What is it?
Referring to the ancient Greeks is not one of my habits, but the British author and lecturer Martin Adams describes what existential counselling is so beautifully that it just has be quoted:
”In Greek , the word philosophy means ’love of wisdom’ and existential counselling is a contemporary form of applied philosophy that seeks to assist people in acquiring the wisdom to understand and live their lives with a greater sense of meaning and purpose.”
That is the ambition of existential coaching, as well.
Introducing something new, like this form of coaching in Finland, requires a lot of explaining. How does it differ from therapy, life coaching, or business coaching?
I find a model by the Swedish existential coaches Ann Lagerström and Elisabeth Serrander useful when answering these questions. They define four dimensions of living.
1. My present life situation. This is av very concrete level based on facts like I’m unemployed, or I have a problem at work, or a conflict in an important relationship.
2. My lifeworld. My personal interpretation of the world and myself is self-evident, sometimes easy to change, often sedimented and impossible to change. It can be surprisingly difficult to see one’s own assumptions clearly.
3. The given. We are all thrown into this world individually, into conditions we can not choose. My personal history creates a unique blueprint for living right now.
4. The existential foundation. All human creatures have some conditions in common. We are born into bodies, that will die one day. We have freedom to make choices. There is no certainty about how our lives will turn out. And many, many more.
As I see it, life and business coaching usually put focus on a problem or situation that can be solved within the two first levels. The problem is defined, a desired outcome is agreed on, the best strategy is chosen – then measures are taken to reach the goal. Standardised models of coaching are very common.
Different forms of psychotherapies usually lead the client deep into the third level, exploring the givens of the personal life, how they may affect the lifeworld and the life situation. It’s a medical treatment, based on a diagnosis.
In existential coaching the client can come with problems in any of these dimensions. With inspiration from existential philosophers and psychologists we move between the dimensions in the way that serves the client the best. Some want to solve practical problems quickly – I then might contribute with perspectives that are new to the client. Some want to dwell on basic existential questions during the sessions – then we talk about how thinkers have tried to get to grips with meaning and futility, with loneliness and solidarity, for example.
”Introducing something new, like this form of coaching in Finland, requires a lot of explaining.”
It is not a medical treatment. It is not standardized problem solving.
To me, it is two equals sitting in a peaceful surrounding, exploring the themes that the client chooses, looking in directions that one person alone can’t do.
Sharing paradoxes and insights.
And to all of you who struggle with the world ’existentialism’: Yes, it’s difficult, both to say and to understand. No, it can’t be left out since it’s the basis for the dialogue. Yes, it’s for you. Or as Gary Cox, author and PhD in Philosophy, puts it – and sorry, back to the Greeks:
”If you are at all interested in becoming an existentialist then it is in fact the oldest and most important question in philosophy, ’How should I live?’, that you are really interested in.”
Welcome to search for your answers.