Olga Petkeviča (Latvia) Redbreasts (a true story)
Just two days to Christmas … It was the last day of the studies. A trip awaited in the evening, going home, to see the family. Forty minutes before the first morning class. Me and Ona, a surgeon from Ignalina, slowly walked along the bank of Nemunas towards Vitia. In our group’s parlance, it was the monument of the Great Duke of Lithuania Vytautas in the beautiful, cosy, amazing town of Birštonas. We lovingly called the Great Duke by a nickname, because two students of our course had husbands called Viktor, and Vitia reminded us about those men, Viktors, and about our husbands, making it possible for them to be close, so that we could miss them less during the two weeks of the seminar. During the four years of our studies at the Institute these daily walks to Vitia constituted a special ritual – as if visiting one’s family.
We proceeded on our leisurely walk, enjoying the beauty of the landscape, its peace and quiet, when we turned around the old building of the Tulpe sanatorium clinic. Suddenly, we saw a tree full of red apples. There were so many of them (very many!), big and bright red against the snow and white bark of the birch tree. Holding our breaths, we watched the furry balls, frozen, unmoving, as if glued to the tree. We had never seen so many redbreasts. Twenty-three of them!
Carefully opening her camera, Ona said quietly: ‘Let’s take a picture!’ ‘No, on the way back,’ I responded, and on we went to Vitia. When we came back, the birch tree stood lonely. No redbreasts. They were gone. And we were left with our foolishness, without a miracle, without our Christmas gift from God. We stood and looked at the tree, where just a moment ago there were twenty-three redbreasts… It was a shock, a deep and strong sense of the value of one moment, of significance of the here-and-now. It was an Encounter – an encounter with His Majesty Existence.
Not saying a word, without lifting our eyes, me and Ona walked quickly back to the house for the class. The day went on in a different dimension, in another level of being. Only at the end of the day did we share with each other our feelings, those of the morning and of the day. They were very similar.
Nearly 20 years have passed from that blinding sunny morning, but the lesson the redbreasts taught us stays in my memory and is as bright as it was then, in December, before Christmas. The redbreasts taught us to LIVE.
The story is the essence of what happened at HEPI, what the Institute, the teachers, the years of studies meant for us.
First of all, Birštonas itself. With its peculiar aura, charm, so captivating, wise, very existential, where all the houses, streets, buildings, trees and flowers are self-sufficient and alive. I have been looking for my image of this town, and I realized that I associate it with a large barrel of pickled Antony apples from my childhood. On hot summer days at the farm (it was a typical Lithuanian manor of a prosperous craftsman and smith) at my grandma’s, I used to go for them to the giant cool-house. Slowly, enjoying it, I dipped my hand in the dense sweet-salty-sour liquid, where the select Antony apples were royally floating, showing off their firm green-yellow sides and giving an incredible scent of purity and freshness; I put them in a large glass cup and brought them home. It was the best dessert in the world.
We took the town in with that (probably childish) part of the soul that needed love and tenderness, calmness and care, acceptance and understanding – we got it at all in HEPI, together with exacting attitude, a huge amount of new information, new skills, a different understanding of oneself and the life, different attitudes and relations, humanity, authenticity, firmness without borders and many other things, which divided our life into ‘before’ and ‘after’ HEPI. After the studies, it felt like a slowly releasing spring, changing everything in our lives: profession, relations, ourselves, our families, children, husbands and wives, works, colleagues, and friends… They changed differently, but the changes were largely conscious, honest, sincere, resistant, pure and authentic – the Institute had taught us that, which is why it was different from other educational establishments.
I think, during our life at HEPI, our group was more of a heart than mind. There was no competition, no rivalry either intellectual or in studies, no rivalry in anything. We just studied well, grappled with the precepts of existentialism, developed and grew. There were emotions and care, friendship and mature youth, cooperation and support, a special HEPI atmosphere, a solution where we could absorb the ideas of existential philosophy, psychology and psychotherapy as the select Antony apples (we were selected by the teachers from our groups!).
Late in the evening after the studies, the psychiatrist Saša Gorevoi organised for us cinema therapy hours. We watched intelligent psychological films, discussed them, shared our understanding and continued to learn through this exchange. During the summer studies, we got up early in the morning, walked briskly along the river bank to the two ponds on the outskirts of the town, swam well and were at the class by 9 a.m., feeling a tasty, good quality experience of the morning, ready to listen and take in, experience and feel. During the winter and autumn, we sent our ambassador Lena Jedomskih to the head of the Versmė sanatorium for negotiations, and her witchlike charms resulted for us in the morning swimming hours at the pool. From seven to eight. For free. We swam in the nude – it is such a delight, an adventure, and such an intense life; those who were there can truly appreciate it only now, after some time has passed. I am grateful to the head of the sanatorium for the gift.
Behind it all, there are our Teachers. I am truly grateful to them not only for the knowledge but also for the spirit of Humanity, not allowing the soul to be lazy, the desire to experience consciously and unconsciously one’s life to the full, full-heartedly, here and now, to hurry without hurry, to contemplate the unbearable ease, fragility, burden of BEING, ours and the client’s. I think it was induced in us, unseen, through the souls, hearts and minds of our teachers through interaction at the classes, the seminars and more… They also learned with us, and we learned with them, creating HEPI as it is now, because HEPI is more than just a name.
We have, living inside us, some part of Aleksandras Alekseičikas, Rimas Kočiūnas, Aleksandras Kučinskas, Kristina Ono Polukordienė, Rimas Budrys, Vitalija Lepeškienė, Gražina Gudaitė, Leonas Judelevičius and many other professionals in the sphere of humanistic psychology and psychotherapy, whose seminars we attended during and after studies at HEPI. I am particularly grateful to Rimas Kočiūnas, the brain and body of the institute, its soul and heart, the great Professional, Teacher and Master. His unsurpassed gift of organising and inspiring, his personality and high professionalism will continue to draw to HEPI new students for many years ahead. For us, Rimas is the same Rimas, lively and bitter, wise and caring, vulnerable and generous, demanding and rough, loved and loving, a joyful spirit with an inebriating devilishness inside… And we, the students, through an instance of Being at HEPI, having learned to LIVE, flew away to our cities and countries, like redbreasts from a birch tree…
World Confederation for Existential Therapy. Existential Therapy
In 2014-2016, an international group representing a cross-section of contemporary existential therapists joined together in a cooperative effort to create this broad definition. What follows is the current version of an ongoing, continually evolving, collective quest.
What is existential therapy?
Existential therapy is a philosophically informed approach to counselling or psychotherapy. It can be said that though difficult to formalize and define, at its heart, existential therapy is a profoundly philosophical approach characterised in practice by an emphasis on relatedness, spontaneity, flexibility, and freedom from rigid doctrine or dogma. Nevertheless, despite their significant theoretical, ideological and practical differences, existential therapists share a particular philosophically-derived worldview which distinguishes them from most other contemporary practitioners.
Ultimately, it can be said that existential therapy confronts some of the most fundamental and perennial questions regarding human existence: “Who am I?” “What is my purpose in life?” “Am I free or determined?” “How do I deal with my own mortality?” “Does my existence have any meaning or significance?” “How shall I live my life?”
Why is it called “existential” therapy?
Existential therapy is based on a broad range of insights, values, and principles derived from phenomenological and existential philosophies. For existential therapists, “phenomenology” refers to the disciplined philosophical method by which these ultimate concerns or “givens” are addressed, and through which the person’s basic experience of being-in-the-world can best be illuminated or revealed, and thus, more accurately understood. This phenomenological method begins by deliberately trying to set aside one’s presuppositions so as to be more fully open and receptive to the exploration of another person’s subjective reality.
How does existential therapy work?
Existential therapists see their practice as a mutual, collaborative, encouraging and explorative dialogue between two struggling human beings – one of whom is seeking assistance from the other who is professionally trained to provide it.
In practice, existential therapy explores how clients’ here-and-now feelings, thoughts and dynamic interactions within this relationship and with others might illuminate their wider world of past experiences, current events, and future expectations.
What makes existential therapy different from other therapies?
In addition to its unique combination of philosophical worldview, phenomenological stance, and core emphasis on both the therapeutic relationship and actual experience, existential therapy is generally less focused on diagnosing psychopathology and providing rapid symptom relief per se than other forms of therapy. Instead, distressing “symptoms” such as anxiety, depression or rage are recognised as potentially meaningful and comprehensible reactions to circumstances and personal contextual history.
What techniques or methods do existential therapists employ?
Existential therapy does not define itself predominantly based on any particular predetermined technique(s). Indeed, some existential therapists eschew the use of any technical interventions altogether, concerned that such contrived methods may diminish the essential human quality, integrity, and honesty of the therapeutic relationship. However, the one therapeutic practice common to virtually all existential work is the phenomenological method.
What are the goals of existential therapy?
The overall purpose of existential therapy is to allow clients to explore their lived experience honestly, openly and comprehensively. Through this spontaneous, collaborative process of discovery, clients are helped to gain a clearer sense of their experiences and the subjective meanings they may hold.
Who can potentially benefit from existential therapy?
An existential approach may be helpful to people contending with a broad range of problems, symptoms or challenges. It can be utilized with a wide variety of clients, ranging from children to senior citizens, couples, families or groups, and in virtually any setting, including clinics, hospitals, private practices, the workplace, organizations, and in the wider social community. Because existential therapy recognizes that we always exist in an interrelational context with the world, it can be especially useful for working with clients from diverse demographic and cultural backgrounds.
What scientific evidence is there regarding the efficacy of existential therapy?
A range of well-controlled studies indicate that certain forms of existential therapy, for certain client groups, can lead to increased well-being and sense of meaning (Vos, Craig & Cooper, 2014). This body of evidence is growing, with new studies showing that existential therapies can produce as much improvement as other therapeutic approaches (e.g., Rayner & Vitali, in press). There is also a good deal of evidence indicating that one of the core qualities associated with existential therapy – a warm, valuing and empathic client or patient-therapist relationship — is predictive of positive therapeutic outcomes (Norcross & Lambert, 2011). Additionally, existential therapy’s central emphasis on finding or making meaning has been shown in general to be a significant factor in effective treatment (Wampold & Imel, 2015).
Where can I find out more about existential therapy and/or professional training to become an existential therapist?
In recent years, there were created various training programs in the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia, Israel, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Lithuania, Greece, Australia and many other countries.
A full list of training courses is available on the website.