MAY 27-29, 2016

Centre on Behavioral Health, The University of Hong Kong

What is Humanistic and Existential Psychology?

Existential psychology and humanistic psychology (known as the “third force” in the development of psychology in the United States) have exerted far-reaching influence on the world’s psychological development and brought about dramatic changes to the entire psychotherapy field. Existential psychology believes that a fundamental motive for why people live is to pursue a meaning of life, which helps one to adopt certain stances or attitudes in regards to the “emptiness” or “meaninglessness” of existence. It inspires people to face (zhi-mian) anxiety and dilemmas with resolve and the courage to be. It invites people to be increasingly aware of the ultimate concerns of life: the inevitability of death and loss, uncertainty of life, existential isolation and meaninglessness. Existential psychologists believe that a confrontation with these “existential givens” brings about greater self-awareness which can often lead to living a more authentic life. Existential psychotherapy emphasizes the building of a “real” authentic relationship between the therapist and the client. It believes that the core of therapy is the engagement and encounter of two separate lives. It resonates strongly with the idea that deep, penetrating, “life-changing” therapy is about one life impacting another. Ultimately existential psychology, consisting of the Existential Attitude, is best understood as a way of life or a way of being rather than a psychotherapeutic school or orientation.

Taking existential psychology to Asia is like taking salt to the ocean; it’s already there in abundance.  Our purpose is not to arrive as educators but to enter into dialogue, to listen as much as we propose.

The Chinese have a remarkably flexible word for what we intend: zhi mian (直面).  This can mean to confront directly and also to sit face-to-face.  An apt combination of meanings for existential psychotherapy.  Together, sitting face to face, we encounter and confront the nature of being: isolating, banal, seemingly pre-scripted without our input, finite, and often painful.  And through coming to value the undervalued aspects of existence, we find in life the capacity for the opposites: relationship, meaning, agency and freedom, the life that occurs between birth and death, and the capacity for joy that is carved out through acceptance of pain.

To zhi mian is to seek authenticity.  To be face-to-face, knee-to-knee means to temporarily remove the roles and masks that prevent us from real engagement.  We cannot have a courageous confrontation through massive defenses and evasions but only through openness, an inviting stance that is sincere.  Authenticity means different things to different people.  To seek it in China may be very different than to be authentic in the West.  It means many things depending on each context within each set of cultures.  Fertile ground for investigation.

Existential psychology also values the knowledge of our limitations.  Death, the ultimate limitation, is often used to represent all limitation and every fear.  To zhi mian limitation, though, can open up new potentials.  To go beyond fear and even acceptance into true encounter with limitations is to open up the vistas we could not previously see due to our eyes being squeezed shut.

In this conference, we will sit knee-to-knee and face to face – with one another, and with all our investigations into authenticity and human potential.

Conference Location

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4 thoughts on “About

  1. Why not emphasize the “true encounter” with possibility? To close off from potential––things not yet known or even imagined––is to limit the life to the obvious and the mundane. “There are more things in this world, Horatio, than you might dream of.” (Shakespeare) “Life is not stranger than you may imagine, it is stranger than you can imagine.” (Whitehead)
    When Kundalini strikes suddenly and holds you in its embrace, the veil will fall and you will know that pain and suffering are not all that exist in human experience.

  2. Some believe that it is a mark of courage to accept that life leads only to despair and thus to bear the pain is proof of authenticity. But it takes even more courage to surrender to the realization that there is light as well as shadow, and that just possibly the human may be connected to that which is unprovable and sustaining, yet undeniably present if we will allow the portal to open.
    This perception is what is called awakening.

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