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Finding a light of meaning


‘Little girl in the forest’ is a painting by the Cuban artist Eduardo Abela. It speaks to me of our collective sense of confusion and uncertainty in this time of crisis.

We know that our very existence is defined by uncertainty; indeed, along with death, it is one of the ‘givens’ of life, but we are adept at defending against this reality. Humanistic psychotherapy, rooted in Existential philosophy, emphasises that our lives are, in the words of Irvin Yalom, “inexorably free, and thus, uncertain. Cultural institutions and psychological constructs often obscure this state of affairs, but confrontation with one’s existential situation reminds one that paradigms are self-created, wafer thin barriers against the pain of uncertainty.”

The Corona virus emergency has demolished our “wafer thin barriers.” It has reminded us how desperately vulnerable we are, and posed the truly existential threat, that we, or someone whom we love, might die. There is little we can do in the face of our fears and we must relinquish our illusion of omnipotent control.

So how would counselling be of any use to us in these turbulent days?

Firstly, it can hold us together. A counsellor can sit with us in our uncertainty, without shock or judgement, and help us process our feelings so that we are unburdened and less alone. We can be contained by her authentic care for us. For now, that might be enough.

Later though, when we’re ready, a counsellor will put our uncertainty to good use. One advantage of uncertainty is that the unknown possibilities of our lives become tangible. Our ‘knowledge’ about ourselves and the world in which we live can be cracked open and reconsidered. The Corona virus will surely prompt us to ask ourselves, at the very least, “What was the meaning of this? How has this changed me?”

The therapeutic relationship might be described as a ‘cleaving’ one, a partnership that aims, in the words of the poet David Whyte,“to hold together and to split apart/at one and the same time.” Our fears need to be heard and held with love and compassion. Then our task is to do as Jung instructed, and “kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”

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© 2017, Sarah Fishburn Roberts

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