What do you do when you are faced with adversity and feel like you are drowning in it? My previous entry discussed the subject of hope. I believe that part of finding hope is finding meaning. Various theoretical orientations include approaches that focus on shifting or changing negative cognitions to positive ones. Encouraging the client to think about what is good in his or her life and appreciate what he or she has can be a piece of strength-based perspectives as well. The crux of Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy is that finding meaning in our lives is what drives or motivates us. Soren Kierkegaard, touted as the “Father of Existentialism,” believed that people were responsible for finding meaning in their lives.
The idea of tying hope with meaning isn’t necessarily a new concept and has been discussed by many people throughout time. However, I do not think it has been studied as extensively in a formal way. These two intangibles—hope and meaning-- drive individuals. I think it would be difficult to have one without the other. They are inextricably linked in some nebulous way. One could say that we live life with the hope of finding meaning or that when we find meaning, it gives us hope.
One of the goals of therapy is to help clients maintain their sense of hope and find meaning especially during confusing, tragic or challenging times. At one point of each of our lives, it is expected that we endure a situation that tests our belief system, “pushes us to our limit” and makes us question our existence or our purpose. Fortunately or unfortunately, in order for us to experience love and true happiness, we must also experience pain and suffering. It seems that some have more than their fair share of the latter, and it is this “injustice” that leaves me feeling like my insides are being crushed and mangled.
One client I worked with recently was struggling with depression. Her son was murdered about 14 years ago, and she still has difficulty coping with this loss. When she came to me, she had thought about hurting herself, specifically overdosing on over-the-counter medication. I followed the protocol in terms of suicide risk assessment, ensuring she was safe and had other resources and coping mechanisms. She said she only had thoughts of this, but “did not want to actually hurt herself because she had another son to live for.” She agreed to see me again the following week and would call, go to the emergency room, and/or use the resources I gave her if she needed support immediately. I called her the day before our next appointment to remind her of our scheduled appointment, and she said she would definitely attend the appointment. The next day when I met with her, she confessed that right before I had called her she was in the process of gathering medication and “Drain-O” to end her life. She said that my phone call literally saved her life, and she knew at that moment that it was not her time yet, that she needed to live. Since that time, she has made huge progress and coping in a healthier way.
In between intense sessions, I try to take a moment to just breathe and look at a picture of my son or think about someone or something that gives me hope and meaning. I also remind myself that I also find meaning and hope in helping these amazing clients. Part of my purpose is not only to be a witness to a client’s story, but to be part of his or her journey and validate their story, their life. Even after everything they have been through, I remind them that they are still here for a reason. They are not “done” yet.
Grace Hipona is a counselor in the state of Virginia. She currently serves as a Mental Health Therapist for a clinic, a counselor for a private practice and is a doctoral candidate. She operates from a strength-based perspective.