Existential conversation is intimate in nature. It is not therapy. It is two people talking about life’s problems. I talk with people about the existential problems of life. I help people interested in analyzing their current strategies for living life, relating to others and overcoming adversity. I help facilitate change only to the extent that a person can or wants to change. I do not apply any specific “therapeutic” techniques. I offer a private conversation about life’s problems. I do not give advice. I believe that the solutions to life’s problems must come from within a person. My goal is to act as a catalyst to facilitate change, to the extent that one wants to change.
In a debate, recorded in 1977, Thomas Szasz and Albert Ellis argue over the concept of mental illness. Szasz argues forcefully and humorously for his position that mental illness is a sort of metaphor for problems in life. Albert Ellis maintains that mental illness is a useful concept that should not be dismissed.
Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning documents his experiences in concentration camps during Nazi occupation. During this time, Frankl lost his wife, his brother and parents in concentration camps. The first half of the book is a disturbing tale about how Jews should find meaning through Nazi dehumanization, while the second half of the book entitled, Logotherapy in a Nutshell, is a sales pitch for Frankl’s pseudo-religious therapy called, Logotherapy.
Can a person live a flourishing, purpose-filled life in spite of chronic illness and near constant pain? According to author Suzy Szasz, the answer is a resounding, “yes”. Szasz’s book, Lupus. Living With It: Why You Don’t Have To Be Healthy to Be Happy, is written with an enthusiasm for life. Despite her constant battle with the exhausting chronic illness, Lupus, Szasz retains her meaning in life by refusing to become a victim of her disease.
The book, Stoicism: A Stoic Approach To Modern Life, is a fantastic introduction to Stoicism. It is short (a good thing in my mind) and introduces the reader to the Stoic concept of how to live well despite the inherent struggles in life. I asked the author, Tom Miles, a few questions about what drew him to Stoicism in an interview below.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
At its core, Stoicism is the idea that we control our mind. For the Stoics, achieving tranquility wasn’t about changing what was going on in our external world, but rather, changing our internal world. Feelings such as depression and anxiety, are to a large extent determined by our underlying philosophy.
I recently had the chance to chat with author William Ferraiolo, about the philosophy of Stoicism and what brought him to write his book, Meditations on Self-Discipline and Failure: Stoic Exercise for Mental Fitness.
The idea that mental anguish is an illness is dehumanizing and destroys the concept of what it means to be a person. The concept of “mental illness” creates a less-than-human creature who’s distressing feelings and behaviors are illegitimate. For the existentialist, loneliness, boredom, despair, and meaninglessness, are central to life. They are problems to be overcome, not diseases to be cured.
In polite society, one does not question the medical model of addiction. To do so is considered unkind and unscientific.
Jeffrey Schaler shows his irreverence for conventional thinking in his book, Addiciton is a Choice. Schaler gives science, logic, and empirical observations to show that addiction is, in fact, a choice.
What is existentialism and what does it have to do with living a good life?
According to William Irwin, author of The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism without Consumerism, existentialism is a philosophy of life that:
…reacts to an apparently absurd or meaningless world by urging the individual to overcome alienation, oppression, and despair through freedom and self-creation in order to become a genuine person1.