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T HE E X I ST E NT I A L P RO B LE M S H Y P OT HE S I S

Fulfillment of Potential People often come to therapy wanting more than relief from symptoms or restora- tion of how they were before the current crisis. There is a yearning for a higher quality of living or the need to wrestle with deep questions and find a new orientation to life. These clients want to be responsible adults without sacrificing the vitality and sense of play of childhood. They want challenge and excitement intheir daily lives, instead of stagnation and boredom. Typical goals might include meaning and purpose in their lives; fulfillment of their highest potential; a sense of control over their future paths; becoming more spontaneous and creative; feeling more alive, real, and whole; and achieving authentic contact with their inner being as well as with other humans. Mere conformity to societys definition of normal is not enough: Therapists will have an inadequate grasp of their clients needs if they restrict themselves to goals endorsed by health care case managers. Emotional Suffering Suffering cannot be eliminated from life. Although we cannot always control or prevent events that cause suffering, existential theorists believe that we have the freedom to choose how we react to those events. Meaning and Purpose in Life Existential philosophers describe the human condition as the dilemma of meaning- seeking creatures thrown into a universe that has no intrinsic meaning. When we are young, we derive meaning from the rules and examples of our parents, which derived from the customs and traditions of their cultures. Many people live contented lives continuing to accept that meaning. However, other people experience a crisis of meaning, perhaps following a major loss or when they reach the pinnacle of the road they were told would bring fulfillment. When the meaning systems that people have taken for granted are no longer viable, there are many distressing emotional responses. The existential litera- ture describes the experience of the absurd and the response of nausea to the realization that there is no intrinsic meaning in the external world or the course of our lives. Clients may describe feeling emptinessa void. Authenticity and Honesty Authenticity in human relations is a standard that many people have trouble living up to, and therapists who are not capable of it in their own personal relationships will not be able to provide this needed ingredient of the therapeutic relationship. When you are engaged in an authentic encounter, you would be (a) present in the moment rather than adrift on a mental side trip; (b) genuine and not hiding behind masks; (c) honest and truthful about what you choose to express, reserving the right to decline to reveal what you hold private; (d) open and vulnerable, allowing yourself to be impacted and changed by the other; and (e) willing to take the risk of being spontaneous. Spontaneity does not mean saying whatever comes into your head because you experience the vulnerability of the other person and want to be helpful. A precondition for authenticity with others is that you are vigilant against self-deception and have learned to hold yourself accountable for your own dishonesties. Viktor Frankls Logotherapy offers to the client three ways of satisfying the search for meaning: 1. Creating a work or doing a deed (e.g., achievement and accomplishment) 2. Experiencing a value such as goodness, truth, beauty, or love 3. Finding meaning in unavoidable suffering