I was asked on my final exam for Group Counseling and Techniques to name my favorite group counseling theory. I have many theoretical leanings, so I’m pretty ecletic in my approach to counseling, but the one that I lean towards the most in life and career, is Existentialism. Existentialism doesn’t have one single theorist, but has been informed by the following individuals:
—Miguel de Unamuno
—R. D. Laing
Samuel Gladding, in “Groups: A Counseling Speciality,” defines Existentialism as “a philosophy that addresses what it means to be human. This philosophy has been applied to the helping professions only since the mid-1940s (Tamm, 1993). Existentialists stress the importance of beliefs, such as values, freedom, and responsibility. The nature of discovering meaning in the midst of everyday life, as well as in absurd and tragic events, is emphasized. In existential thought, life is full of angst as well as joy. There is a paradox to human existence that the more fully one lives life, the more strongly one is aware of death. This paradox highlights the fine line between being and not being (Mullan, 1992).”
I have been heavily influenced primarily Kierkegaardian Existentialism. Existentialism, in my simplistic understanding, centers around the question “What does it mean to be human.” Eastern Orthodoxy, my Faith Tradition, is at its core deeply existential because we believe Jesus Christ, being fully God and fully man, fulfilled what it means to be truly human since the First Adam failed to do this and thus we all have. I have found Existentialism coupled with the existential leanings of my faith to help me make sense of my own personal suffering and that of the world. For me the Cross is the existential lens through which suffering makes sense. I believe in a both/and approach to the concept of finding/creating meaning. Theistic existentialism believes we find that meaning in our Higher Power/God while atheistic existentialism states we create our own meaning. I see no reason for the dichotomy here, and find it is perhaps both. For me I have been working on creative and meaningful ways to bring my own narrative/story into that of God’s story and the narrative of Christianity, so that makes this both/and for me.
My mission as a Licensed Professional Counselor is to help people achieve wellness in their inner lives, personal relationships, and career by helping to embrace the inner turmoil and suffering of their lives to find and create meaning and purpose in their pain and hurt in order to embrace it and find healing. I do not believe in “Biblical” counseling despite my strong Orthodox values and beliefs thus I think anyone, Orthodox, non-Orthodox, or non-religious, can find and create meaning through the conduit of Existentialism. The world is a paradox! People are paradoxical!
Within humanity, we can have the types of people like ISIS who aren’t afraid to put a knife to someone’s throat in the name of fundamentalism, but we also have the Mother Teresas, the Pope Frances, the Dalai Lamas, the heros, the life savers, and those who give so much of themselves for others. If it weren’t for Existentialism (coupled with my Faith) that paradox would plague me to despair so deep it would drive me to insanity and Nihilism. However, it has taught me to see the interplay of joy and despair. St. Silouan the Athonite once said, “Keep your mind in Hell and despair not!” That, that right there embodies Existential thought and living to me…