Working therapeutically with the possibilities of uncertainty
Current issues such as global political instability, climate change and Brexit lead to increased levels of anxiety and confusion. Both pundits and experts constantly remind us that 'we are in an entirely novel set of circumstances wherein we can assume nothing and cannot rely on past solutions.' The disturbing degree of unease and confusion being felt by many - not least, our clients - highlights the extent to which an unwanted and undesirable uncertainty permeates throughout our lives.
And yet, among the various contemporary psychotherapeutic models, the existential approach emphasises the inevitability of uncertainty. As a consequence of the approach's foundational assumption of the inter-relatedness of all beings, no one focus-point (such as "I") can ever fully determine with complete and final certainty what and how the world will be, or others will be, or even "I" will be at any point in time. The inevitability of uncertainty and the openness of existence it proclaims alert us that, any moment, all prior knowledge, values, assumptions and beliefs regarding self, others and the world in general may be "opened" to challenge, reconsideration or dissolution. Paradoxically, existential therapy argues that uncertainty remains a constant given of human experience rather than reveal itself to be just an occasional and temporary consequence arising out of unusual circumstances.
If existential thought is correct in this view, what might it have to tell us about the practical aspects of working with uncertainty as psychotherapists and counsellors? Might significantly creative possibilities open themselves to therapists who are are willing to embrace uncertainty as a pivotal expression of who they are and what they do?
Professor Ernesto Spinelli was Chair of the Society for Existential Analysis between 1993 and 1999 and is a Life Member of the Society. His writings, lectures and seminars focus on the application of existential phenomenology to the arenas of therapy, psychology, and executive coaching.