Why Are We Here? Can Therapy Help Me Understand the Meaning of Life?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about some heavy questions. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What’s out there? Millions of sperm and I win the race? Why me? Why you? What’s so special about me? What’s so special about you?

I am not a spiritual or religious person. I believe in science and evolution. It’s fascinating to me to look up at the stars and realize the ones I can see represent an incredibly tiny fraction of the number of stars in a universe believed to contain trillions of galaxies. Anyone with even a modest appreciation of mathematics would conclude we cannot possibly be alone. There has to be life, abundant life, elsewhere. What is its purpose? While we’re at it, just for fun, what is space as we know it contained in? What’s beyond space?

I’m not high, I promise. To be fair, I ask these questions fully understanding you cannot answer them. No one can. But the human mind—my mind, at least—seeks answers. My mind is both fascinated and troubled by what it will never know. I guess that’s why I’m writing. What I do know is that therapy purports to help people learn to live with seemingly unanswerable questions. Am I an exceptional case? Do people come to therapy seeking peace with life’s most perplexing questions? Or is the goal of therapy to help people like me deal with/accept not knowing? I’m curious how therapists go about helping people whose concerns go far, far beyond relationship issues, self-loathing, or specific mental health conditions. It’s what I don’t know that is killing me. —Above and Beyond

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Dear Above and Beyond,

I love this question and I am so glad you wrote in with it. Existential psychology is a specialty area within the field of psychology that addresses the discomfort people feel as they grapple with some of life’s unanswerable questions. This part of the field does not get much attention in the mainstream, but it is so very rich. It sounds like you might really benefit from working with a therapist who has expertise in this area.

Engaging in existential psychotherapy would provide you with a forum to explore these issues and their meaning to you. Developing an understanding of why these issues trouble you and what they trigger in you would likely be a key part of the process. The aforementioned whys are in many cases actually answerable, and answering them would likely lead you to a deeper understanding of yourself. This can feel quite empowering and clarifying in ways that can be life-changing. It might even make the unanswerable questions less troubling to you. Further, doing so within the context of a therapeutic relationship would enable you to feel safe and secure; therefore, you might not feel the need to preface your concerns with, “I’m not high, I promise.”

Whatever course of action you choose, I encourage you to approach the journey with openness, curiosity, and a great deal of compassion and patience for yourself.

Some mental health professionals who specialize in existential psychotherapy have a background in spirituality and may approach your questions from a position of faith, but many come from a place of understanding what we do know and how we can learn and grow from the knowledge within us. If a therapist’s approach or belief system might be of concern to you, you could always speak with the therapist ahead of time to see where they stand. Finding a good fit for your specific needs is important.

In addition to the discomfort you express as you grapple with these issues, I also hear a genuine intellectual curiosity. With that in mind, I wonder if you would also benefit from taking some academic courses, attending lectures, or reading books and articles in fields such as existential psychology, existential philosophy, astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology.

Whatever course of action you choose, I encourage you to approach the journey with openness, curiosity, and a great deal of compassion and patience for yourself. I hope your journey leads you to a place of understanding, but most of all, to a place of peace.

Best wishes,

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Abigail

    September 2nd, 2017 at 4:10 PM

    Different modes of therapy can help with so many different things! It could be some simple questions that you might have or if you want to delve into some deeper stuff, then it can help with those too! I would never discount it as an option until you have at least given it a good try, because you never know what kinds of cool things that you can discover as a result!

  • hector

    September 5th, 2017 at 2:49 PM

    Yes, as long as you are willing to accept that your meaning is bound to be totally different from the meaning of another.

  • Allen

    October 2nd, 2021 at 3:53 PM

    I am looking for an existentialist oriented therapist Since I was introduced to existentialism I’m college as a french and German major. I have suffered from extreme anxiety. That was back in the mid-1970s and it really screwed me up. I have tried all other kinds of psychotherapy and medication, but nothing has helped much. I firmly believe that I need a good existential and atheist (or at least agnostic) therapist to help me. Do you fit the bil

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