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Existential Therapy Probing the nature of being human as illustrated by Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Presentation on theme: "Existential Therapy Probing the nature of being human as illustrated by Buffy the Vampire Slayer."— Presentation transcript:

1 Existential Therapy Probing the nature of being human as illustrated by Buffy the Vampire Slayer

2 Rollo May Born April 21, 1909, in Ada, Ohio. (died in 1994) Childhood was not particularly pleasant His parents didnt get along and eventually divorced His sister had a psychotic breakdown Went to Michigan State (asked to leave because of involvement with a radical student magazine). Received B.A. from Oberlin College in Ohio. After graduation, went to Greece Taught English at Anatolia College for three years Worked as an itinerant artist Studied briefly with Alfred Adler Returned to U.S. and entered Seminary (received B.D. in 1938) Suffered from tuberculosis (spent three years in a sanatorium). Facing the possibility of death was probably the turning point of his life Studied psychoanalysis at White Institute. Met Harry Stack Sullivan, Erich Fromm. Went to Columbia University in New York, where in 1949 he received the first PhD in clinical psychology that institution ever awarded. Taught at a variety of top schools. In 1958, he edited the book Existence, which introduced existential psychology to the U.S.

3 Existential Theory Based in philosophy (inspired by the writings of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Jaspers, & Buber) How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn't it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the managerI have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint? (Kierkegaard's literary character Young Man in Repetition, 1843) Helps people examine issues of personal meaning "Now it is no longer a matter of deciding what to do, but of deciding how to decide." (May, Love and Will, 1969). Less about theory and more about offering perspective on the human condition

4 Basic Assumptions of Existential Therapy The Primacy of Experience: Every individual is unique Isolation: We are born alone and die alone. Personal Meaning: What is the purpose for living? How we live our life (being-in-the-world) Do we visit all the rooms in our house? Self Awareness: Live in the here and now

5 Basic Assumptions (free choice) Free Choice: People can choose what they become Freedom: People have fear of freedom because with freedom comes choice and the possibility of choosing poorly (responsibility) Buffy says: The other night, getting captured and all, facing off with Faith... things just got kind of clear. I mean youve been fighting evil here for about three years, and Ive been helping out some, and now were supposed to be deciding what we want to do with our lives, and I realized thats what I want to do. Fight evil. Help people. I think its worth doing, and I dont think you do it because you have to. Its a good fight, Buffy, and I want in. (Willow, in Choices 3-19)

6 Basic Assumptions (responsibility) Responsibility: We are responsible for our own lives Genes and environment are important. They are just not deterministic Many individuals, at some point, struggle with accepting this responsibility and, therefore, deny or limit their own freedom Sartre: Statements of bad faith; inauthentic to assume that our existence is controlled by forces external to ourselves Displace responsibility onto others (My boss made me work late) Think of self as helpless victim of circumstances (racism) Attribute behavior to unconscious drives (Id never do something like that) Absolve themselves of responsibility by a sort of temporary insanity (It was the beer talking) Buffy says: Something made us different. Were warriors. Were built to kill (Faith in Consequences 3-15) Viktor Frankl (1978): The Statue of Liberty on the East coast should be complemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West coast.Statue of Responsibility

7 Existential Principles (Rollo May) Wish: To be in touch with what one really wants Indecisiveness Impulsivity? Will: To organize oneself in order to achieve ones goals (roughly ego) or the ability to make wishes come true. Neo-puritan: All will, but no love. Amazing self-discipline, can make things happen... but no wishes to act upon. So they become anal and perfectionistic, but empty and dried-up. (archetype?) Infantile: All wishes but no will. Filled with dreams and desires, lack self-discipline to make anything of their dreams and desires, and so become dependent and conformist. They love, but their love means little. (archetype?) Creative: A balance of these two: Mans task is to unite love and will.

8 The impact of anxiety and fear How are our lives safer because of fear? Fear and anxiety are signals of problems They help us recognize the problem They motivate us to cope with the problem Normal anxiety is good How are our lives poorer because of fear? Avoid responsibility for our acts Avoid recognizing we have choices Avoid anxiety and play it safe Avoid real intimacy Stay busy so we dont become aware of our fundamental aloneness Stay busy so we dont become aware of the finiteness of life

9 Anxiety and fear (continued) Neurotic anxiety is not good. Choices are opportunities, not problems Sometimes life happens Deaths, accidents and traumas can: Force us to become aware of a problem Force us to reconsider how we live life Cause us to accept responsibility for the direction of our life Existential anxiety Makes us aware of the big issues. Helps us steer an effective path through life Helps us become aware of separations from: Self Others World Cannot be lived with constantly, but should be revisited time to time

10 The gift of death Death: It kills us but without it we would not know we were alive As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling! And I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity... of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

11 Buffy on death: THE PROBLEM: BUFFY (opening scene of Intervention, 5-18): I mean, I can beat up the demons, until the cows come home. And then, I can beat up the cows. But I'm not sure I like what it's doing to me. Maybe being the perfect Slayer means being too hard to love at all. I already feel like I can hardly say the words. THE INTERVENTION FIRST SLAYER: Death is your gift. BUFFY: Death... FIRST SLAYER: Is your gift. BUFFY: Okay, no. Death is not a gift. My mother just died. I know this. If I have to kill demons because it makes the world a better place, then I kill demons, but it's not a gift to anybody (Intervention). FIRST SLAYER: Your question has been answered [disappears]

12 Mays stages of development (age-salient, not age-dependent) Innocence -- the pre-egoic, pre-self-conscious stage of the infant. The innocent is pre-moral (i.e., is neither bad nor good). Like a wild animal that kills to eat, the innocent is only doing what he or she must. But innocents do have a degree of will in the form of a drive to fulfill their needs! Rebellion -- the childhood and adolescent stage of ego development or self-consciousness. It is characterized primarily through contrast with adults, from the no of the two year old to the no way of the teenager. The rebellious person wants freedom, but does not yet understand the responsibility that goes with it. The teenager may want to spend her allowance in any way she chooses -- yet still expect the parents to provide the money, and complain about unfairness if she doesn't get it! Ordinary -- the normal adult ego: conventional and a little boring. This person has learned responsibility, but finds it too demanding, and so seeks refuge in conformity and traditional values. Creative -- the authentic adult, the existential stage, beyond ego and self- actualizing. This is the person who, accepting destiny, faces anxiety with courage!

13 A life-long process… Life circumstances or developmental changes can bring up existential crises, even if they were successful resolved earlier Buffy says (after the resurrection): watch video clipwatch video clip Buffy: Every single night The same arrangement I go out and fight the fight Still I always feel This strange estrangement Nothing here is real Nothing here is right Ive been making shows of trading blows Just hoping no one knows That Ive been Going through the motions Walking through the part Nothing seems to penetrate my heart I was always brave And kind of righteous Now I find Im wavering Crawl out of you grave You find this fight just Doesnt mean a thing Vampire: She aint got that swing Buffy: Thanks for noticing Demon and vamps: She does pretty well with fiends from hell But lately we can tell That shes just Going through the motions Faking it somehow Demon: Shes not even half the girl she-ow… Buffy: Will I stay this way forever Sleepwalk through my lifes endeavor Handsome young victim man: How can I repay- Buffy: -Whatever I dont want to be Going through the motions Losing all me drive I cant even see if this is really me And I just want to be Alive

14 Therapeutic Goals Find meaning in life -- even from the terrible Change meanings to those that are more healthy and adaptive To live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now (Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning) How can this be accomplished? Listen and understand clients worldview. Communicate your understanding to client. Only when client recognizes that therapist understands, can therapy focus on shifting meanings.

15 The Therapeutic Process Being in the moment: Focusing on the here and now. Focus on owning feelings, desires, and actions Cant vs. Wont Whose unconscious is it? Making connections to the past: Clients are encouraged to emotionally relive past life events. Integrating the felt experience (including in therapy) into primary relationships Integrating what was learned: Being a new person in the present moment. Deal and confront inability to feel and/or want Identify and deal with conflicting wants Help client process the what ifs

16 Specialized techniques (Lukas, 1984) Reframing -- searches for the positive in the situation. Must wait until client feels heard Paradoxical intention -- encourages client to do what client is afraid might happen. Returns control to the client. Buffy says: You're addicted to the misery. It's why you won't tell your pals about us. Might actually have to be happy if you did. They'd either understand and help you, God forbid... or drive you out... where you can finally be at peace, in the dark. With me. Either way, you'd be better off for it, but you're too twisted for that. (pauses) Let yourself live, already. And stop with the bloody hero trip for a sec. We'd all be the better for it. (Spike, Normal Again, 6-17) Dereflection -- redirects focus from the maladaptive to the healthy Youve been spending a lot of time worrying about your daughter -- and driving you both crazy! Perhaps this would be a good week to find something else to do. Youve talked about wanting to…

17 Advantages of Existential Therapy Contemporary developments have made it more flexible and easier to use It has been adapted to briefer systems of intervention It provides a theoretical framework from which to be eclectic It is conducive to collaboration with the client to find a unique way of working together It is emotionally powerful and fulfilling for client Buffy says: Things have really sucked lately, but thats all going to change, and I want to be there when it does. I want to see you grow up, the woman youre going to become. Because she is going to be beautiful and she is going to be powerful. I got it so wrong. I dont want to protect you from the world. I want to show it to you (Grave, 6-22).

18 Disadvantages of Existential Therapy It is dense, complex and difficult to master. There is very little guidance for the practitioner. You can be an existentialist but you cannot do it. It is not about technique but your own personal stance.

19 Is our society in an existential crisis? By Paul Majendie, Thu Jan 25, 10:37 AM ET LONDON (Reuters) – Beware the Affluenza Virus. An epidemic of mindless consumerism is sweeping the world with the compulsive pursuit of money and possessions making people richer but sadder. That is the stark warning issued by best-selling British psychologist Oliver James after a "mind tour" of seven countries chronicling how depression envelopes the affluent. "We have become addicted to having rather than being and confusing our needs with our wants," he told Reuters in an interview to mark publication on Thursday of "Affluenza. Globe- trotting from New York to Sydney, Singapore and Shanghai via Copenhagen, Moscow and Auckland, he concluded after interviewing 240 people that "selfish capitalism" has run riot. Bigger houses, more cars, larger televisions, younger faces -- these goals are frenetically pursued by middle-class workaholics afflicted by "Affluenza.""Studies in lots of different nations show that if you place high value on those things, you are more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, addictions and personality disorders," he said.

20 U.S. Unenjoyment rate http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/diag /history.html See PBS timeline

21 Conclusion: An existential edge


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