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No matter what one seeks therapy for in the beginning, a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life – or the lack of such a sense of purpose and meaning – is likely to be an issue in therapy. With such a purpose, even the most difficult of crises can become opportunities for growth and renewed motivation. Difficult times are far less terrifying or devastating when a lasting meaning to one’s life is already present, or can be developed through the work of therapy. Without such meaning or purpose, even small challenges can grow and feel overwhelming, confusing, and painful. Therapy can help us get in touch with lasting values, beliefs, needs and goals, and built a sense of meaning and purpose around these. It can also teach us techniques – such as meditation, dreamwork, and other powerful tools – for getting in touch with our own inner guidance, which can help us discover a sense of purpose and meaning to guide us through life.
If we do not have a meaningful purpose that guides us every day and over the course of our lives, making important decisions, resolving internal and external conflicts, planning for the future, choosing friends and partners, and making sense of suffering become very difficult. Without a chosen, “higher” purpose, life gives us a sort of default purpose: avoid suffering as much as possible. If this is all life means, we are sure to suffer more, not less, because the human mind and spirit need creativity, accomplishment, fulfillment and meaning that the avoidance of suffering alone cannot provide. Further, the experience of some suffering is necessary for us to learn and grow; if we try to avoid it at all costs (which is impossible anyway), we never mature.
Therapy can help us get in touch with lasting values, beliefs, needs and goals, and built a sense of meaning and purpose around these. It can also teach us techniques – such as meditation, dreamwork, and other powerful tools – for getting in touch with our own inner guidance, which can help us discover a sense of purpose and meaning to guide us through life.
Oscar, 29, enters therapy for mild depression and anxiety. After several weeks, he begins expressing confusion about how to handle several different situations: a budding relationship with a woman, some friendships that don’t seem to be working anymore, conflict at work, and his living situation (he still lives at home to save money). The therapist asks him directly: What is your purpose in life? Oscar is forced to admit he has no idea and hadn’t really considered it. After some discussion of his financial goals and his religious beliefs, the therapist and Oscar agree that this question is essential for his progress, and Oscar begins a path of self-discovery through meditation, prayer, reading, and conversation with close confidants, including this therapist. Oscar is able to begin clarifying his values and goals, including being of service, experiencing as much of life as possible, and leaving his children and grandchildren a legacy of financial security and ethical integrity. With these goals and values in mind, the decisions before him become much easier, and his choices clearer.
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Last updated: 09-30-2014
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