This is the first in a collection that aims to briefly capture my perspectives on different elements of my approach to psychotherapy, generally keeping to under one typed page each. I have attempted to be as clear as possible in hopes that everyone can understand these topics well enough to give them a sense of how I think about and experience my work.
For me, meaning is a difficult idea to define in words despite being one of the clearest personal experiences I have. I often speak about meaning in terms of what matters, such as “It matters to me that my partner has a warm meal to eat after work” or “I play bass because creating music matters to me.” In large part when I make a decision it is accompanied by a sense that it is the meaningful choice, a conclusion I draw from a complex set of emotional, intellectual, intuitive, social, and ethical (among other) stances that emerge as a sense of “I am being meaningful and I am acting meaningfully in this moment.” Having that sense feels both fulfilling and purposeful, as well as improves my confidence about how I go about navigating the choices and challenges of life.
When I act in a way that is not meaningful I feel uncomfortable and/or unfulfilled about it. When an experience does not hold meaning for me, it does not feel like it matters. It is hard for me to engage with a meaning-less experience, perhaps beyond wanting to seek out opportunities for it to become more meaning-ful. Similarly, when I experience an aspect of my identity as not holding meaning (often in relation to others’ judgments or categorization of me) I have difficulty engaging with it at more than a surface level. Rather than accept it as-is, I may reject the aspect outright (“I am not a trumpet player”) or respond more curiously (“Maybe I do need to study a bit more like Tanya recommended”).
While being a therapist, meaning is one of the main lenses I use in making sense of who each client is and how they exist in the world. In sessions I often wonder, regardless of what is being discussed, “What meaning does this hold in this person’s living? How does this matter to them?” Instead of assuming answers I tend to ask my clients directly, which is helpful in two ways: it allows me to more accurately know how they uniquely define meaning and it also invites clients to put into words what living meaningfully is for them, sometimes for the very first time. What often results is a collaborative pursuit to clarify how the client can pursue what they authentically find meaningful, as well as chances to consider no longer putting resources toward the parts of their existence that does not.
The way I understand it, an existential approach to therapy assumes that a part of being a human is establishing meaning as we journey through our lives. Our lifelong project is to provide an answer to the question, “How is life worth living?” This becomes particularly important when we are challenged by the various forms of suffering we experience. Sometimes this becomes difficult to do on our own and seeking the assistance of a trusted fellow human can be helpful. I do my best to be that kind of person for those who work with me, someone who is (1) open to and aware of the importance of meaning in health and wellbeing, (2) willing to provide adequate space and time to do so given the individuality and complexity involved in establishing meaningful lives, and (3) enthusiastic about the possibilities to find, create, and/or emphasize meaning in even the most hopeless and difficult circumstances.
In so many words, that is how I define and experience meaning. There is much more that I can say about it, but I hope this can be an adequate foundation for those who are curious.