Existential Crisis Counseling
"All of life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
The concept of the existential crisis is a long-written topic, discussed and pondered to the point of exhaustion. The cause of existential crises can be anything that we find significant to our lives, or, lack thereof. It can vary from person to person, and can usually accompany major life changes. A birth of a child, the loss of a loved one, a breakup with a romantic partner- all of these life events can lead to a “wakeup call” or perhaps leaving us questioning what gives our life meaning. Perhaps others find their existential crises fraught with questions regarding if life has meaning, or not.
How do we treat an existential crisis in therapy? It can be challenging because it varies from person to person. There is no right way and no wrong way to have an existential crisis, and there is no existential crisis that is better than another, or the contrary. Each person is unique and individual and therefore, their version of existential crisis. This follows many systemic family therapy concepts that each person is their own “multiverse” if you will, in which they, and only they, are the expert.
Treating an existential crisis is quite common in therapy. Each person who has a problem usually has a greater problem within his/her/their own family system/work system/friend system, and it goes on… the question many therapists like to think about when working with client(s) is “How does this behavior make sense in context?” Their problem is usually connected to a greater event(s) outside of their control, and wondering how they got to the place, state of mind, etc. where there is undue suffering. If you dig hard enough, and listen well to your client and try to understand their point of view, then it is very likely that the person’s story will unfold.
Much of the therapy experience is teaching the client to sharpen and hone the skills that they already have, not give advice. We listen and provide a space where we point out a different way of looking at the world, and I have never worked with an existential crisis that is not justified. Again, it is the worldview of the client, and their worldview is completely legitimate and valid. Their experiences are uniquely their own. So, if you are beating yourself up, or if you know someone who behaves in a very self-deprecating manner, please know that it is quite normal. Life is fluid and full of constant changes. If it weren’t, things would be quite dull! After all, would you like to only go to an ice cream shop with just one flavor of ice cream? Of course not! The old saying “Variety is the spice of life” is often what we say where there are many options. Sometimes in an existential concern, we find the answer, but oftentimes, it finds us. Learning to be you is one of the bravest, most authentic things we can do for ourselves.