea at a particular time of social development and readiness for acceptance will always be a dynamic and fluid process, reflecting evolving stages of social and cultural development and current values. What appears to be “true” and makes sense to others” (with like minded people) with supportive evidence presented, may not be acceptable to other groups of people with their different cultural or sub-cultural identities, and with their varied disciplines of human service provider identifications.

Nevertheless, I do agree that the spiritual dimension of human experience is not often integrated in scientific research in human behavior or not being acknowledged as of being important. Perhaps, may be because people become extremely sensitive, whether scientists or non-scientists, or learned scholars and practitioners of any disciplines or public in general, to any questioning of their personal faiths or beliefs. Rational discourse is fraught with all kinds of implications, and has the potential for bringing about “turmoil” as past and current human history reflects. Scientific endeavors somehow need to perform a balancing act, respecting tolerance and acceptance of diverse spiritual and religious faiths, and acknowledging the fact that societies are unequal in t heir development for tolerance and acceptance of diversity of human opinions and faith expressions.

Besides, I believe, not everyone is comfortable in living with the knowledge of Mystery and Uncertainty of human life experience. That is where the appeal of some of form religious and spiritual faiths for billions of people all over the world comes in. There are some who are okay with it in coming to accept it as the Natural Law, and some may find it as impetus to their own creativity in different forms. And some may struggle with it on a daily basis. And some may find themselves caught up in the riddle of solving the Uncertainty and Mystery of Life and the Universe using an non-consensual validation process, unlike the astronomer scientists, through their own personal phenomenological journeys. In the process they may enter the Black Hole simile of the Unknown and Unknowable world. For many, with intelligence, education, and support, they are able to climb out of it, come up with some insights and understanding that may be appealing to them and to other, and they are able to practice “redirection’ away from these personal moments of “existential preoccupations” or “crises,” so they can enter and exit the process. Bu some may have difficulties in doing so, and may find themselves caught up in the process, causing neglect to one’s personal and social well being, and may exhibit considerable impairments in functioning, associated with personal and social distress, which may be associated with some form of mental illness or people with long standing psychological problems reflecting an unique set of developmental history, and an unique set of adaptations to their “existential crises.”

There is always a room for new ways of looking at things in different ways: trying to improve our own understanding of human life experience, how to improve the quality of life of people that we are connected with or serve in our professional capacities, , and how best to advocate funding and research support or undertaking investigations within various disciplines of our knowledge. Any endeavor in this direction is laudable.”

In relation to this, I am quoting another commentary:

“…You do capture the tormented experience of the living soul who is willing to accept “anything” to get relief or escape, which all of us may feel at some moments of our life, but some may find themselves experiencing this more intensely and persistently than others.

I have taken the position that we may not have the knowledge yet, other than speculations, and have many contradictory views as to “Why” these experiences happen to people. Some with intelligence and education, along with other psycho-social support, are able to navigate successfully through this “why exploration process,” but many find themselves caught up with preoccupation with this persistent “distressing mood” for years. and cannot seem to get out of it with or without all kinds of “interventions.” For them, “What” may be a more productive focus in terms of highlighting with some degree of objectivity what can be done to reduce the “tormenting experience” and facilitate positive redirection,” to various “activities and pursuits,” which is, in a way, a part of our daily routine that we all try to engage in….I do believe that there is need for change in social milieu or what one may call therapeutic milieu. So any form of “therapy” or “counseling” or mediation intervention for that matter to be successful must be integrated into one’s social or therapeutic milieu. That is a daunting task not yet addressed fully or built into professional training and practice of a clinician or within the institutional culture of mental health that one operates within.”

“Existential perspective” in psychological counseling

Response to a discussion thread on the value of addressing spirituality in counseling in Research Gate

“The reality is that we all live in a world of uncertainty and unknown reality from existential perspectives. Meaning that we cannot predict future events with absolute certainty, and we have no knowledge or verified information as to what happens when we die, as our mind that integrates our conscious information, as a function of body, ceases to exist when our body dies. Many people believe that mind is a part of greater entity, soul, that continues to exist in another form of reality, and they find comfort in the belief of all knowing God, as a Supreme entity . But that is a faith based belief not subject to scientific or clinical investigation, Science, also in a way informs us that with Sun moving at approximately 118 miles per second around the Galactic center takes nearly 240 million years to complete a circle, and that no human being or the human race has ever experienced what the next second of existence of our Sun and the Earth will be. So in a way, it confirms the basic Uncertainty of our living existence. It is in this context that people have come to believe in spiritual values and religious faiths, and they all symbolically address human yearnings to understand and deal with Uncertainties of living.

All human beings, therapists and clients, have this existential uncertainty, and therapist should engage in discussion of these issues, if and when they surface in communication, highlighting Existential Mystery, and affirming some sense of connection for clients to the rest of the human race. This acknowledgement and respect of different peoples beliefs in faiths and religious or spiritual values, help the therapeutic dialogue to move on to what the present issues of coping with one’s psychological issues or problems are, but also help therapist to stimulate and explore client’s intact capacity for adaptive reasoning and thinking, fostering in client a sense of well being and how to use positive re directional strategies and engagement in “positively valued” activities to desist from engaging in “negatively valued” activities. We have outlined some of the strategies in our recently published collaborative book: Mind Stimulation Therapy: Cognitive Intervention for Persons with Schizophrenia (Ahmed and Boisvert). I have also started a Blog on existential thoughts and perspectives.

So my take on this issue is when religious faiths and spiritual beliefs are brought into therapeutic dialogue, one needs to affirm the universality of such faiths in the context of coping with Uncertainties of living, and acknowledging acceptance of the Universal Mystery as part of our living existence, while mindful that rational discourse on the issue is not possible, but symbolic interpretations are. Use the discussion as long as it promotes client’s well being, reducing client’s stress and agitation and increasing his sense of contentment and motivation for productive change. Here clinical judgment needs to come into play as to determining how far to go.”