An Overview: Existentialism

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Existentialism as it relates to Student Affairs
Source: Theory & Practice of Counseling & Psychotherapy by Gerald Corey

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An Overview: Existentialism

  1. 1. 1                      Form  A  -­‐  Critical  Evaluation   Counseling  &  Development    Form  A  -­‐  Theory:  Existential  Therapy  Name:  Peter  Max  Quinn  Critical  Evaluation  Format  Dr.  Ciri  -­‐  CN528  Counseling  &  Development  Date:  December  12,  2011   KEY  Concepts  of  Existentialism:  View  of  Human  Nature  /  Basic  Assumptions  Underlying  Existentialism   • Fundamental  Questions  of  Existence:  At  the  core  to  student  success  and  their  life  challenges   o Q:  Who  am  I?   o Q:  What  can  I  know?   o Q:  What  ought  I  do  to?   o Q:  What  can  I  hope  for?   o Q:  Where  am  I  going?   o Q:  Why  are  we  here?   o Q:  What  is  our  purpose?   o Q:  How  can  we  live  a  meaningful  life?   o Q:  What  happens  when  we  die?   • Rejects  the  deterministic  view  of  human  nature.  Psychoanalysis  sees  freedom  as  restricted  by  unconscious  forces,   irrational  drives,  and  past  events;  behaviorists  see  freedom  as  restricted  by  sociocultural  conditioning.  In  contrast,   existential  therapists  acknowledge  some  of  these  basic  facts  about  the  human  situation  but  emphasize  our  freedom  to   choose  what  to  make  of  our  circumstances   • We  are  not  victims  of  circumstance  because,  to  a  large  extent,  we  are  what  we  choose  to  be   • Attention  is  given  to  students’  immediate,  ongoing  experience  in  their  quest  for  meaning  and  purpose   • Reacts  against  the  tendency  to  identify  therapy  with  a  set  of  techniques.  Instead,  it  bases  therapeutic  practice  on  an   understanding  of  what  it  means  to  be  human   • Seek  a  balance  between  recognizing  the  limits  and  tragic  dimensions  of  human  existence  on  one  hand  and  the   possibilities  and  opportunities  of  human  life  on  the  other  hand   • The  significance  of  our  existence  is  never  fixed  once  and  for  all;  rather,  we  continually  re-­‐create  ourselves  through  our   projects.  Humans  are  in  a  constant  state  of  transition,  emerging,  evolving,  and  becoming    MOST  Important  Concepts   • Focus  is  on  the  central  concerns  of  the  students  existence:  Death,  Freedom,  Existential  Isolation,  &  Meaningfulness   o We  have  the  capacity  for  self-­‐awareness   o We  are  basically  free  being  and  must  accept  the  responsibility  that  comes  with  our  freedom   o We  have  a  concern  to  preserve  our  uniqueness  and  identity   o We  come  to  know  ourselves  in  relation  to  knowing  and  interacting  with  others   o The  significance  of  our  existence  and  the  meaning  of  our  life  are  never  fixed     o We  re-­‐create  ourselves  through  our  projects   o Anxiety  is  part  of  the  human  condition   o Awareness  of  death  gives  significance  to  living   • Logo  Therapy:  Therapy  through  meaning   o Individual  search  for  meaning  of  life   o Students  find  meaning  through  progress,  suffering,  activities,  acting,  &  re-­‐acting  with  peers   o “To  be  alive  encompasses  the  ability  to  take  hold  of  life  day  by  day  as  well  as  to  find  meaning  in  suffering”   o The  central  motivation  for  living  is  the  will  to  meaning;  the  freedom  to  find  meaning  in  all  that  we  think;  and   the  integration  of  body,  mind,  and  spirit   • Basic  Dimensions  of  the  Human  Condition:   o Proposition  1:  The  Capacity  for  Self-­‐Awareness   § The  greater  our  awareness,  the  greater  our  possibilities  for  freedom   § We  can  choose  either  to  expand  or  to  restrict  our  consciousness   § Self-­‐Awareness  is  at  the  root  of  most  other  human  capacities,  our  decision  to  expand  is  a   fundamental  human  growth   § Awareness  of  alternatives,  motivations,  factors  influencing  the  person,  and  personal  goals  is  the  goal   § As  we  become  more  aware,  it  is  more  difficult  to  “go  home  again”   § Ignorance  of  our  condition  may  have  brought  contentment  along  with  a  feeling  of  partial  deadness,   but  as  we  open  the  doors  in  our  world,  we  can  expect  more  turmoil  as  well  as  the  potential  for  more   fulfillment  
  2. 2. 2                      Form  A  -­‐  Critical  Evaluation   Counseling  &  Development     o Proposition  2:  Freedom  and  Responsibility   § People  are  free  to  choose  among  alternatives  and  therefore  have  a  large  role  in  shaping  their   destinies   § Although  we  long  for  freedom,  we  often  try  to  escape  our  freedom   § The  manner  in  which  we  live  and  what  we  become  are  the  result  of  our  choices   § We  are  challenged  to  accept  responsibility  for  directing  our  lives   § Inauthenticity:  “Since  that’s  the  way  I’m  made,  I  couldn’t  help  what  I  did”   • Lacking  awareness  of  personal  responsibility  for  our  lives  and  possibly  assuming  that  our  existence  is   largely  controlled  by  external  forces   § We  are  constantly  confronted  with  the  choice  of  what  kind  of  person  we  are  becoming,  and  to  exist  is   never  to  be  finished  with  this  kind  of  choosing   § Existential  Guilt:  Being  aware  of  having  evaded  a  commitment,  or  having  chosen  not  to  choose   • This  guilt  is  a  condition  that  grows  out  of  a  sense  of  incompleteness,  or  a  realization  that  we  are  not  what   we  might  have  become   § Authenticity:  We  are  living  by  being  true  to  our  own  evaluation  of  what  is  a  valuable  existence  for   ourselves;  it  is  the  courage  to  be  who  we  are   § Being  free  and  being  human  are  identical   § It  is  essential  to  respect  the  purpose  that  people  have  in  mind  when  they  initiate  therapy   § Encourage  students  to  weigh  the  alternatives  and  to  explore  the  consequences  of  what  they  are  doing   with  their  lives     o Proposition  3:  Creating  one’s  Identity  and  establishing  meaningful  relationships  with  others   § People  are  concerned  about  preserving  their  uniqueness  and  centeredness,  yet  at  the  same  time  they   have  an  interest  in  going  outside  of  themselves  to  relate  t  other  beings  and  to  nature   § Our  being  becomes  rooted  in  the  expectations,  and  we  become  strangers  to  ourselves   § The  Courage  to  Be:     • Awareness  of  our  finite  nature  gives  us  an  appreciation  of  ultimate  concerns   • It  takes  courage  to  discover  the  true  “ground  of  our  being”  and  to  use  its  power  to  transcend   those  aspects  of  nonbeing  that  would  destroy  us   • Courage  entails  the  will  to  more  forward  in  spite  of  anxiety-­‐producing  situations,  such  as   facing  out  death   • We  struggle  to  discover,  to  create,  and  to  maintain  the  core  deep  within  our  being   • One  of  the  greatest  fears  of  students’  is  that  they  will  discover  that  there  is  no  core,  no  self,   no  substance,  and  that  they  are  merely  reflections  of  everyone’s  expectations  of  them   • Begin  by  asking  students  to  allow  themselves  to  intensify  the  feeling  that  they  are  nothing  more   than  the  sum  of  others’  expectations  and  that  they  are  merely  the  introjects  of  parents  and   parent  substitutes   o Q:  How  do  you  feel  now?   o Q:  Are  you  condemned  to  stay  this  way  forever?   o Q:  Is  there  a  way  out?   o Q:  Can  you  create  a  self  if  you  find  that  you  are  without  one?   o Q:  Where  can  you  begin?   • Once  students  demonstrate  the  courage  to  recognize  this  fear,  to  put  into  words  and  share  it,  it   does  not  seem  overwhelming   • Invite  students  to  accept  the  ways  in  which  they  have  lived  outside  themselves  and  to  explore   ways  in  which  they  are  out  of  contact  with  themselves   § The  Experience  of  Aloneness:   • Part  of  the  human  condition  is  the  experience  of  aloneness   • We  can  derive  strength  from  this  experience  of  looming  to  ourselves  and  sensing  our   separation   • The  sense  of  isolation  comes  when  we  recognize  that  we  cannot  depend  on  anyone  else  for   our  own  confirmation;  that  is,  we  alone  must  give  a  sense  of  meaning  to  life,  and  we  alone   must  decide  how  we  will  live   • Q:  If  we  are  unable  to  tolerate  ourselves  when  we  are  alone,  how  can  we  expect  anyone  else  to   be  enriched  by  our  company?   • Ultimately,  we  are  alone.     § The  Experience  of  Relatedness:     • Humans  depend  on  relationships  with  others  
  3. 3. 3                      Form  A  -­‐  Critical  Evaluation   Counseling  &  Development     We  want  to  be  significant  in  another’s  world,  and  we  want  to  feel  that  another’s  presence  is   • important  in  our  world   • When  we  are  able  to  stand  alone  and  dip  within  ourselves  for  our  own  strength,  our   relationships  with  others  are  based  on  our  fulfillment,  not  our  depravation   • If  we  feel  personally  deprived,  however,  we  can  expect  little  but  a  clinging  and  symbiotic   relationship  with  someone  else   • Help  students  distinguish  between  a  neurotically  dependent  attachment  to  another  and  a  life-­‐ affirming  relationship  in  which  both  persons  are  enhanced   • Challenge  students  to  examine  what  they  get  from  their  relationships,  how  they  avoid  intimate   contact,  how  they  prevent  themselves  from  having  equal  relationships,  and  how  they  might   create  therapeutic,  healthy,  and  mature  human  relationships   § Struggling  with  Our  Identity:   • The  awareness  of  our  ultimate  aloneness  can  be  frightening,  and  some  students  may  attempt   to  avoid  accepting  their  aloneness  and  isolation   • Some  students  get  caught  up  in  ritualistic  behavior  patterns  that  cement  us  to  an  image  or   identity  we  acquired  in  early  childhood   • Challenge  students  to  begin  to  examine  they  ways  in  which  they  have  lost  touch  with  their   identity,  especially  by  letting  others  design  a  life  for  them   • By  refusing  to  give  easy  solutions  or  answers,  professionals  can  confront  students  with  the   reality  that  they  alone  must  find  their  own  answers     o Proposition  4:  The  search  for  meaning,  purpose,  values,  and  goals   § A  distinctly  human  characteristic  is  the  struggle  for  a  sense  of  significance  and  purpose  in  life   § Help  students  challenge  the  meaning  in  their  lives   § Q:  Why  am  I  here?   § Q:  What  do  I  want  from  life?   § Q:  What  gives  me  life  purpose?   § Q:  Where  is  the  source  of  meaning  for  me  in  life?   § Q:  Do  you  like  the  direction  of  your  life?   § Q:  Are  you  pleased  with  what  you  now  are  and  what  you  are  becoming?   § Q:  If  you  are  confused  about  who  you  are  and  what  you  want  for  yourself,  what  are  you  doing  to  get   some  clarity?   § The  Problem  of  Discarding  Old  Values:   • Students  may  discard  traditional  (and  imposed)  values  without  finding  other,  suitable  ones   to  replace  them   • Help  students  create  a  value  system  based  on  a  way  of  living  that  is  consistent  with  their  way   of  being   • Trust  the  capacity  of  clients  to  eventually  discover  an  internally  derived  value  system  that   does  provide  a  meaningful  life   § Meaningless:   • Faced  with  the  prospect  of  our  mortality:   o Q:  Is  there  any  point  to  what  I  do  now,  since  I  will  eventually  die?   o Q:  What  will  I  do  be  forgotten  when  I  am  gone?   o Q:  Given  the  fact  of  mortality,  why  should  I  busy  myself  with  anything?   • Meaningfulness  in  life  can  lead  to  emptiness  and  hollowness,  or  a  condition  called  the   existential  vacuum   o When  students  do  not  busy  themselves  with  routine  or  with  work   § Creating  New  Meaning:   • Point  out  to  students  that  they  can  discover  meaning  even  in  suffering   • Human  suffering  (the  tragic  and  negative  aspects  of  life)  can  be  turned  into  human   achievement  by  the  stand  an  individual  takes  when  faced  with  it   • People  who  confront  pain,  guilt,  despair,  and  death  can  challenge  their  despair  and  thus   triumph   • Meaning  is  created  our  of  an  individual’s  engagement  with  what  is  valued,  and  this   commitment  provides  the  purpose  that  makes  life  worthwhile        
  4. 4. 4                      Form  A  -­‐  Critical  Evaluation   Counseling  &  Development     o Proposition  5:  Anxiety  as  a  condition  of  living   § Anxiety  arises  from  one’s  personal  strivings  to  survive  and  to  maintain  and  assert  one’s  being,  and   the  feelings  anxiety  generates  are  an  inevitable  aspect  of  the  human  condition   § Existential  Anxiety:  The  unavoidable  result  of  being  confronted  with  the  “givens  of  existence”:         Death,  Freedom,  Choice,  Isolation,  and  meaninglessness  -­‐  Can  be  a  stimulus  for  growth   § Normal  Anxiety:  An  appropriate  response  to  an  even  being  faced  -­‐  Can  be  used  as  a  motivation  to     change  -­‐  We  could  not  survive  without  some  anxiety,  it  is  not  a  goal  to  eliminate  this   § Neurotic  Anxiety:  Out  of  proportion  to  the  situation.  It  is  typically  out  of  awareness,  and  it  tends  to     immobilize  the  person   § We  can  blunt  anxiety  by  constricting  our  life  and  thus  reducing  choices   § Opening  up  to  new  life,  however,  means  opening  up  to  anxiety   § As  students  recognize  the  realities  of  their  confrontation  with  pain  and  suffering,  their  need  to   struggle  for  survival,  and  their  basic  fallibility,  anxiety  surfaces     o Proposition  6:  Awareness  of  Death  and  Nonbeing   § Awareness  of  death  as  a  basic  human  condition  gives  significance  to  living   § Death  should  not  be  considered  a  threat.  Rather,  death  provides  the  motivation  for  us  to  live  our  lives   fully  and  take  advantage  of  each  opportunity  to  do  something  meaningful   § One  focus  is  on  exploring  the  degree  to  which  students  are  doing  the  things  they  value   § Those  who  fear  death  also  fear  life   § When  we  emotionally  accept  the  reality  of  our  eventual  death,  we  realize  more  clearly  that  our   actions  DO  count!  We  have  choices  and  we  must  accept  the  ultimate  responsibility  for  how  well  we   are  living     Therapeutic  Process:  Most  important  Therapeutic  Goals   • Help  students  define  meaning  in  their  life   • Help  students  to  recognize  factors  that  block  their  freedom   • Challenge  students  to  recognize  that  they  are  doing  something  that  they  formerly  thought  was  happening  to  them   o The  student  is  the  cause,  not  others   • To  widen  the  students’  perspectives  on  choice  -­‐  They’re  NOT  stuck!   • To  help  students  accept  the  freedom  and  responsibility  that  go  along  with  their  actions   • Encourage  students  to  reflect  on  life,  to  recognize  their  range  of  alternatives,  and  to  decide  among  them   • Encourage  students  to  explore  their  options  before  creating  a  meaningful  existence   • Invitation  to  students  to  recognize  the  ways  in  which  they  are  NOT  living  fully  authentic  lives  and  to  make  choices  that   will  lead  to  their  becoming  what  they  are  capable  of  being   • Assist  students  in  moving  toward  authenticity  and  learning  to  recognize  when  they  are  deceiving  themselves   • There  is  no  escape  from  freedom   • Assist  students  in  recognizing  that  they  are  not  fully  present  in  the  therapy  process  itself  and  in  seeing  how  this   pattern  may  limit  them  outside  of  therapy   • Support  students  in  confronting  the  anxieties  that  they  have  so  long  sought  to  avoid   • Help  students  redefine  themselves  and  their  world  in  ways  that  foster  greater  genuineness  of  contact  with  life   • Increased  awareness  is  the  central  goal    Functions  and  Role  of  the  Student  Affairs  Professional   • Students  CURRENT  experience  is  the  focus,  regardless  of  the  technique  being  used   • Be  active  in  the  therapeutic  process!   • Confront  students  with  addressing  ultimate  (global)  concerns  rather  than  coping  with  immediate  problems   • To  be  warm,  welcoming,  and  friendly   • Accept  students  with  unconditional  regard   • Offer  students  a  “context  for  change”   • Strive  to  create  a  caring  relationship  with  students   • Guided  by  the  philosophical  framework  about  what  it  means  to  be  human   • Indicate  to  the  student  that  a  price  must  be  paid  for  increased  awareness   • Assist  students  in  seeing  the  ways  in  which  they  constrict  their  awareness  and  the  cost  of  such  constrictions   • Hold  up  a  mirror,  so  that  students  can  gradually  engage  in  self-­‐confrontation  (hypothetical  mirror)   • Central  prominence  is  given  to  the  relationship  with  the  student  -­‐  RESPECT  is  at  it’s  core  
  5. 5. 5                      Form  A  -­‐  Critical  Evaluation   Counseling  &  Development    The  students’  role  in  the  Therapeutic  Process   • Expected  to  put  into  action  in  daily  life  what  they  learn  about  themselves   • Recognize  that  they  do  not  have  to  remain  passive  victims  of  their  circumstances,  but  instead  can  consciously  become   the  architect  of  their  own  life   • Encouraged  to  take  seriously  their  own  subjective  experience  of  their  world   • Challenged  to  take  responsibility  for  how  they  now  choose  to  be  in  their  world   • Encourage  students  to  take  action  on  the  basis  of  the  insights  they  develop   • Explore  alternative  for  making  their  visions  real       Applications:  Techniques  and  procedures  of  (Theory)      -­‐    -­‐Techniques  and  Methods  applicable  Existentialism  practice  in  Student  Affairs-­‐   • There  is  a  de-­‐emphasis  on  techniques  and  a  priority  given  to  understanding  the  students’  world   • Description,  understanding,  and  exploration  of  the  students’  subjective  reality   • Assist  students  in  identifying  and  clarifying  their  assumptions  about  the  world   • Invite  students  to  define  and  question  the  ways  in  which  they  perceive  and  make  sense  of  their  existence   • Examine  students’  values,  beliefs,  and  assumptions  to  determine  their  validity   • Teach  students  how  to  reflect  on  their  own  existence  and  to  examine  their  role  in  creating  their  problems  in  living   • Students  are  encouraged  to  more  fully  examine  the  source  and  authority  of  their  present  value  system   • Self-­‐exploration  typically  leads  to  new  insights  and  some  restricting  of  values  and  attitudes   • Focus  on  helping  the  student  take  what  they  learn  about  themselves  and  put  it  into  action!    -­‐Major  strengths  of  Existentialism  from  a  diversity  perspective-­‐   • Great  for  students  seeking  personal  growth   • The  cultural,  social,  political  and  ideological  context  MUST  be  taken  into  account  when  using  this  approach   • Existential  therapy  does  not  dictate  a  particular  way  of  viewing  reality   • Broadly  based  perspective  which  makes  it  highly  applicable  in  working  with  multicultural  populations   • Focus  on  available  choices  and  pathways  toward  personal  growth   • Tends  to  work  well  with  students  who  are  at  a  crossroads  and  who  question  the  state  of  affairs  in  the  world  and  are   willing  to  challenge  the  status  quo   • Useful  for  students  who  are  on  the  edge  of  existence  (dying  or  contemplating  suicide),  who  are  working  through  a   developmental  or  situation  crisis,  who  feel  that  they  no  longer  belong  in  their  surroundings,  or  who  are  starting  a  new   phase  of  life   • Does  not  dictate  a  particular  way  of  viewing  or  relating  to  reality   • Broad  perspective   • The  most  useful  approach  to  helping  students  of  all  cultures  find  meaning  and  harmony  in  their  lives   • Its  focus  is  on  the  sober  issues  each  of  us  inevitably  face:  Love,  Anxiety,  Suffering,  Death   • Enables  students  to  examine  the  degree  to  which  their  behavior  is  being  influenced  by  social  and  cultural  conditioning   • Freedom  can  be  increased  if  they  recognize  the  social  limits  they  are  facing   • Freedom  can  be  hindered  by  institutions  and  limited  by  their  family    -­‐Evaluation  of  Existentialism  as  it  relates  to  Student  Affairs-­‐   • Encourages  the  student  to  examine  issues  such  as  assuming  personal  responsibility,  expanding  their  awareness  of   their  current  situation   • Great  for  brief  counseling  approaches,  which  are  very  prevalent  in  higher  education  settings   • Helps  students  to  make  a  commitment  on  decisions  and  how  to  act  on  them   • Students  experiences  dissonance  (anxiety)  arising  from  making  key  choices  and  other  existential  conflicts:  Accepting   freedom  and  the  responsibility  that  goes  with  it   • Most  appropriate  for  students  who  are  committed  to  dealing  with  their  problems  about  living,  for  students  who  are   alienated  from  their  current  expectations  of  society,  or  for  those  who  are  searching  for  meaning  in  their  lives    -­‐The  most  significant  contributions  of  Existentialism  -­‐   • Best  suited  for  students  who  are  experiencing  a  lack  of  a  sense  of  identity   • Offers  promise  for  students  who  are  struggling  to  find  meaning  or  who  complain  of  feelings  of  emptiness   • Can  focus  students  on  significant  areas  such  as  assuming  personal  responsibility,  making  a  commitment  to  deciding   and  acting  and  expanding  their  awareness  of  their  current  situation  
  6. 6. 6                      Form  A  -­‐  Critical  Evaluation   Counseling  &  Development    -­‐The  most  significant  limitations  of  Existentialism  -­‐   • Might  not  work  with  a  student  who  assumes  we  are  pre-­‐determined  or  pre-­‐destined  (Diversity)   • Lacks  systematic  statements  of  principles  &  practices   • Vague  -­‐  Lack  of  precision  causes  confusion  and  makes  it  difficult  to  conduct  research   • Has  global  terms    &  abstract  concepts  that  can  be  difficult  to  grasp   • Limited  applicability  to  lower  functioning  students     • Not  built  for  students  in  extreme  crisis:  Rape,  Fire,  Death,  Etc…   • Limited  to  students  who  are  most  concerned  about  meeting  basic  needs   • Not  useful  for  students  who  lack  good  verbal  skills  or  those  who  may  lack  insight  (self-­‐reflection)   o They  cant  express  their  current  situations/identify  actions  to  pursue   o The  value  and  vitality  of  a  psychotherapy  approach  depends  on  its  ability  to  assist  students  in  dealing  wit  the   sources  of  pain  and  dissatisfaction  in  their  lives   • Students  with  systematic  perspectives  criticize  this  approach  because  they  are  excessively  individualistic  and  they   therefore  ignore  the  social  factors  that  cause  human  problems   • Highly  focused  on  the  philosophical  assumption  of  self-­‐determination   • If  students  expect  a  structured  and  problem-­‐oriented  approach,  they  will  not  like  existentialism   • The  level  of  maturity,  life  experience,  and  intensive  training  that  is  require  of  professionals   • Lacks  a  systematic  statement  of  the  principles  and  practices   •                

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