A process-oriented, existential-humanistic philosophy and therapeutic approach to being with fellow human beings lies at the heart of AgeSong eldercare. This is the reason that AgeSong is proud to sponsor the annual Existential-Humanistic conference within its Hayes Valley eldercare communities.
This year, 2013, marks the 7th annual EHI conference with a rich potpourri of presentations and experiential discoveries.
Through a quick perusal of the topics and abstracts, any initiate and non-initiate will quickly glean the core precepts of the existential-humanistic approach: an emphasis on experiential learning, being present, therapists’ personal understanding of themselves, the importance of meaning and meaning-making, the body, community, the centrality of the relationship between therapist and client, and the focus on helping clients’ unfolding of their personal processes.
Besides these core precepts, a hallmark of the existential-humanistic approach is its openness to other approaches, such as the many expressive arts, the research in mindfulness and neuroscience, and the discoveries from other theoretical orientations including those of psychoanalysis, somatics and cognitive-behaviorism.
Research shows again and again the central significance of therapists’ personal understanding of themselves and, connected to that understanding, their ability to relate to their clients’ world. Yet, it continues to amaze those of us of the existential persuasion that the academic and practical training of student and seasoned therapists have yet to catch-up to embracing an existential-humanistic attitude in their therapeutic work. Granted, we existential-humanists are not an easy group of people to classify and categorize. Nor are our manifold theories easily grasped, let alone comprehended.
The question of what makes an existential therapist does not have a ready answer. Rather, referencing Rilke, it is the continued questioning of who we really are as people and practitioners that make us existential therapists “existentialistic” in nature and attitude. We might even go as far as stating that the therapist who claims to be an existential therapist is not an existential therapist. For the point is this: human beings are simply too mysterious and complex, too unfathomable and peculiar, as that word, any word or plurality of words, can begin to apprehend who we are. The moment we try to describe ourselves, we understand the limits of our description.
Comfortable with paradox, mystery, the uncanny, existentialists try to stay aware of the illusion of knowledge.
For eons humans have struggled to become conscious of themselves, and have endeavored to reach an awareness of the meaning of their existence. Even those who claim that life is meaningless express their meaning through the idea that life has no meaning. We cannot escape our drive for meaning, acknowledged or not as may be the case.
This conference seeks nothing but the continuation of meaning-making and the sharing of our personal journeys along this path, to have us connect with and relate to one another, enjoy each other’s company, and to share our joys and pains, struggles and achievements together.
The 7th annual conference of the Existential-Humanistic Institute promises no universal techniques, only experiences of what worked for us under specific circumstances. It offers no anxiety reduction around what to do and how to be, only an honest sharing of our vulnerability as we continue to live with our struggles every day.
Finally, our conference offers no simple answers, but promises to leave each of us with even more questions – this, alas, we can be sure of!
Nader R. Shabahangi