"Entering the forest adventurous" - how's that for a dramatic metaphor for entering into psychotherapy?
People frequently come to psychotherapy with a particular issue, concern, or complaint - and what use would therapy be if it didn’t ultimately lead to some relief or comfort? In the course of addressing specific concerns, existential psychotherapy involves a broader and deeper pursuit. In the course of that pursuit, we are likely to visit some dark places - the denied, disowned, dissociated aspects of our being.
Ultimately, the work involves processing and integrating difficult experiences and emotions so that the client may begin to discover and live the life that is theirs, and feel what mythologist Joseph Campbell called “the rapture that is associated with being alive.” ¹
But exactly what does that work look like? For us, the answer is that every individual is unique and will find their own unique way. In the book Pathways to Bliss, Joseph Campbell relates a 13th century legend to illustrate the essential uniqueness of each individual’s path.
“Here is a story that seems to me to embody the essential image of living one’s life, finding it and having the courage to pursue it. It comes from an Arthurian romance, La Queste del Saint Graal, by an anonymous 13th century monk.
There’s a moment there in Arthur’s banquet hall when all the knights are assembled around the Round Table. Arthur would not let anyone start to eat until an adventure had occurred. Well, in those days adventures were rather normal, so people didn’t go hungry for long.
They were waiting for this day’s adventure, and it did indeed occur. The Holy Grail itself showed itself to the assembled knights - not in its full glory but covered with a great, radiant cloth. Then it withdrew. All were left ravished, sitting there in awe. Finally, Gawain, Arthur’s nephew, stood up and said, “I propose a vow to this company, that we should all go in quest of that grail to behold it unveiled.”
Now we come to the text that interested me. The text reads, ‘They thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group. Each entered the Forest Adventurous at that point which he himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no way or path.’
You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there’s a way or path, it is someone else’s path; each human being is a unique phenomenon.
The idea is to find your own pathway to bliss.” ²
Existential Psychotherapy provides a space and opportunity for the client to discover and explore their own unique pathway to bliss, and to living the life that is theirs. The therapist is a ready and reliable companion and helper. It’s the client’s unique (and sometimes dark) path, but they need not walk it alone.
- Joseph Campbell, with Bill Moyers. (1988). The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, p. 6.
- Joseph Campbell. (2004). Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation. Novato, California: New World Library, pp. xxv-xxvi.
Let me know if you have any comments or questions.