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Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that
human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart:
The salvation of man is through love and in love. In a
position of utter desolation, when man cannot express
himself in positive action,... man can, through loving contemplation
of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve
fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to
understand the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual
contemplation of an infinite glory."
--Viktor Frankl (1984, p. 49)
This article attempts to explicate a theoretical position by elaborating on the complementarity between existential psychology and the multimodal model of psychotherapy. As a philosophical viewpoint, an existential perspective can contribute a valuable context and soulfulness that may be seen as lacking in the multimodal approach. At the same time, multimodal counseling (Lazarus, 1995) provides a comprehensive set of tools, such as imagery and metaphor, which can be used to make more accessible the abstract concepts of existential psychology. Existentialism aims to provide a rich "account of the world as it is lived" (Woolfolk & Sass, 1988, p. 116). The multimodal approach provides unique assessment procedures and techniques, offering multiple avenues of access to the client's core experience of being alive.
Within a multidimensional framework, such as the existential-integrative approach described by Schneider and May (1995), "Physiological and cognitive-behavioral models... can be understood as emancipatory transitions (or footholds) on the path to a broader liberation" (p. 124). This article attempts to illuminate several key components of both existentialism and multimodal therapy, and suggests an integration of the two through which the courage found in one area of a person's life may be used to facilitate a more rich experience of life in all aspects of being. In the following section, the basic concepts of existential therapy and multimodal therapy are reviewed.
Existentialism takes an essentially phenomenological perspective on human existence (May, Angel, & Ellenberger, 1958). Each person's reality is based on his or her perceptions. Furthermore, the extent to which people are experiencing is the extent to which they are being fully alive. When people fail to experience, by denying awareness or avoiding opportunities, they waste their potential. Those who bypass experiencing carry the existential guilt of their unfulfilled potential.
Human beings are capable of experiencing in three overlapping domains: Umwelt--the outer world of physical realities (including objects, biology, and nature); Eigenwelt--the inner world of self-concept, values, and identity; and Mitwelt--the interpersonal world of relationships and social interaction (Binswanger, 1963). Actualizing one's potential to experience within these three domains results in a person living fully and authentically. Failure to experience within any of these domains results in unfulfilled potential, diminished existence, and the burden of existential guilt.
Through the eyes of the existentialist, we are all essentially alone in the world and are faced with the anxiety of isolation. Regardless of how close one may feel to another, "there remains a final, unbridgeable gap; each of us enters existence alone and must depart from it alone" (Yalom, 1980, p. 9). But even in our aloneness, we all share the journey of life together, as we struggle to find significance and fulfillment. Such a view is invaluable in helping to understand clients' struggles and the importance of the therapeutic encounter Existential counseling is characterized by its understanding that the task of life is to create an existence characterized by integrity and meaning. The therapeutic process involves challenging individuals to find meaning and purpose through work, love, and the attitude one takes toward suffering (Frankl, 1965). As is life, counseling is a creative, evolving, discovery of oneself that emerges from the trusting bond and meaningful collaboration between individuals. It is in the I-thou encounter, in which the deepest self of the therapist meets the deepest self of the client, and in which "there is no sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed" (Friedman, 1991, p. x).
The significance of our existence is not a fixed characteristic of life. Instead, life is experienced as a constant state of becoming, as we recreate ourselves through discovery and awareness. To expand our awareness, we need to recognize that we are finite; that we have the potential to take action or not to act; and that by choosing our actions, we create our own destiny. Through our capacity for self-awareness, we can choose to either …