A Brief Introduction to Existential Crisis
In the Crisis Intervention Handbook, Roberts describes a crisis as “a period of psychological disequilibrium, experienced as a result of a hazardous situation…that cannot be remedied using familiar coping strategies” (Roberts, 2005, p. 280).
Existential crisis occurs when an individual questions the very foundations of their life. The person wonders whether this life has any meaning, purpose, or value. While existential crisis can occur as the result of a hazardous situation, it most often occurs when the answers a person previously held regarding the meaning of life (as well as his or her place in it) no longer provide satisfaction or peace of mind. This state of disequilibrium can lead to despair, and is further complicated if induced by a traumatic life event, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss.
Existential crisis is about finding meaning. Living a life of meaning is so important to people that they will go to almost any lengths to avoid a lack of meaning. In Western culture, many people seek out a therapist to help them rediscover life’s meaning.
Existential crisis is ultimately a spiritual crisis, and is sometimes referred to as the “dark night of the soul.” It has been demonstrated that those who have a strong spiritual foundation seem to cope better with trauma than those who don’t have the comfort of such belief. Cashwell and Young state: “Extant research evidence now clearly supports the idea that both religion and spirituality can have a positive impact on physical, emotional, and psychological wellness, and serve as an important coping resource during particularly difficult times in life” (Cashwell & Young, 2011, p. 5). Religion and/or spirituality are a big part of many people’s lives. “National studies in the United States consistently highlight that spiritual beliefs and practices are part of daily life for most Americans. Further, a rich body of empirical literature now ties spirituality and religion to psychological health in the general population” (Rosmarin, Auerbach, Bigda-Peyton, Björgvinsson, & Levendusky, 2011).
In addition, even with the apparent differences in the concepts of religion and spirituality, it has been determined that “96% of people in the United States believe in a higher power” (Cashwell & Young, 2011). The therapist may conclude from these numbers that a spiritual worldview can be instrumental in overall wellness and especially helpful to the depressed, traumatized, or bereaved as they search for meaning.
With this in mind, it is understandable that the therapist trained in shamanic methods may have a distinct advantage, for shamanism can provide a framework for clients from nearly any belief system to examine the existential questions and successfully work through a psychospiritual crisis.
To be continued. Next time we will discuss the common catalysts of existential crisis in greater depth: bereavement, post-traumatic stress, and depression.
(Excerpt from “A Transpersonal Approach to Existential Crisis: Shamanic Methods in Therapeutic Practice” (graduate paper)
© 2016 – Cindy L. McGinley. All rights reserved. )
Cashwell, C., & J. Young, 2011. Integrating spirituality and religion into counseling: a guide to competent practice (2nd edition). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association
Roberts, A., 2005. Crisis intervention handbook: Assessment, treatment, and research (3rd edition). New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Rosmarin, David H., Randy P. Auerbach, Joseph S. Bigda-Peyton, Thröstur Björgvinsson, & Philip G. Levendusky. (2011). Integrating spirituality into cognitive behavioral therapy in an acute psychiatric setting: A pilot study.Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, Volume 25, Number 4, 254.