Many individuals experience anxiety today. With the help of therapeutic counselors, clients learn how to cope with their anxiety-related issues, in turn allowing them to live a healthy and manageable life. Many counselors choose to use the existential method in counseling clients with anxiety. The existential approach to counseling is an approach to helping clients of all cultures find meaning and harmony in their lives. Counselor's who use this approach focus on the eternal issues of love, loneliness, suffering and death that each of us face daily. It seeks to cultivate our philosophical mindedness in relating to ourselves, others, nature, and our faith. Existential counseling has no planned endpoint but is the beginning of a search for hope, love, and meaning in life. It is applicable to all problems in living, but it is especially appropriate when one's client feels lost in the movement of a life without meaning or freed to choose a meaning in life (Epp, 1998). By utilizing this method, the client is guided by the counselor in a manner specific to the existential method. In this paper, anxiety in the context of an existential approach to counseling, along with different cases related to anxiety will be discussed and the manner in which the existential approach will be utilized in those cases.
"Anxiety is the subjective state of the individual's becoming aware that his existence can become destroyed, that he can lose himself and his world and that he can become nothing" (Yoder, 1981). Persons or clients experience anxiety when confronted with the issue of fulfilling their potentialities. Guilt tends to be developed when these potentialities remain undeveloped and unfulfilled. Inherent anxiousness found in the human predicament is emphasized by Jaspers when he asserts that persons who seek to achieve unity find a problem: "Man is less certain of himself than ever" (Yoder, 1981). Anxiety has two dimensions: ontological and neurotic. Ontological anxiety refers to one's experience of a certain "lostness" or "not at homeness" (Yoder, 1981). Ontological anxiety is healthy for it discloses philosophical truths while neurotic anxiety hides and distorts, often leading to bad faith. "Neurotic anxiety is the end-product of unfaced normal ontological anxiety" (Yoder, 1981).
First of all, the first case to be discussed is that of a 32-year-old Vietnamese client, Mei Yan, leaned forward in a chair, with her face and posture reflecting pain and anxiety, her arms and hands gesturing for understanding. Mei Yan had chosen a job as a computer operator because it was close to the university where she could continue part-time graduate studies in educational administration. She received good pay and excellent fringe benefits, but was the only person at her job with a college degree. Mei Yan experienced anxiety, fear, and other dissonances in relating to her female manager or boss. She chose to present herself as relatively uneducated and played a subservient role because she was afraid her boss would fire her if it was discovered that Mei Yan was better educated than she really was. Understanding the messages of pain and anxiety is an integral part of counseling in the existential mode.
Existentially oriented counselors attune themselves to the basic myths and themes interwoven in the client's episodes and experiences of anxiety. Mei Yan experienced violations of two kinds, the experienced threat from her manager and her own self negation or violation in presenting herself as less than she really is. Anxiety is a constituent of life. It propels the client not only to make changes in relation to the external world, but also to make inner or attitudinal changes. Mei Yan did not choose to continue her counseling sessions. She may have grasped the fact that she was indeed not so much the helpless victim she sometimes felt herself to be. There seemed to be a part of her ready for affirmation and emergence, the part of her ready to integrate the pain in her life and to go beyond it to new meanings, commitments and possibilities (Yoder, 1981).
Secondly, let us look at another case. Let's discuss the case of Jay, a 15-year-old student in a suburban high school of approximately 900 students. A counseling session with Jay revealed that he is angry and frustrated with school. His mother is often busy with work related activities and his father is "closet alcoholic." Jay has expressed that he often feels like the man of the house. Jay has expressed a great deal of anger toward his family, teachers, and peers (Carlson, 2003). Anger and existential anxiety are closely related. Healthy and appropriate expression of them, especially anger, is necessary in order to reduce violence in schools and in society. Anger has the ability, at the extreme to push an individual into violently destructive behavior. The social values that help regulate appropriate social behavior can also create stress and anxiety. Jay has demonstrated his ability to control his anger; however, he has also expressed fear that he is approaching a point where he will no longer be able to repress it. This fear of explosive anger is creating anxiety for Jay. An existentialist counselor could work with Jay to help him choose healthy and appropriate outlets for his anger and anxiety that will allow him to be true to his authentic self.
Lastly, we have the case of clients that were adopted that tend to have anxiety about death. An existential view of adoption allows the counselor to view the adoptee's struggle as a variation on the nearly universal human concerns of death, isolation, meaninglessness, being, anxiety, and freedom. One of the core themes of the existential perspective is the anxiety that surrounds death. It is the uncertainty of death, both the lack of control of its occurrence and the lack of empirical data about its aftermath that prompts the anxiety.
Death brings about loss, not only of life but also of relationships and the sense of the future. Coming to terms with one's own mortality, as well as facing the ambiguity that death represents, is an important aspect of personal growth and development. For the adoptee who searches, facing the uncertainty of death can help bring about a sense of the importance of a meaningful life, just as it does with many AIDS afflicted persons. This leads to an ability to face anxiety and understand it as a universal issue rather than an adoption related burden. Acceptance of death results in the realization that generations of human beings have come before and that future generations will continue to arise. Anxieties about death and loss are intrinsic themes in the life of an adoptee. For the adoptee who has been placed for adoption at birth, loss becomes a profound reality. Each milestone that occurs in the individual's life is many times shadowed by the knowledge that he or she has lost contact with his or her biological parents or heritage. His or her life is perceived as lost in mystery and birth parents are often thought of in the context of whether they are still alive. Anxiety of death comes and goes in the life of an adoptee. It is through existential counseling that an adoptee can get help in dealing with their anxiety of death (Krueger, 1997).
In conclusion, many individuals experience anxiety in this day in age. With the help of therapeutic counselors, clients learn how to cope with issues related to anxiety, in turn allowing them to manage their anxiety. Many counselors choose to use the existential method in counseling their clients who have anxiety related issues. Existential psychotherapy is about helping people to understand themselves and make sense of their lives. It is about helping clients to understand what is happening to them at this point in their…