Rollo May’s Existential Approach

Published January 17, 2019 by Nan Mykel

Spoken by his client as reported in “The Discovery of Being”:

I Remember walking that day under the elevated tracks in a slum area, feeling the thought, “I am an illegitimate child.” I recall the sweat pouring forth in my anguish in trying to accept that fact. Then I understood what it must feel like to accept, “I am a Negro in the midst of privileged whites,” or “I am blind in the midst of people who see.” Later on that night I woke up and it came to me this way: “I accept that I am an illegitimate child.” But, “I am not a child anymore.” So it is, “I am illegitimate.” That is not so either. “I was born illegitimate.” Then what is left? What is left is this, “I Am.” This act of contact and acceptance with “I am,” once gotten hold of, gave me (what I think was for me for the first time) the experience of “Since I Am, I have the right to be.” p 99)

On p 162 May writes, “The aim of therapy is that the patient experience his existence as real. The purpose is that he become aware of his existence as fully as possible, which includes his becoming aware of his potentialities and becoming able to act on the basis of them.”

May quotes a student who said, “I know only two things–one, that I will be dead someday, two, that I am not dead now. The only question is what shall we do between those two points.” P 169.

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