My theoretical approach to counseling is an eclectic blend of:
• Postmodernism and Existentialism
• Constructivist (Narrative-driven)
• Feminism/Relational-cultural theory
• Family Systems
In addition to those, I consider myself a shame and vulnerability counselor informed and guided by the work and research of Dr. Brene Brown and her Shame Resilience Theory. I want to elaborate on my more primary theoretical leanings, and how I gain from them:
Postmodernism and Existentialism
Postmodernism is a philosophy that criticizes Modernism’s strict adherence that all truth is objective, measurable, and empirical. As a Postmodern counselor, I believe that objectivity itself is subjective because to hold to anything one considers objective one must first subjectively accept it as objective. I believe objectivity to be individually and socially determined. John and Lisa Sommers-Flanagan write, “Each of us views reality through our own particular lens or created social discourse.” This explains also why I take an existential approach to counseling.
Existentialism is a branch of philosophical thinking that involves finding and/or creating meaning in the midst of a human existence. Dr. Charles Eick writes, “Existential therapy takes into account key events in life as it addresses the four existentials in life of freedom, isolation, meaning, and death (Cooper, 2003)” (Eick, 2014). Because of this Existential therapy is derived from the philosophy first and foremost. Irvin Yalom once said, “I have always felt that the term ‘existential therapy’ reflects not a discrete, comprehensive body of techniques, but, instead, a posture, a sensibility in the therapist” (Serlin, 1999).
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 Specialty,” 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 upon the question “What does it mean to be human?”
Faith, values, conscience, and spirituality can be interwoven into existential therapy quite easily, and it is this type of existential therapy towards which I most lean (Eick, 2014). Integrating faith and spirituality coupled with the belief in God is a solid path to explore life’s more deep rooted issues and complexities (Eick, 2014). Christianity, 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 Christian values and beliefs thus I think anyone, Christian, non-Christian, 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 heroes, 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!
In Postmodern fashion, I’m a “social constructivist,” meaning that I “focus on what’s happening between people as they join together to create realities” (Sommers-Flanagan, 2012). I believe the way in which we construct these realities and our lives is through the power of story and narrative. In her book, “Rising Strong,” Dr. Brene Brown writes, “The idea that we’re ‘wired for story’ is more than a catchy phrase. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that hearing a story—a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end—causes our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.” As a Constructivist, I believe we all have a story to tell, a story that we are writing and will write. Within the grand story of our lives being lived and shared there are sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and sections, which we decide to share or not share.
I am writing my own story at this time while coming into your stories while you are writing! We inevitability influence one another in what our stories are telling, but we also have our stories being interwoven.
Our experiences, views, thoughts, opinions, issues, cultures, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), values, customs, upbringings, and lives impact one another’s story both for the positive and the negative.
The stories we write, or construct, can sometimes oppress us or others. The stories we tell ourselves can harm and hurt us, so the goal or aim of being a Constructivist is to help my clients analyze these stories, deconstruct them, and reconstruct better written stories about their lives. As Dr. Brown would say, our stories are ours to write. The endings are always up to us.