Live the Life You Want to Live


Does your life bring you joy or sorrow?
Have you ever thought, “Why does this stuff always happen to me?”
Have you ever wondered why you attract certain types of people?

Much of the way life goes is in your control…

Martin Heidegger talks about “thrownness” in Being and Time. He explains that all people are “enmeshed in a particular context” (Guignon, 1993, pg. 225). In other words, human beings are “thrown” into a particular context, and automatically engage in that context (Heidegger, 1927/1962). When you were born, the world you entered was storied. You entered this world facing certain rules and/or principles – familial expectations, religious affiliations, certain belief systems about values, etc. The world you entered immediately connected to you – you and the world are inextricably linked. In essence, being does not exist; there is only a being-in-the-world. You are continuously there inside the world and in your conditions of existence. You are being there at all times. This being there concept is what Heidegger calls Dasein, which literally means there-being (Edger & Meyer, 2010).

Dasein is constructed in a particular way as it exists-there-in-the-world, and the part of Dasein I want to focus on here is Dasein’s position of being-toward. What this means is that Dasein is always projected into the future. Everything that you do contributes to making you who you are. Because your thoughts and actions construct who you are as a person, the way that you relate to others is affected by this construction of self. Let me give you an example…

As a mental health counselor, I relate to the people I see in my practice in a particular way, which entails “a commitment toward the future” (Guignon, 1993, pg. 225). Because I construct who I am in a certain way – care-taker, empathic listener, challenger, cheer-leader – I become that person for the people I see. I am viewed in a certain way because of my thoughts and behaviors about what is appropriate. The relationships I build form to this ideal. As long as I keep engaging in this way, I become a certain type of person, and my clients expect certain things of me. The relationship is literally formed by my values, beliefs, and behaviors.
We ARE our values, our stories, our beliefs, our engagements with others. “We … become the kind of people we are – people who, for example, care about children and believe in justice – there is now no way to drop these commitments without ceasing to be who we are” (Guignon, 1993, pg. 233). We are, therefore, imbedded and indebted to our surroundings and a shared culture, we share universal values with others around us. Heidegger calls this kind of sharing and being authentic historicity (Heidegger, 1927/1962). We shape ourselves through how we live our lives. In turn, our surroundings shape who we are. It is truly a circle of life. How you engage with others MAKES you who you are. How powerful! If you are dissatisfied with the life you are living, think about how you engage with others. What do others expect from you? How do they view who you are as a person? Does this make your life a good one? If not, it is time to reassess who you are – Dasein – how are you being-there?



Edger, K. & Meyer, E. (2010). Considerations for Teaching Existential-Phenomenological Counseling Theory. ACES Spectrum, 71(1), 17-29.

Guignon, C. B. (1993). Authenticity, moral values, and psychotherapy. In. C. Guignon (Ed.).The Cambridge companion to Heidegger (pp. 215-239). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. New York: Harper & Row

The Meaning of Life

ImageThe meaning of life starts with the notion of The Absurd. Hang on here and take the philosophical journey with me. It will be well worth it…

Albert Camus talks about the Absurd in his work, The Myth of Sisyphus and notes that the concept of Absurdity is not original to him. What is original to his philosophy is that he considers the Absurd to be the beginning of his philosophy (rather than the end, as in most other philosophies). Also, even though the concept of the Absurd is an idea that is accepted among French philosophers, Camus does not bother to go into an argument about proving it exists. For him, as well as other scholars, it is quite evident that it does. So what is “The Absurd” anyway?

For Camus, the way of the world is not absurd. Camus defines the absurd as the relationship that people have with the world. He believes this relationship is absurd because the world puts out questions in the relationship that have no answers. He states that the absurd relationship between human beings and the world “is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together” (pg. 37). What he means is that human beings receive a bunch of empty replies from the world about the nature of their existence. He gives the example of people trying to find order in the world and not being able to find any order at all. No answers are provided to us. We ask how to solve the problem of evil in the world, and we find out that goodness in the world isn’t even guaranteed (Denton, 1967). It is in this frustrating relationship that we have with nature that forces us to be tense and, in that, confrontation is a constant theme.

As he ponders the nature of the Absurd, Camus has one question – how do we live within this absurd relationship we have with the world? Once a person becomes aware that this absurd relationship exists, he or she is faced with the quandary – is life worth living? At some point, according to Camus, a person will wake up from day to day life and realize the world provides no answers to the questions he or she has for it. Innocent people continue to suffer. Prayers go unanswered. Except for the present moment, the world guarantees nothing. As people begin to realize this reality, they begin to wonder whether they should live or die. Once they realize they must make a decision about living or dying, people will feel many things – sadness, scorn, and even joy, but most of all, they will feel futility. However, within this quandary, most people will realize that their lives are their own, and they will choose to continue life. When they make this conscious choice, a passion for life will ensue, and the way they experience the world will be richer. For Camus, the most important and enduring emotion from this decision will be joy!

The ultimate point about this realization of the absurd is responsibility, what Camus calls Rebellion. In essence, because people are trapped in this absurd relationship with the world without the desire to escape (die), they must realize that they are called to change the world. In consciously choosing to live life (and, in this realization, living it fully), people have a calling to make life worth living. That’s quite a responsibility, but it makes sense! What is the point of living if you never make a difference? The meaning of life is changing our relationship with the world. So what legacy does your life leave when you are gone? If you choose to live, how will you make it a purposeful life?



Camus, A. (1956). The rebel: An essay on man in revolt. New York: Random House.

Camus, A. (1959). The myth of Sisyphus. New York: Random House.

Camus, A. (1960). Resistance, rebellion, and death. New York: Random House.

Denton, D. E. (1967). The philosophy of Albert Camus: A critical analysis. Boston, MA: Prime Publishers.

Levoy, G. (1997). Callings: Finding and following an authentic life path. New York: Three Rivers Press.


How to Get Over a Break Up

ripped heart

Being in love is something that is intense and elating. There is almost nothing more intense than the feeling of having fallen in love. As can be expected, the loss of that love can be just as intense. It can feel devastating, like you’ve just been dropped off of a 50 story building. It’s crushing. It’s overwhelming. It can really do some major emotional damage, sometimes for a long time, if not handled well. So how does one get over a break up? Well, first and foremost, it is important to remember that you cannot get over a break up. You have to get through it. Here’s how.

What is Love?

Before discussing how to get through the break up, it is important to understand what love really is. Where does it come from, and why is it so painful when it ends?

Love is in everyone. It is the core of our existence. We are all connected through love. It is more of an energy than a feeling. It might be easier to understand this by looking at how we connect through love as energy. Here are some examples:

  1. When we have an intimate conversation with someone else, we feel connected. The act of being able to express where we are coming from and actually being heard and understood builds a connection. This is love.
  2. Creative communications like writing, dancing, listening to music, cooking, and dancing are just a few examples of how we find a connection with the universe. This is love manifested.
  3. Praying, meditating, or participating in a yoga practice are examples of love energy. These exercises connect us to the universe, to God, to others’ energies. This is love.
  4. Connecting with nature is love. We feel connected to the universe, to the world around us when we take a walk, lie down and look at the sky, listen to the rain, and swim in the ocean.
  5. Sexual orgasm is connection. This is a form of love, yes, as disconnected as we might be with sex, orgasm brings physical connection. There are is a lot of literature about forming emotional bonds through sex, and the Dalai Lama has written about connection through orgasm as well.

Plain and simple, when someone falls in love with another person, he or she is actually experiencing the love that is within. The love interest is a mirror, reflecting back the love we already embody. It is in the love of another that we see the love and beauty that is within ourselves. Unfortunately, we do not appreciate that this is what is truly happening so the love interest is credited with giving us love. Not true. However, because we understand love in this way, we can become hyper-focused on that individual. We do not want to lose the feeling we have. We want this heightened feeling to last forever. It can become an obsession. Not good.

This yearning and need to keep this intense form of feeling in love permanent can often become a problem. We begin to fixate on an ideal for the relationship. We want it to stay the same, to always make us feel this good. That is unrealistic, and in time, destructive.

Everything changes. That is the truth! Change in inevitable. With that, as we change, so do our relationships with others. This includes not only romantic relationships but friendships, family bonds, and working relationships alike. As these relationships ebb and flow, some get stronger as some grow distant. In time, distant relationships can become close again, and previously strong relationships can dissipate.

When relationships change for healthy reasons (perhaps we learned all we needed to learn from a certain relationship, perhaps we grew apart in our growth), it can be scary and hurtful, just the same. Instead of moving on from a relationship or from the way a relationship is going (short-term intimacy changing into long-term intimacy), we may want to keep it the same. This is unrealistic and unhealthy. We must accept changes as they come, process our emotions, and re-evaluate long-term relationships time after time. When we refuse to do this, we change the relationship anyway, only into something destructive. Often, break-ups happen because of this act.

Giving True Love

Love for self must happen first before a healthy relationship can be created. Relationships are about ebb and flow, give and take, self-awareness, and patience. It is impossible to accept and participate in those things if we rely on our love interest to “fill us up.” With this attitude, it will never be enough. We will destroy the love that we so desperately want to hold on to because this type of exchange is not sustainable in a long term relationship.

Security and love come from inside of us, not from another. By accepting yourself, you can then begin to truly have a lasting and healthy relationship. It may be a work in progress, and that’s okay! You don’t have to be at your goal of self-acceptance to start a healthy relationship, you just have to be aware of it and continue to work on it. When you slip and fall, you get back up with your partner’s support. The difference in that scenario is that your partner is not the sole source of your happiness, he or she is just what a partner should be, a partner, a support (and you, of course, are the same for your partner).

Break-ups will still be difficult, but they will be tolerable, and you will recover while learning something about yourself and what you need in the world. With that said, how do you manage what you are going through now? Here are 7 tips to get you through.

6 Strategies to Get Through a Break Up

1. Mourn, and Let Go (Death and Dying in Existential Theory – Death as Loss)

No amount of angst will undo what has been done. Although, upsetting, you’ll want to begin to let go. With that said, give yourself some time to mourn it. Don’t feel like you need to let go before you have had time to feel the pain of the loss. Take a few days to yourself and mourn the loss. Then, begin the process of letting go. This means not obsessing about whether your partner will come back or not. Usually, when people break-up, it is for the best. Something was not working, and if neither can figure out what the “something” is and work on it together, it’s a fruitless venture to keep going back.

2. Release Tension and Use it In a Positive Way (Existential Anxiety – Can be Beneficial)

It is important to release any anxiety or tension you might be feeling so fresh after the break up. It’s a tough time, and releasing all that extra negative energy is essential to your positive mental health. Talking with a friend, a family member or a therapist is one of the best ways to release negative vibes. Processing your feelings and bouncing your thoughts off of someone else is extremely therapeutic. Other positive ways to release tension are:

  • Writing feelings and thoughts in a journal. If you don’t know where to even begin, do an internet search on journal writing. There are plenty of “how to’s” online. (Also some tips in strategy #5.)
  • Talk to a close friend – venting is a good way to release pent up energy
  • Exercise – body movement helps get the blood flow going and increased endorphins (those “feel good” chemicals in our brains)
  • Meditate – try a guided meditation to start. There are many available online you can use to get you started.

3. Learn to Love Yourself (Embodiment – the existential concept of understanding healthy emotions)

To achieve true stability in your emotional life, learn to love who you are. This is comes with practice, and it needs to be a conscious and intentional act. Consider it a skill building exercise. Here are a few tips on building love for who you are:

  1. Do something nice for yourself. If there is something you have always wanted to do but you avoided for one reason or another, do it! Treat yourself to a beautiful piece of art you have been eyeing. Take that 3 day cruise you wanted to take. Take a nice long bath with candles and your favorite tunes. Whatever it is, if it is good for you, do it. You deserve it.
  2. Think about qualities that you like about yourself, and tell yourself in the mirror. State, “I love that you are so organized and a good worker.” “I love that you make people laugh with your jokes.” “I love that you are a compassionate person and care about people’s feelings.” It will feel odd at first, but go with it. Remember, this is a skill you are attempting.
  3. Face some fears about being alone. These do not have to be anything major. You might find it intimidating to go out to the movies by yourself. Go anyway, and find the joy being in that experience and conquering something you avoided doing. Practice doing things on your own to challenge your fear of being alone.

4. Understand that Time Will Help (Again, Death and Dying and the Stages of Grief)

As time passes, things can come into perspective. Wounds can begin to heal. You can begin to move on. Remember that this intense pain is only temporary, and know that this too shall pass. Keeping this in mind helps with perspective and may keep you from acting irrationally and on impulse.

5. Journal about It (Embodiment and Personal Responsibility)

Try to write freely and see what come out. With pen and pad in hand, avoid the computer and let your penmanship do the work. If you need some guidance, here are some suggestions:

  1. Think about the lessons you might have learned from being in the relationship.
  2. Write about how your life is better because of this experience and the history you lived with this person.
  3. Think about your future and how it will be different.
  4. Ask yourself what the purpose of your present feeling is.
  5. Journal about your hopes, your fears, and your goals.

6. Do not Discount the Self-Help Section

Grab some books to help you get through this tough time. Reading about your experience and that there is light at the end of the tunnel is extremely helpful in these first moments of angst. You will, inevitably, learn something about yourself in the process, and it may be just enough to help you pass the time to a better tomorrow.

Here are some recommendations:

In conclusion, remember that the end of a relationship is not a negative thing. With all relationships, current or ending, we learn something about ourselves. This could be insights about what we do well or information about what we can do better. If we let ourselves, we can use the wisdom from past relationships to build even better future bonds. Be thankful for past relationships as wisdom-builders, and remember that if you allow, you become stronger and wiser each time your heart feels broken. Do not think of the end as a failure. It is not. It is an opportunity to grow. Nothing is lost, and remember, you will never find the right person if you do not let go of the wrong one.



Bruce, M. (2011). Break up ethics. Retrieved from

Chearnaigh, A. N. (2014). The Existential Side Of Grieving. Retrieved from

Hoffman, L. (2009). Emotion, Experience, and Embodiment . Retrieved from

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Piver, S. (2011). Buddhism & Heartbreak: 3 Suggestions for Mending Your Broken Heart. Retrieved from

Saybrook University (2014). You cannot cure a broken heart with a paper-and-pencil test. Retrieved from

Sun, S. (2008). Love & Relationships: What the Buddhists Teach. Retrieved from


Is Therapy Working? 5 Ways to Tell

A therapist is not a friend, and this is good. Therapists are paid to help you make changes that improve your life. The challenge is often that positive change is slow to come, and it may seem that nothing is happening. It is easy to overlook the positive progress you may already be having.  Evaluating how therapy is working for you is important. Here’s how to tell that your therapy is working well:

ImageTracking Progression

Good therapists continually help you track your progress. This tracking can look differently depending on your therapists’ style. If you are working on anxiety issues, your therapist may ask you to track your mood in certain situations that you noted as being anxiety-provoking. Another way a therapist helps you track your progress is through verbal process. He or she may ask you what you’ve learned so far and what changes you have made since starting therapy. Tracking milestones through processing is a common practice of good therapists. If your therapist helps you look at how you are progressing, it is a good indication that you are working with a good clinician. Through your processing, if you can see improvements in your behavior, mood, or life, continue to work further in therapy. This may be the best way to see constructive and lasting changes.

You Start Accepting Yourself

Therapy is a means to help you deal with the challenges around you and to achieve a balance in your life. No matter how much therapy you might participate in, you will not be able to change people. You can only change yourself. With that said, changing how you respond to others in your life or to stressors you encounter will help you live a more balanced life. That is what you want. If you start to discover that you are feeling better about who you are, among all the stressors you encounter and the imperfections you might still be working through, it is a good sign that therapy is working well in your life. This takes some time so first and foremost, be patient, be determined, and track your progress with your therapist.

Autonomy is the Goal

Relying on your therapist is not a bad thing! Of course, you do not want to be dependent for months or years on end! At first, your therapist serves as a surrogate for what you might need or lack. You might find primary comfort in therapy and depend on your sessions to get you through difficult times. After some time in therapy, your therapist should become less and less of a crutch. Good therapy creates autonomy, not dependence. Good therapists are always trying to put themselves out of business. Over time, you should feel better for many reasons, and only feeling good during therapy or feeling like you cannot function without advice from your therapist may be a sign that the therapy is doing more harm than good.

You Have the Power

Although there is a hierarchical dynamic in therapy, your therapist should always be working against it. Your therapist should be an expert in the field, but you should hold the reigns to your decisions. You should feel that you have control in the therapy process. If you have a question, you should feel comfortable asking your therapist. If you disagree, it should not be a problem for you to say so to your therapist. In this way, your therapist can help you make more meaningful choices to better your life because those choices will be based on your thoughts and feelings. If you feel disempowered in the therapy process at every turn, you might need to look for another therapist.

Others Notice Your Changes

If you continue to make positive changes in your life, chances are that the people closest to you will notice. A friend might like that you are more sensitive to her needs while a daughter may be angry that you are tightening the reigns of discipline. While others might have positive and negative reactions to the changes in you, the fact that they notice is a good sign that your therapy is working. 


If you are curious about online therapy or want to build a relationship with a new therapist, contact us at Your first session is always free. We want you to be fully informed about the process, answer any questions you might have, and decide if this is the right step for you, without any financial obligation. Call us today!   



Elejalde-Ruiz, A. (2011, March 23). Is it time to leave your therapist? Retrieved from

Andrews, G., Cuijpers, P., Craske, M.G., McEvory, P., & Titov, N. (2010). Computer Therapy for the Anxiety and Depressive Disorders Is Effective, Acceptable and Practical Health Care: A Meta-Analysis. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.001319

Titov, N., Andrews, G., Kemp, A., Robinson, E (2010). Characteristics of Adults with Anxiety or Depression Treated at an Internet Clinic: Comparison with a National Survey and an Outpatient Clinic . DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010885

Marks I, Cavanagh K, Gega L (2007) Hands-on help: Computer-aided psychotherapy. New York: Psychology Press Taylor and Francis.

Titov N, Andrews G, Robinson E, Schwencke G, Johnston L, et al. (2009) Clinician-assisted Internet-based treatment is effective for generalized anxiety disorder: Randomized controlled trial. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 43: 905–912.

Heitler, S. (2013). I know I need therapy help, but is my therapy working? Retrieved from

Living and Dying

ImageIn Ethics, Spinoza said that, “a free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is not a meditation upon death but upon life.” He felt that people should not meditate on death if they are truly free because it is inconsequential. God prevents the loss of anything possessing a real existence. Death has no reality and so people should focus on eternal things. Yes, makes sense! By focusing on the eternal, a still confidence embraces us. We are at rest. We are self-assured. We are at one with the eternal. Yes, this kind of diversion of death makes sense as it pushes away the fear of death. The fear of death mirrors the fear of life. People who are scared to live fully are also fearful of death. For existentialists, however, fearing death is not the emphasis. It is important to focus on death rather than fear it. Death brings us into the present moment and the focus on death helps us appreciate fleeting moments. Death is not a negative concept at all. Quite the contrary. The awareness of death gives significance to living.

When my daughter was born, people said, “Enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast!” As a first time mother, I remembered this advice intensely. Death. My newborn will soon die and become a baby, and then my baby will die and become a toddler, and so on. When I took my daughter home from the hospital, she cried most of the day and much of the night. If she was not sleeping or eating, she was crying hysterically. I was tired, achy, cranky, hungry, and lonely. In this time of my life, it was easy to think about the future when this awful phase would be over. It was easy to just press through it, to survive it in hopes of future better cheerier baby times. I didn’t. I remembered the death of this time and that I would never again have these moments with her again. This time when she was only 6 pounds. This time when she had that beautiful newborn face. This time when she was completely defenseless. This time when nothing fit her because she was so tiny. These precious moments would be gone soon enough. Death would come. So I cherished every moment. When she slept, I stared at her tiny little face and marveled at this beautiful little girl I created. When she nursed, I enjoyed the closeness of her on my body. I smelled the top of her tiny head and enjoyed the scent of her. Every minute, I soaked it in. When she cried, I was thankful that I had a healthy baby with strong lungs. Then, 4 months later, it was all gone. I had a new baby. I had a baby that gained some independence as she spent time in her crib amusing herself. A baby that cooed and smiled at me when I changed her. A baby that was interested in the world around her. My newborn was gone and a new stage began.

“It was too bad you didn’t really get to enjoy her when she was so little,” someone told me after I informed them about my colicky newborn experience. Ah, but I did. I can honestly say that enjoyed every precious moment with my beautiful newborn daughter. I enjoyed those beloved moments of stillness and awe because I knew they would be gone. I knew death would come, and so I lived fully at each moment, treasuring this amazing brand new little lady I created. I took nothing for granted.

As I move on with my life as a mother through each stage with my daughter, I remember death. It is my reminder to live fully in each moment. As my daughter grows from baby to toddler, I cherish each day. I cherish her laughs. I treasure the way she looks at me as if there is no one else on this planet she would rather be with. I treasure her amazement and curiosity of the world around her. I treasure it all. Among the teething, the cries, the lack of personal time, the longing for my husband, the lack of sleep, and the amount of time it takes me to get even the simplest tasks done…among all of that, I cherish these times. Because this is the current experience. This is what will soon be gone and I will never be able to get back. This is it.  I focus on death to fully live.


ImageExistentialists concentrate on the topic of human existence, and some of the primary existentialists are Jean-Paul Sartre, Viktor Frankl, and, of course, Søren Kierkegaard. Just as in phenomenology, existential thinkers have differing philosophies, and these variations are largely attributed to opposing personal world-views. Sartre stated that existentialism could be easily defined but problems would inevitably arise because of atheistic and Christian interpretations. This makes sense, and has definitely been the case in existential thought. However, despite these vast disagreements about faith, the fundamental ideas of existentialism remain constant.  In ALL existential inquiry, both atheistic and Christian thinkers believe “that existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer, that subjectivity must be the starting point” (Sartre, 1965/1993, p. 34).

Existentialism is broken down into specific themes:


existential anxiety

death and non-being


personal responsibility

aloneness and relatedness



As mentioned, variations of thought exist among all of these existential themes, but there are still universal agreements. For example, the existential theme of meaning-making varies from one philosopher to another – What is meaning? Is there meaning? How does one make meaning? One philosopher would say that meaning truly exists in life and can best be attained through human suffering (Frankl) while another would say that life is meaningless so we create our own meaning (Sartre). Despite these varying degrees of interpretation, both existentialists would agree with their fellow philosophers that all human beings search for meaning and personal identity in life.

Let me elaborate more on the theme of meaning and how philosophies differ in terms of faith and personal world-views. Let’s start with Jean-Paul Sartre, an atheist…

Sartre believed that human beings try to find meaning in a world that is void of meaning by creating various religions to support the belief of life beyond material existence.  In essence, according to Sartre, human beings create an artificial construct through self-serving illusions, and this created construct is not truly meaningful, since there is no “meaning” in any absolute sense. Sartre believed that it was meaning-less that we live and it is meaning-less that we die because all of life is meaningless. Therefore, people must make meaning by what they choose to do in life, through their intentions and interactions.

Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and man of faith differed substantially from Sartre. He believed that human beings could find meaning through suffering and through life experiences.  By having a will to live through adversity, human beings found meaning in their lives.  Frankl stated that meaning was ever-present in the world and that the quest in life was to find meaning.  This journey required human beings to step outside of themselves – meaning-making, for Frankl, was not introspective; it was transcending.

Søren Kierkegaard was also a man of faith, a devout Christian. He also believed that individuals had to suffer despair throughout their inadequate humanity. However, he emphasized the necessity to move beyond this notion of a deficient human existence in order to find meaning in the world and with God.  Kierkegaard encouraged doubt. He believed that doubt was the rational part of a human being, and, in order for individuals to have faith, they also needed to have doubt because, without doubt, faith has no value.

While Frankl, Sartre, and Kierkegaard emerged from vastly different personal belief systems, all three philosophers represented this theme of meaning-making through their world views and personal beliefs systems. Yet all believed that every human being searches for meaning and personal identity in life. I hope that these descriptions also help illustrate how appropriate it is for counselors to first construct their personal understandings of human development before they can adequately use existential theory in the counseling relationship.

*Sartre, J. P. (1993).  Essays in existentialism.  New York: Carol Publishing Group.


ImagePhenomenology is literally defined as the study of phenomena. Phenomenology is the study of things that appear in experience in a way that they appear as they truly are. In essence, phenomenology is directed at examining things in terms of their meanings. The primary phenomenological concepts are:

(a) intentionality or the “about-ness” of a thing

(b) intuition or knowledge not based on perception

(c) memory or introspection

(d) answering the meaning of “being” (Audi, 1995).         


Let’s backtrack a little and define what a phenomenon actually is. What is phenomenology studying exactly? What IS a phenomenon?

                Heidegger stated that a phenomenon is “that which shows itself from itself” (1927/1962, p. 51).  Phenomena are experienced and are independent of any theories and assumptions. For example, a person experiences a flower as the phenomenon of a flower rather than something that is composed of atoms and particles.  Even though physicists state that flowers are composed of atoms and particles and psychologists try to understand people in terms of their minds, neither atoms, particles, nor minds appear when a person walks through the park and sees a garden of flowers, right? Of course not. The experience of the flower is the phenomenon (Wrathall, 1993). 

                Now it gets more varied…

                Despite the core definitions of a phenomenon and of phenomenology, phenomenological scholars differ in the HOW. How does one make meaning of a phenomenon? Philosophers differ quite substantially on this topic. This does not mean that one scholar is correct while another is incorrect, however. There are multiple ways of finding meaning! You might say that one theory is not better than another but rather, it is the interpretation and usefulness of a theory that will speak to one thinker over another. An example of differing thoughts about a similar concept can be clarified through the philosophies of three primary phenomenological scholars: Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty.

1)      Husserl (1960), the Father of Phenomenology, focused on epistemological differences – what is the nature of knowledge?

2)      Heidegger, Husserl’s pupil, concentrated on ontological differences – what is the nature of being?

3)      Merleau-Ponty, whose philosophy, like Heidegger’s, was also ontological, diverged when he united Husserl’s and Heidegger’s theories and generated a philosophy of the lived body. He contended that all consciousness was created from a pre-reflective bodily existence. In essence, he believed that everything individuals knew of the world (even when that knowledge was based in science) was understood through their personal views and lived experiences (which are fundamentally founded in the body).

                 Again, all branched out to differing thoughts of the HOW of meaning, and all theories shaped the way these thinkers thought about the world and the people around them. Counselors and therapists do this as well. Look at Cognitive Behavioral Therapy when compared to Gestalt Therapy. They inherently differ, but neither is right or wrong. Rather, each theory is shaped by the individual who buys into that theory and helps create a format for helping others.  It is the map one clinician follows versus another – the destination is usually the same!

So…just like phenomenological thought differs among philosophers, so does existential thought.

Stay tuned!


Audi, R. (Ed.). (1995). The Cambridge dictionary of philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1962).  Being and time.  New York: Harper & Row.

Wrathall, M. (1993). How to read Heidegger.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company.


ImageExistential-Phenomenological Theory has been an important model in the field of counseling and therapy for quite some time, and it continues to increase in popularity with new counselors entering the field. The practice of Existential-Phenomenology is a blending of centuries-old wisdom applied to modern day problems. It is foundational to influential therapies used today – like Person-Centered and Gestalt therapies. The goal of an Existential-Phenomenological counselor is to help clients make-meaning of their lives, and so it is reasonable to assume that counselors using this theory must also do the same work. Existential-Phenomenological counselors MUST make their own meanings of this theory and how it applies to their own lives and to their practices so it is essential for counselors who are interested in using this model to learn the philosophical groundwork. Without a philosophical grounding, counselors are simply using techniques – and this is not a technique-heavy model in the least! The importance of this model is the philosophies that substantiate its practice.

Some significant contributors in the development of existentialism and phenomenology include but are not limited to: Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Viktor Frankl,  and, of course, Søren Kierkegaard. These philosophers explained principles from the earlier writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas to name a few. When learning about the philosophical underpinnings of Existential-Phenomenology, it is important to note that counselors  must first study existentialism apart from phenomenology  and gain an understanding of the backgrounds of contributing philosophers in each of these disciplines. Sounds like quite a feat, and it can seem daunting. However, in upcoming posts, I will break down phenomenology and existentialism in terms of what they mean and how to understand their principles. Stay tuned!


ImageDeath is an inevitable part of being human. It is something we cannot escape yet this is precisely what we try to do on a consistent basis. According to many existential thinkers, the inevitability of death makes life meaningless. In order to find meaning in the “average everydayness” of life, people feel compelled to suppress the knowledge of their mortality. Anxiety is the reason for this – and also the symptom of truyl facing death. Anxiety is the state at which we realize the possibility of not being around anymore – of non-being. Anxiety IS the awareness of death. This is an unpleasant, uncomfortable, and difficult feeling in which to exist…so we actively flee it.

We protect our denial of death with religious views, philosophical opinions or meaningless conversations.  Any talk about death is objectified rather than personal, and in this way, we can delude ourselves into believing we are facing death while continuing to run away from it. And why not? Why should anyone be uncomfortable? For what purpose? Ah, well, here is why the realization and acknowledgement of the inevitability of death should be embraced:

Death-anxiety serves as motivation to live more fully.

Remember the book/movie, Fight Club? Edward Norton played the main character in the film, and his character was only able to feel truly alive when he attended support groups for individuals who were dying of chronic illnesses.  He said about attending the meetings, “Losing all hope was freedom. Every morning I died, and every morning I was born again, resurrected.”  When he listened to the stories of the group members who talked about their personal impending deaths and how they expressed their anxieties, he realized his death on a personal level. Through the realization of his own death, he felt the meaning of his life.  Of course, for him, it was only temporary because he returned to his everyday life filled with pointless chatter and ongoing small-talk relationships. His feelings of living fully disappeared because he went back to ignoring that he would, one day, cease to exist.  He only felt the true value and meaning of his life when he entered the meeting rooms again because this was the only time he really faced his death in a personal way.

The denial of death enables individuals to ignore what is important to them and to take life for granted, denying the responsibility of living more meaningful and truly authentic lives. The inevitability of death also reveals how, ultimately, every person is alone in the world because dying is an individual process.  In facing this essential aloneness, a person can accept his or her self-responsibility because it is up to the individual to choose how he or she will live this life.


ImageMeaning-making is a powerful theme in existentialism and yet its definition varies from one philosopher to another. What all existentialists agree upon, however, is that all human beings search for meaning and personal identity in their lives.  Jean-Paul Sartre (1965/1993) described existentialism as a movement “to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him” (p. 36). He meant that all human beings try to find meaning in a world that is meaningless. They do this by creating various religions to support their beliefs about a potential life that exists beyond material existence.  Sartre, obviously, was an atheist. He believed that human beings create artificial concepts through self-serving illusions and that these created constructs are not truly meaningful because absolute “meaning” does not exist at all. For Sartre, life and death were both considered meaningless – it is meaning-less that we live and it is meaning-less that we die, and because of this daunting fact, people must make their own meaning by what they choose to do in life. This happens through the intentions and interactions they have in the world.

                Victor Frankl did not agree with Sartre’s interpretation about meaning-making at all. He believed that true meaning existed in life and that human beings could find meaning through suffering and through life experiences.  By having a will to live through adversity, human beings find meaning.  He truly believed that meaning was ever-present in the world and that the primary mission in life was to find meaning.  In finding meaning, a person needed to step outside of him or herself – what that meant for Frankl was that meaning-making was not introspective at all but transcending. 

                Like Frankl, Søren Kierkegaard also believed in suffering as a means to make meaning. He proposed that individuals had to suffer despair throughout their lives, but he emphasized the necessity to move beyond the idea of human existence, which he believed was deficient. Kierkegaard believed in faith, but he stressed that doubt was the rational part of a human being. For Kierkegaard, individuals needed to doubt to have faith because, without doubt, faith had no value. Faith in God would be meaningless without first having doubt about the existence of God. For him, we needed to doubt to have faith and faith to make meaning.

                While Frankl, Sartre, and Kierkegaard emerged from immensely different personal belief systems, all three of these philosophers represented existentialism through their world views and their personal beliefs. This just demonstrates  how appropriate and crucial it is for counselors to first construct a personal understanding of meaning and human development before using existential concepts in the counseling relationship.

*Sartre, J. P. (1993).  Essays in existentialism.  New York: Carol Publishing Group.