Session Eight - Existential Counseling

You may want to print this sample session on Existential Counseling for easier reading and refer back to the Theory behind Existential Counseling.

After the usual intro…

Mary: “I’m quite excited. I did email back and forth with www.asknow.com and there may be a possibility for work for Andy in Korea in an ‘internship.’ Can you believe that?!”

Joan: “I didn’t know about that. Thank you so much for letting me know. What does Andy think about this?”

Mary: “He’s already started the paper work. The cat and dog we can take with us – Sarah loves my guinea pig anyway so is happy to take him. And I’m hoping she’ll take the cockateil too. She’s really sad about the possibility of me going away – but she’s in year three of the four year program. So maybe next year…”

Joan: “And there’s internet and internet phone and camera too.”

Mary: “Duh! I know! But you know, all of this has got me really thinking. Last week I was at my wits end and so was Andy. This week I am way up there – I’ve got a future, so does Andy. Plus an adventure.”

Joan: “Uh huh…”



Mary: “So what’s this all about? Life I mean. How can life be really good and really bad all in one week. Why do some people have choices in life like Andy and I do, and some spend their entire lives trying to get their next meal.”

Joan: “What do you think?!”

Mary: “I don’t know. I think I’m experiencing existential angst!” (grins) On the one hand, as a Catholic, I believe God has a plan or a purpose for everyone’s life. But how do I know that? And what kind of God plans for some to have ‘the good life’ and others to live in wretchedness.

Joan: “These are big questions for sure.”

Mary: “Part of me is feeling guilty for having hope. When I felt hopeless I didn’t have the energy to think about others. When this Korean thing looked like a reality I thanked God – and I still do. But then I had to ask, ‘Why me?’ Is it luck-of-the-draw and God isn’t really involved at all? Or is it all predetermined?"

Joan: (Puts on her “active listening hat.”) “So on the one hand you feel hope and yet you have lots of questions…” Mary: “Didn’t I just say that! Those weren’t rhetorical questions! I really want to know what you think!?”

Joan: (Puts on her “existential counseling hat”.) “OK…well…taking a Christian frame work – because you are one – I think it’s possible that the ‘Higher Power’ cares enough to create and give principles to live by. And then lets us go from there.”

Mary: “So God has moved away?!”

Joan: “No. Again, using your framework, God is there and cares and you can count on God’s spiritual support. But you can’t ask God to take the blame for the situations humans have made. Or bail them out each and every time.”

Mary: “It doesn’t seem very fair. Some people make the lives of others wretched and God doesn’t stop them; others have to live with the results of that – and God doesn’t save them. It feels pretty hopeless sometimes…”

Joan: “Have you heard of Viktor Frankl? He was a concentration camp and survived – and he has said two things I hold very dear. Now you have to remember that almost his entire family was murdered by the Nazis. He said, ‘He who understands the ‘why’ can bear most any ‘how’. And that no matter what is taken away from us, we still have the ability to choose how we will think, feel and behave. His approach is called ‘Existential Counseling / Therapy’ or ‘Logotherapy.’”

Mary: “Ok so that accounts for the quotation you have on the college website...

Happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. – Viktor Frankl

...I don’t see how teaching in Korea is part of this.”

Joan: “It comes back to that sense of cause or purpose again. Mary, what do you think are your gifts? Where does the world need you right now and in the future?”

Mary: “I don’t know that I am a teacher – but I guess I’ll have to be. I am a good student of history. You know the saying, ‘If you ignore the lessons of history, you are bound to repeat them.’”



Joan: “What about the guerilla gardening? How could that tie into Korea?”

Mary: “Good point. I’ll have a chance to explore Korean gardening and floral arranging first hand, won’t I!?”

Joan: “How did that motto go, ‘Let's fight the filth with forks and flowers.’ Reminds me of the phrase, ‘Bomb them with butter!' – the idea being is that people who are well cared for are less likely to attack you. And if they do, hopefully it will be with cream cheese!” (Both laugh.)

Mary: “This whole thing has opened up more questions than it has answers.”

Joan: “You mean the going to Korea thing?”

Mary: “That but also this counseling thing. I mean having to look closely at your own life and then trying to find a ‘higher purpose.’ I don’t know whether to laugh or throw up!”

Joan: “I feel that way most of the time!” (Both laugh some more.)

Session Eight with Existential Counseling winds down…



Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.- Rollo May

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