Viktor Frankl made an impression on me. I was awestruck by his way of thinking years ago. I have since been drawn to existential theory, the purpose we find in life and how we make meaning of it.
When a client recently admitted, “I do not know why I am here. I do not have a purpose,” his lack of direction caused me to pause and reflect. He was not questioning why he sat opposite me or the purpose of therapy but broad existential questions about his life and its meaning. The fact that this question caught me so off guard surprised me. It challenged me. It made me contemplate, what am I doing here? What is my purpose?
It took me a good while to discover what I liked to do. I worked menial jobs during high school and progressed into EMT/paramedic work, which I absolutely adored. When I distilled down what I loved about working in the medical field, it was the connections: the intimate conversations with complete strangers and their families during intensely difficult situations. Brief glimpses of concentrated vulnerability and life and death right there in front of me. I thrived on the responsibility of my role and the peer support and team work I was part of. I supported these daily interactions with a passion that I have rekindled on my journey to become a therapist. I found my purpose by breaking down my life and looking at the most moving parts of my journey. Every facet of what I enjoyed involved some sort of communicative interaction, some choice that involved helping, and a lot of personal growth. I believe this growth enabled the counseling field to find me.
My purpose, as my young client had asked, is to help people. Help can come in many guises and I choose talk therapy. My purpose comes from listening, empathizing and simply being with someone at a given time and place. During that time, I am completely with them. I am there for them. I am their witness. I think of it as emotional first aid. I find meaning in this aid because I believe everyone has struggles. Everyone can benefit from therapy and a safe non-judgmental place in which to let down their social and emotional guards, be themselves, and let some of the stress and trauma of life dissipate for a moment. The value inherent in simply talking to a caring other took me almost 22 years to appreciate. I am beginning to discover who I am, why I believe and act as I do, and these factors are helping to mold the therapist I am becoming. I am grateful for having found my calling and my ability to empathize with my client’s own search for meaning.
So why was my client’s question so powerful? First, I think because it came from a profoundly emotional space. Second, I shared that space with him, and understand the existential struggle many of us face. Third, it was truly a genuine and heartfelt pondering that threatened to undermine his very reason for seeking therapy. Finally, he offered a concern that I had not sat with and reviewed personally for some time.
Looking back, I think, counseling serendipitously found me. My client’s concern left me wondering if everyone struggles with these questions about our ultimate purpose on Earth. Do they? Are we all on a search for meaning and purpose? As for my client, we worked through his deep musings, processing thoughts, experiences and feelings. And in the end while his questions had not been fully answered he had found a sense of peace and patience in the adventure that calls to us all – life.
Christian Billington is a counselor in training. He is passionate about end of life issues, grief and loss, trauma and the development of training to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field.