What are Daseinsanalysis, existential psychotherapy, existential family therapy? Clients’ own accounts

The mimosa in spring outside the window
of Anthony Stadlen’s consulting room at his home

What are Daseinsanalysis, existential psychotherapy, existential family therapy?

Clients describe their experience

Introduction by Anthony Stadlen

Any attempt to describe what happens in Daseinsanalysis, existential psychotherapy or existential family therapy is best made in everyday, down-to-earth prose or even poetry.
And the people best qualified to attempt a description are clients, not therapists. It is for them, not for the therapists, to say whether the therapy has been helpful.
I have devoted decades not only to practising psychotherapy but also to researching historically the people and families described in the classic case studies of the great psychotherapists. I have come to trust, far more than these case studies, the reports of the clients themselves.
Here, then, instead of giving my own ‘case studies’, I give the words of a few of the many people whom over the years I have been privileged to accompany in the adventure of Daseinsanalysis, existential psychotherapy, or existential family therapy. I am deeply grateful to them for their lucid descriptions.

Anthony Stadlen

2A Alexandra Avenue
GB London N22 7XE

Telephone:    +44 (0) 20 8888 6857,  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
Email:           stadlenanthony@gmail.com

Clients accounts

Client 1

Thank you so very much for the many years of profound listening and being. They have meant the world to me, and saved me from myself many many times. The person I am now seems to me so much a product of it all.

Thank you.

With great affection.

Client 2

It is difficult to express quite how important the meetings have been to me. You are a brilliant exponent of your craft and I will miss you. However I feel I am in a good place from which to share my inner thoughts with my partner and to move on with my life.

Client 3 

I went into therapy because sex was painful with my partner whom I felt I loved. I wanted help with that. However, what I wanted altered with time, and became, more and more clearly, to change my life.

In the first session I talked and talked, about childhood mostly. I felt wonderful; felt my therapist was wonderful, and couldn’t wait to get to the second session, as I felt so ‘listened to’. But the second session was a slap in the face: he seemed to have changed. He asked no questions, he seemed disinterested, he said hardly anything and I felt terrible.

Part of what helped me go back, and continue to go back, was that my feeling about my therapist was different inside and outside the sessions. Inside, I felt he despised and ignored me. Outside, I increasingly felt that he was to be trusted, he was good and that, somehow, he was my lifeline. So I stayed, and battled with these feelings in order to speak at all.

We talked about the fact that my mother ignored me almost totally. I took a long time to accept the enormity of this, and even longer to give up hope that she would notice and love me. At the start I blamed myself for being an unloving, miserable child, for my dread on waking every morning, that everything about me was wrong, for not being able to relax with people or talk.

We talked about my memories of listening to others talking on buses, especially mothers and daughters, and my marvelling at how people could just talk to each other, easily. We talked about how my middle brother and I had believed that we were different, that there was no one else like us in the world.

We talked about how I had been my mother’s second emotional support (my eldest brother being her first), so that I ‘saw’ her and her pain, but she never saw me. About how, when I started to protect myself from her neediness, she told me that I did not and would never be able to love. We talked about the fact that I felt that I did not exist; that I felt empty inside and worthless.

We talked about how I sought out relationships to repeat the pattern with my mother, in which I could play out wanting to be seen and recognised and loved for myself, with people who would or could never do so. And, even if the people were able, I made sure that I offered sex but not myself, as I believed that no one could want me for myself but only for what they could get.

I was aware that my parents’ relationship was sexual but devoid of love or respect. We talked about my separation of love and sexual pleasure, as one of the ways that I stopped good relationships developing.

We talked about how I sought unconditional love from adult relationships, and, if this was not forthcoming, as it could never be, I rejected instead.

We talked about how, through these self-hating patterns, I lost myself again and again.

We talked about fear; about how I had always been frightened of the outside world. I increasingly realised that this fear stemmed from what had been inside my childhood home, but that, as a child, this knowledge being too terrible, I feared the outside.

‘We talked’ does not describe the process. I struggled against internal voices telling me that I was unworthy, that what I was going to say was useless, that my therapist would despise me for saying it, if he didn’t go to sleep because it was so unimportant. I fought against these feelings. If I could, I would say what I was thinking. And, over the years, I got out into the open thoughts that I had believed were too awful to see the light of day, that no-one would ever understand or hear without revulsion. He sat and listened.

Sometimes he laughed. He laughed at my saying, for, perhaps, the twentieth time, that I suspected him of sleeping, or that I thought that he found his books hugely more interesting than my boring thoughts. Laughter in these circumstances might seem callous. In fact, it was always an instantaneous relief. His laughter somehow invited me to take a look, with him, at my ideas, helping me see that they were not based on reality. The laughter, somehow, was one of the ways that he treated me as an equal, not a lesser being: in that he was saying that we could laugh together. This had the effect of robbing these negative thoughts of their power, at least for that moment. Then he would help me work out where they came from.

However, I also told him that, all my life, I had had experiences, bright sparky times, of awareness of the beauty of the world, and feelings of oneness with the universe. These experiences, brief as they were, and rare, were my experiences of ‘myself’ and had always been precious to me. Now I found that my therapist thought this important, and that, under all the mess, the pain, the embarrassment, I existed. We talked about how I had always had these experiences alone, and could not imagine them happening with another person, as, with others, I always saw myself through their eyes, as ‘object’ rather than ‘subject’.

However, sometimes in therapy, when addressing something very difficult, painful or early in childhood, I would suddenly feel that I was falling backwards very fast, becoming further and further away, as if deep down inside myself or very far up in the universe, and, all the time, knowing I was in the room and that he was with me. I learnt to go on talking. My therapist named this as returning to the cosmos, returning to my real self, and as ‘embodiment’ rather than being disembodied, my usual state. At the end of these sessions, I would feel free and light. And, sometimes, this would precipitate a sudden improvement in how I managed in the world.

During one of these times, I felt that I was holding out my arms to him; a clean, clear holding out of my arms as I had never done in my life, knowing that it was good. There was a feeling in my chest, like a big yawn. My therapist said that it sounded as if my heart was trying to open. That was what he helped me do; open my heart after I had closed it many years before. Other turning points were about sadness; crying and crying for the bleak sadness of my family’s lives; pitying them. My mother’s problems were beyond my father’s comprehension. She was a working class woman who never had emotional help. My therapist gave me permission to feel sorry for myself as a child, rather than shun this as self-indulgence, as I had always done.

And so I changed. I remember it as jerky. It felt as if I was up against a brick wall that I could never imagine climbing, and then suddenly I was over. Not once but many times. Sometimes it was the same wall which I built again, sometimes not.

My therapist helped me see that my huge negativity had been the response of a child to my circumstances, but now, I didn’t need to hang onto these feelings, that I could drop them, that I had a choice. One morning, when I had been thinking about suicide for a long time, I walked out and saw the beauty of the bright cold day and the sky against the trees. My spirit started to lift and suddenly, there was a choice. I heard my therapist saying I could just drop it. And I let my spirit lift and let the despair drop away. It stayed away for some considerable time, before returning. A pattern emerged, dropping the depression and paranoia, and it coming back. Then, eight years ago, I dropped it again and it has never returned.

And when I dropped it I found wonders. I found that I could be at ease with others. I found myself starting conversations that I did not know I was going to do, without thinking, checking, censoring, rubbishing my thoughts and my self, as I had done my whole life. I felt that, for me, this was like moving mountains, or catching speeding missiles like Superman, this has felt as much out of my grasp. And this ‘without’ left me with a great whoop of joy.

Since then, I have made a loving relationship and have a successful career. I am stepmother to two children. Only one has accepted me. I understand that this is not uncommon, but my natural inclination is still to blame myself.

However, now I react differently to difficulties. I seek solutions. I no longer despair. I can still feel easily in the wrong, but now I know when I’m feeling it. It is no longer my normality.

Two months before leaving therapy, I said that if I started now and continued until I left, I would not be able to thank him enough. My therapist said that I should give myself the credit; he had only provided the space; I had done the hard work. I said that I did give myself credit. It was one of the most momentous things I had ever said.

Note (April 2018)

Anthony Stadlen

Many years later, Ann Shearer included in her book, Why Don’t Psychotherapists Laugh? (2017: 94-95), Client 3’s paragraph (above):

‘Sometimes he laughed. He laughed at my saying, for, perhaps, the twentieth time, that I suspected him of sleeping, or that I thought that he found his books hugely more interesting than my boring thoughts. Laughter in these circumstances might seem callous. In fact, it was always an instantaneous relief. His laughter somehow invited me to take a look, with him, at my ideas, helping me see that they were not based on reality. The laughter, somehow, was one of the ways that he treated me as an equal, not a lesser being: in that he was saying that we could laugh together. This had the effect of robbing these negative thoughts of their power, at least for that moment. Then he would help me work out where they came from.

When I drew this to Client 3s attention, she replied:

It was lovely to see it within that context. [...] 

Your email prompted me to go back to your blog and read your piece preceding the accounts, and to read my own account and the others. Each time Ive read it, over the years, has brought it all back to me; its brought back in close focus what happened in that room.  And Im right to go on thanking you. 

Things with me are fine. [...] I'm now studying philosophy, since I retired [...] just introductory stuff, but I love it. So its great to have the intros to the seminars, particularly the ones relating to Heidegger.

Ive been retired for 5 years and its great. I do quite a bit of set dancing, volunteer in a rights based organisation especially in relation to destitute asylum seekers, and have a lot of time to read and just do ordinary things.  

Both my step-children are married, and with the elder, with whom it was hard for years, things are good now between me and her. After a long time...

My stepson and his wife are currently living with us [...] and they are expecting a baby.  So Ill be a hands-on granny and Im looking forward to that very much indeed. 

Theres lots of laughter in our house. 

And I couldnt have imagined any of that before I walked into your house. 

Thanks again. 

Client 4

The problems that caused me most trouble, that caused me to be angry, that caused me somatic pain, that stopped me having trusting relationships, that made me doubt my judgement and that caused me to feel helpless were not problems that could be objectively described using the present tense. My problems did not belong in the same category as lack of money, ill health, homelessness and unemployment. Therapy did not help me to cope with problems that continued to exist. I found during therapy that my problems were part of the way that I described my reality. The magic of therapy, and I mean magic, is that as I talked through the problems, as I dared to describe them they dissolved. I followed the shadows to their source only to discover that as I got nearer the source had disappeared. When I turned around the shadow was no more.

Client 5

I found gaining an ethical understanding of the situation most helpful. It was a great battle to come out of a world where I would succumb to feeling guilty to one where I could stand on my own two feet and defend what was right and best for me. For this to come from my own spirit, with my own senses, has been a very difficult struggle. It has been a constant process of throwing problems onto a screen and trying to untangle what to me were complex problems. It has been an enormously creative and energising process but one I could never have done without a therapist whose attention was always concerned with the ethical values operating in interpersonal situations. I do believe good psychotherapy raises the voice of conscience, making it harder – but far from impossible – to lie to oneself. The experience constantly forces one to continue addressing problems one would rather avoid, until one regains a sense of spirit and wholeness that is robust in this world. It does ask that one live up to the best of oneself. Providing this framework for discussion of the world has been something for which I am enormously grateful. It is this, which has given me creativity, confidence and independence as well as total fascination with the importance of truth and ethical values in our lives.

Client 6

The only experience I can liken this particular therapy to is when I, as a short-sighted child, was first given a pair of glasses to wear – suddenly the world sprang into fine detail, with colours and shapes taking on a new meaning. I can remember then that I spent days just gazing around at myself and at the world around me, in wonder that I had previously missed all that. And that’s really what I’m left with from the experience, and hope will remain with me for a long time yet – the realisation and discovery of the possibility to stop and stare, mouth open, in the moment, involved, alive.

Client 7

At first, you didnt seem to be giving me what I wanted. But over time, I found that you were giving me the space to speak my mind, the time to play with my thoughts, and best of all the capacity to surprise myself. Thank you for everything

Client 8

Depression is the lack of structured meaning often caused by the voluntary denial of our ego. We reject ourselves and look for an external meaning when it is a fundamental reality that such a thing doesn’t exist. Life has patterns but no specific meaning or reason. Life is just there and each individual creates his own meaning and his own interpretation.

Problems arise when one ignores the call of his inner voice. When this happens the meaning is automatically destroyed and the person is left with a void. We ignore our inner voice because we were told that we are bad and unacceptable. This blends in with the very essence of our existence.

If we accept that we are nothing more than the product of genetic evolution then we are left with a paradox: who is, or rather, what is the entity that performs these thoughts? If we accept that we are nothing more than a soup of molecules structured and orientated to perform a certain role then what’s left to us? What is the essence of “I”? If this question is left unanswered or untreated it equals to moral death. The body is still alive, it still performs its bodily actions however the existence has, in a way, ceased. A person simply cannot exist if it doesn’t believe in something. The paradox is that, as it seems, our moral existence requires the presence of something which is not tangible, presumably what is called soul. Soul has to exist as a logical consequence. However logic also verifies that divinity cannot exist. Therefore soul has to be a biological feature with has no material existence. There is no reason why this could not be happening. We can exist without god and still have “soul”.

The essence of existence, the most liberating experience, is unconditional love. It’s the only thing that can overshadows the fear let it be fear of death, fear of life, fear of madness, fear of existence, fear of uncertainty, wrongdoing or the fear of the fact that life is meaningless. Love, with the broad sense of the term, can be the universal meaning.

The first time I started therapy I was just too desperate. I was massively depressed to the point that that couldn’t often stand still. I remember times where I had to physically move in order to ease the pain of depression settling in like a massive weight in my shoulders. I was trying to slide past it before it crushes me.

Constant pain and falling into the abyss, hitting on the walls during the descent, bleeding, but unable to do anything. A martyrdom without ending. A dark place full of dense fear. A thick glass wall between me and the rest of the world. Feeling numb, seeing without seeing, tasting without tasting. Objects with colours that you couldn’t see, life in black and white. Void and constant problems of perception and definition. A sickening situation, a form of death. Your own death to which you are a spectator. You are there and you can see yourself rotting away, deprived of feelings of any kind. You are hand in hand with the pure fear of madness. The sheer dread of absolute loneliness. You are constantly choking, you gasp for air but you know that you are at the bottom of the sea. There is no air to breathe and you wait to die but you just can’t die. It’s a torture of unimaginable extent. Sometimes you have a few seconds or hours where for some reason you feel infinitesimally better. And you are full of hope that it will go away. But it never goes away. You wake up the next morning and in a matter of a few minutes you are back to the desert. No external influence can have an effect. Nothing, absolutely nothing can get you out of this state. You can’t shake yourself out of the nightmare. You can’t pull yourself together. The meaning of things has been demised. Your whole world has collapsed. You are not there any longer you simply don’t exist so it feels like you don’t have any part in what is happening around you and inside you. You have given up on yourself. You go to bed at night, you wake up in the morning and you feel that you didn’t sleep at all. You are constantly tired, you have no energy to get up the stairs or move your carcass around (…)

Therapy is, at first, a place where you can do all your confessions and dump your uncertainties. It’s a place where you can say anything you have to say without fear or remorse. The more truthful you are the better. People sometimes say that they have friends to whom they can say absolutely everything. Yes we might say everything to them but the darkest and most perverse and distorted thoughts, that we all have, we keep them well hidden. And not just from others but even from ourselves. Therapy is there for us to enable us to open the lid of the “sewage” of our souls. It’s the one place where we can talk about everything and everyone including the therapist himself. In that sense we “put everything in one place” and this alone is a relief (….)

Then we start slowly rediscovering that we always knew or we thought we knew. We start realising things that we were aware but never really conscious of. We also learn new things but the sense of apocalypse happens mostly when we get a new viewing angle on an old issue. And it’s usually nothing elaborate nothing complicated, it’s just a simple thing, a simple suggestion that we never thought of. Because we never allowed ourselves to do so. We can spent hours thinking digging into something just to realise that we have drawn no conclusion at all. Why? How can this be possible? We know we are not stupid, we are quite intelligent and capable of performing complicated thoughts and solving complicated issues, so surely a bit of extra thinking will get us there. Still intellect is a double edged sword. Quite often we indulge in the process of thinking just to mask fear and our inability to follow what we really want (…)

I have been in therapy for 7 years now. It’s too weird when I think about it. It took 7 years to bring myself to a point where I am not depressed and I can think positively of the future. I think that I have been depressed for a long time. There is a good chance that I was depressed for the greatest part of my life. Obviously I was evidently depressed during the final years of highschool, but even then I didn’t know what depression is. So depression had to take the place of something that I knew at the time, like the irrational fear of getting sick or something similar, external but still related to me. I hadn’t really realised what depression really is until a few years ago when I came across a book which described it for what it is. It was an evening of July 2002 when I was walking in the South Bank, depressed as usual, and thinking about my endless misery. I was already in therapy for three years and I was with my second therapist for the last 2 years. Walking around I eventually found myself in the bookstore of the Royal Festival Hall. There I found a book describing depression through the eyes of a therapist who had been herself depressed. When I read the book I realised that I wasn’t mentally ill or crazy as I thought I was. My problem had a name and a description: I was depressed.

After some time I went to my therapist and told her that I thought that I was depressed. She said something along the lines that “I thought that you knew this”. After this conversation what I knew for sure is that I had to find another therapist.

Therapy seems to be delicate game of balance. The therapist is at first a human, secondly an artist and thirdly a professional. He has to be of high intellect and be also well educated. Nevertheless education in this case should not be confused with simple accumulation of knowledge. Passing an exam at University won’t make someone a therapist. It seems almost incomprehensible that there are so many therapists. Only a relative few should be allowed to do this delicate job.

One of first words when we started five years ago was a warning that I will use my intellect to destroy any argument. Then in the following years the sum of the words heard in the room, that wasn’t mine, could probably hardly fill a 90 or even 60 min tape. And this was indeed very wise, professional and ingenious. Had we engaged in long conversations I would have destroyed everything in a few days. There wouldn’t be any point using strong and valid arguments I would ruthlessly ignore them, distort them, denounce them or even fight them and try to turn them over and why not, even invalidate them. And that would have been disastrous. It took time to realise that therapy is not an intellectual fight (…)


It’s now Monday night, the 25th of June.

I put down random thoughts without thinking much or without trying to make the text look nice or coherent. I would love to do that but I am being chased by time constantly. Or maybe I am chasing time. Either way tomorrow is the last day I will be seeing you. It’s unsettling in a way but by no means scary. It’s unsettling because you are now my vault of feeling and ideas. However I am not worried that I am going. This was probably another result of your, I believe, masterly approach. I didn’t end up being depended on you or the therapy. On the other maybe you didn’t adopt this approach specifically for me maybe this is your approach with everyone. I don’t know and I will never know. And it’s better this way. I probably always avoided to get to know. It’s been five years now that we have session every week and yet I never got to know who you are. I always avoided it and I always thought that this has to do with my difficulty to relate to others. But now I think that the main reason for this was that I didn’t want to destroy the myth that I had in my head. I probably didn’t want to reduce you into a “mortal” being. You had to be distant, you had to be a higher authority. So what I had in front of me was an intellectual stripped of his human nature. Someone you could always understand what I am talking about someone who was interested in what I had to say and who valued what I had to say. And here is the paradox: I know that this wasn’t the case, or at least it wasn’t always the case. However that didn’t matter and it still doesn’t matter. Your silence was golden. At the time I needed to learn how to have faith, how to let myself get carried away how to ride the clouds without being afraid in the knowledge that they are just water vapours. I had to learn how to believe again. The sharp truths of nihilism would only lead me to my own destruction. So I found fertile ground and let myself being carried away and being healed.

What true what’s false? What really happened in these five years, what was happening to that room? All I know is that intellect is not to be trusted blindly in situations like this.

I know now that I have to be real I have to open up to the magic of life. I have to look at fear in the face and keep dissolving it. I still have long way to go, this road never ends. However I now know that happiness exists. It’s there, it’s waiting to come out and reclaim its place. I am full of optimism now, even when I weaken.

I have to stop now. I could be writing for ever. I could be doing this for weeks and months. I feel the rush I am trying to squash everything in a few pages and my writing ends up being a silly scribbling.

This is then the end and a new beginning as it has always been.

I wish I could relate more to what I am going to say but still can’t or don’t want to. However, even from a technical point of view, my life was saved. And with emotion or not I know that I owe this to you, whether you were the reason for my change or simply the catalyst.





Its already fifteen years since the last time I walked into your office as a patient. ‘’Patient’’, a strange term, it makes one think of illness. And in a way I was ill, very ill. I had probably the worst “illness” that a person can have, the loss of the essence of the self or, put in a different way, the loss of what many people call soul. 

It’s funny because I still haven’t decided what soul is or is or even if it exists. And probably no one knows either. So the working hypothesis is that there has to be something beyond our material existence that is not tangible. Something that probably requires a material self to exist yet it seems to exist beyond it. I have to accept the existence of this even if I don’t believe in any sort of divinities. Non-tangible and divine do not necessarily have to be related. But at some point I realised that it was an absolute necessity to accept the abstract and intangible idea of a self as a starting point. 

The difficulty of experiencing a sense of self seemed to be at the root of all my problems. The reason why this happened is another issue. When I first stepped in your office this thing that we call ‘’self’’ suffered, it was damaged, it was bruised, it had almost vanished as if it had ever existed.

I don’t know what feelings one can experience. The range varies both in quantity as well as in quality. And the way that one person experiences something is probably impossible to convey to someone else. As I teach my fresher students during our introductory Physics classes, Physics is dealing with physical quantities, things that can be measured. But some of the most important things in life can’t be measured and very often can’t be described either. 

For many years, since the time I was still at school, I was at this false situation where I knew that something was wrong but I couldn’t work out what it was. This undefined anxiety was my future depression brewing. And because I had no idea what it was and how to deal with it I was always trying to make it tangible.  So there were periods where I thought I was constantly sick with one thing or another, and other periods where I was fixated with a particular “real” problem magnifying it sufficiently in order to match the level of my angst. As years went by I started feeling that I was “mad” to put is as simply as I can. I happened to have a friend, which was already in therapy, so I knew about therapy since the time I was going to school. This was a good thing because eventually in my twenties I decided to seek regular help. This was about the time I had arrived in the UK to study and it was the start of relatively long journey. 

When I came to London to continue my studies I decided to continue and look for another therapist. The therapist that I found didn’t really helped me. I was stalled and I wasn’t doing any progress. The turning point was when I realised, after reading a book that happened to fall in my hands, that my sickness had a name, and it wasn’t even a sickness it was a mental state called depression. The writer herself was a therapist that had been through depression and the way that she was describing it made perfect sense. It was a revelation for me! I wasn’t sick and I wasn’t mad. I didn’t have a brain malfunction. I had depression! As bad as it may sound this put a name to the improbable situation I was in. And it made me take the decision to change my therapist and look for a new one. And this is when I met you.

When I came to your office I was still in ruins. I was shredded into pieces. Before I left my previous therapist I asked her what she thought that the problem was with me and she said that I was showing signs of being psychotic. Even then I had the clarity to see that she was disappointed because I was leaving. In the last few sessions she was trying to convince me to stay and work it out. By then it was more than obvious that she wasn’t the right therapist for me, maybe she was good enough for others, but not for me. Looking back I still think that telling me that I was psychotic might have been a reaction of her own feeling of personal failure when I decided to leave her.  

So I had to move on and keep trying to stitch together the threads of my existence or as a matter of fact, create myself from the start. And I did, with you on my side.

How? I don’t know. It’s impossible to give advice to someone regarding this. It impossible to ‘’snap out of it’’ when you don’t even know what is ‘’it’’. What is depression? Who could tell? One thing is for sure, its extremely difficult if not impossible to escape depression on your own. Its like trying to look at yourself in a mirror without a mirror or pull yourself out of quicksand by pulling your collar.    I don’t know if therapy eventually makes you find yourself since the idea self doesn’t seem to have a definite meaning. At the end of the day the whole point might be not be to find yourself but to learn how to live with yourself, to be present in your own life, to take decisions, whatever those decisions might be. 

Those lines that I am trying to write might help someone that can’t believe that depression can be overcome. And it’s true that some people might never come out of it. But everyone should at least know that in principle it can be done, and give it a try.

Looking back I could possibly say that for me depression was the situation where I had convinced myself that I was totally worthless. It’s the most extreme feeling of worthlessness.  And I have the impression that this feeling stems in turn from the most intense feeling of guilt and regret that a person can ever experience. The problem is that, once into depression, this guilt is not accessible any longer. It is not even felt as such. It passes at a much deeper level and the person that experiences this feeling doesn’t have access to it anymore. Of course being depressed one will get also feelings of guilt and regret but those are not going to be similar to the feelings that an average person will experience. This guilt is so deeply rooted that alters the very sense of self, it modifies the whole process of thinking right from the point where a thought is being formed. When I was depressed I could not start a thought and finish it. All logic, objective or subjective, was gone. All possibilities were present in my mind simultaneously. An endless trail of thoughts, a tree with infinite branches. I could not take even the simplest of decisions.  I was feeling that my mind will explode. My brain was working at a crazy speed and looking back I feel lucky that I didn’t have a stroke or a heart attack. 

I was dissolved in an ocean of thoughts, ideas and possibilities that all felt simultaneously equally right and equally wrong. I did not exist. This raw material of thoughts was nothing more than a kaleidoscope of random associations that did not make any sense. This impossible situation was utterly frightening. I was still there I was aware that I am alive, I could see my hands my legs my face in the mirror. Yet I seemed incapable to formulate a complete thought that I could claim as being mine. This made me feel like I wasn’t a human being, it felt like I was an object, a piece of furniture. 

There were times when I felt that I really went on the other side, that there was no return. Those feelings meant that there were also physical effects. Apart from the unbearable feeling of constant tiredness and helplessness there were all sorts of other shortcomings. Some of them really frightening. I remember for example an instant where I was next to an open window and I could sense the light breeze on my skin but I could not feel it. It was almost as my skin was numb and I assume that to some extent it was. The sensory information was not reaching my brain in a way that was familiar. There were times where I was feeling physical pain in my heart. For long periods of time I would go to bed and wake up in the morning after hours of sleep feeling that I haven’t slept at all. At some point during holidays I was trying to eat the lunch I had ordered and even that was difficult. Moving my mouth in order to chew the food and swallow it was not done automatically. On that day I was in such a state that somehow I didn’t…know how to eat. My brain wasn’t allowing me to even do that without the torment of doubt. 

It’s a very strange feeling and practically impossible to describe, having stepped out of your own existence. It sheer dread. I still remember the day when I hit rock bottom. I had just moved of the apartment that I was renting because the landlady would sell it and I moved into a place that felt like a bad hotel. I just had a room with a kitchenette with no common areas apart from the toilet. My window was overlooking the wall of the building. I was there, alone, and at a point I crushed. My depression got so much worse that I felt that I felt totally disintegrated. I switched on the TV and tried to focus on a movie. I could not make sense of what was I was looking at. In the screen, there were just moving images that didn’t make any sense. I called the therapist that I had at the time and I told her that I need to be admitted to a hospital. She told me to think about it again because by doing this I would put myself into a situation where I would always have to carry around with me the label of having being hospitalised in a mental institution. This was one of the few useful advices that I got from her, although for some people that would have been absolutely necessary. At a point I called a friend of mine and somehow managed to get to the metro and go and meet him. When him and another friend saw me they both freaked out. They kept asking me if I was well. I can’t even begin to think how my face must have looked like. I told them that I was fine but they were so worried that they thought that I was going to kill myself.

But I could not kill myself. Because I was already dead.

The point where the guilt is established is different to everyone and has different reasons. Nevertheless I feel that if seeds of guilt are seeded early then guilt will grow roots though your whole existence. Those roots seem impossible to remove because they grow with you and they become part of you. You can’t simply uproot them. Its like a tree whose roots have been contaminated but still those roots are integral part of the tree and they support it. They can’t be cut. So you have to learn to live with them, accept them as part of what you are, and slowly-slowly heal them by removing-as much as you can-of their poison.

I am not sure exactly what to say about my stepping out of depression. I can certainly say that I am out of it. When I decided to stop therapy and return to my home country after living for 9 years abroad Ι was already re-born. I wouldn’t be able to take this step earlier. One of the reasons that I embarked on a PhD was that it gave me the necessary time to heal by postponing decisions for later. So at that point I was already strong enough for the next step. And I felt like I had never felt before. I was feeling good in my own skin. I was at a hype, I was overflowing with confidence and with a thirst to live. After so many years into depression I could truly enjoy the little and the big things in life. 

I still haven’t questioned seriously what happened in those years wheν I was coming to your office. But whatever it was, it did happen. It could have been one or two things that triggered an avalanche, something that you said or even something that you didn’t say. Maybe it was many things or maybe nothing in particular. Maybe it was just being there and talking to you. Maybe it was the certainty that your silences were dense in meaning. It was also the feeling that I could trust you and be totally honest with you, and I remember that sometimes I was brutally honest. And this in turn came from my feeling that you had a deep understanding of the human condition and of course a deep knowledge of things that I had no idea about, and I still don’t. As I always like to say a good therapist is firstly a good and knowledgeable philosopher and secondly a therapist. I strongly believe that not everyone should become a therapist. I believe that you can’t be taught how to become a therapist. You can only evolve into becoming one. 

I am still not sure what it was that happened but it worked. Maybe even your own conclusions about what went on might be totally different from what was really happening. And it feels like the essence of therapy is exactly this. If I tried to put it as simply as I can, it’s a healing interaction happening at various accessible and non-accessible levels. It is an existential quest. Its striking that so many people think that this process can be substituted by medication. I am assuming that it helps (I personally never took any medication) but it helps in the way that a painkiller would help someone with a broken leg. The pain will go away as long as you keep taking the painkillers. And it will give you some comfort. But the painkiller will never fix your broken leg. If the cause of the suffering is the lack of meaning and existential confusion then no pill in the world can ever possibly resolve this. It seems utterly absurd to even consider this possibility. 

As for me, It happens sometimes, rarely, to get some mild setbacks. But I always spring back from them. I don’t think that I will ever go back to where I was. Those setbacks seem to always relate to my mother. I expect a strong rebound when, inevitably at some point or another, my parents, and in particular my mother will die. 

Guilt will re-surface when my mother dies because I know that most of it was induced by her. I don’t blame her any longer, I have accepted the fact that she is only human. I haven’t gotten to the stage of forgiving either. Accepting and forgiving seems like a different thing. Accepting means (at least for me) that I acknowledge the wrongdoing and admit that the person that did it wasn’t exactly aware of what drove them to do what they did. But I can’t simply accept that what they did was alright. Because it wasn’t. 

I acknowledge that I might have toughened up by setting red lines that I won’t allow to be crossed by anyone, whether it’s my parents or anybody else. And I no longer mind if not accepting my red lines induces feelings of pain to those who want to cross them. It’s my life and it’s their life and now, after all those years, my life comes first. I do however need to remind myself to keep a balance with respect to other people around me for example my wife. 

Regarding my parents it seems that I am stuck in the limbo of indifference. I have reduced my parents to normal human beings and this helped me overcome their failings. I have now concluded that, to some extend, the intensity of my guilt, which led to my depression, was probably a frantic attempt of my mother to project her own guilt on me because she could not bear it herself. I believe that this guilt was the result of feeling failed as a mother when at a very young age I was sexually harassed by a much older boy. When I confessed to her what was happening I was blamed by her. This was probably her way of feeling better, to blame me instead of herself for what happened. This was not only one occasion where my parents failed. There are numerous other things, each of them sufficient enough to turn a kid into a depressed adult. And those failings were not just regarding myself. My brother and my sister have suffered, and are probably, still suffering from them. So I can safely say that probably my parents were a total failure. But they are still my parents and there is no point to blame them anymore. They are what they are and they are just human like everyone else. We don’t get to choose our parents. 

Having gone through this and come out of it I could assume that I am much wiser and stronger than probably someone with a better upbringing would have been. On the other hand maybe this is just a pointless oversimplification. At the end of the day nothing really matters. I don’t regret about anything. I simply can’t regret. Life is what it is and there are no rules and no guarantees. Life owes me nothing and I owe nothing to life. I am alive and well (at least for the time being) and I just enjoy existing. 

I am 43 years old and I stopped therapy when I was 29. I was already confident enough to start approaching women much easier and soon enough I got married. Probably sooner that I wanted since my wife was only my third relationship. At this point I need to mention that my first ever relationship was when I was 20 and it was extremely difficult for me to get to the point where I could even have sex. It’s a pity for her that she bumped to me with all my problems. She was also in therapy for several years prior to us meeting. When I came to you this relationship was nearing to an end but I just could not end it. It had to happen earlier due to the difficult circumstances under which it was built. 

Regarding meeting my wife the truth is that this marriage was more like a situation of getting into a relationship and eventually staying in it. We met online and after a month we went out. Eventually we stayed together and at the end we got married. I could have had more experiences with women but this is something that I have stopped thinking and/or regretting. Its not a perfect relationship. Quite the opposite There have been countless fights from day one even to this date. We always threaten each other that we will separate. I don’t know what will eventually happen. But life goes on. And something tells me several years from now we will be old with white hair and keep fighting with the same zest as we did when we first met. We have our ups and downs periods of calm and periods of going against each other. But I accept this as something normal. I don’t know if I would be better off with someone else or if she would be better off with someone else. Maybe yes maybe not. It’s the typical question of “what if”. There is never a way to answer this. And my approach now to marriage, and as matter of fact to everything in life, is to make the best out of what you have.

Three years ago our son was born. I never wanted to have kids since I thought that they would take part of my life away. And its true that parts of my life are gone forever but then new parts are created. You always win something and loose something else. And even for me, a person with countless other interests, my son is the most important part of my life. I feel a totally unconditional love for him.

Another reason why I didn’t want children was that I felt that I would be a horrible and irresponsible father. I don’t think that I am. Luckily, even if we argue on many things with my wife, we are aligned in most of the things that have to do with growing up a kid and I think that judging from what we see around us we are probably not that bad. Of course, as they say a parent will always be wrong even if the best intentions are there. The bottom line is that the essence of our parenting is to try to respect our son’s personality and be there to allow him to flourish and be happy without projecting any personal expectations to him. We offer him guidance, directions, the necessary safety and loads of love and acceptance.  But other than that he is a separate individual.  I am happy to see him growing and he can do whatever he likes with his life as long as he is happy.  

To conclude life, with its ups and downs, is a gift and I keep reminding myself to enjoy it for as long as it lasts. I think about illness and death almost every day. And this reminds me how valuable life is. The ability to enjoy the essence of being alive is the greatest gift that I got from therapy. Even now, realising that more than half of my life is already gone, I stay positive. I value every second. Because a second of full awareness can worth more than days or months or years of meaningless pursuits. And I am no longer willing to waste any of the time that is still remaining for me on this planet.

With this I want to say once again the biggest thank you for being there and enabling all these to happen.  I really wouldn’t have done this without you and I have no idea where my life would have taken me otherwise. I am really lucky that I met you. I will always remember and appreciate how much you helped me.

Postscript by Anthony Stadlen

Psychotherapy’ means that one person gives ‘attention’ (therapy) to the ‘soul’ (‘psyche’) of another.
But unwanted attention is unwarranted attention. It is an insult and an intrusion. My understanding of ‘psychotherapy’ is that the other person has asked for my attention.
The person may not speak explicitly of soul. But the questions each person struggles and seeks help with, which may be anguished questions of human relationships, of the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart’, or a galaxy of other questions, are implicitly questions of soul’.
This is because the ‘soul’ or ‘psyche’ is not some disembodied entity but means, according to Aristotle, the ‘ground and manner of one’s relation to all that is’. I try to help people find the courage, starting from whatever questions or crises they are bringing to me, to discover or deepen their lifes quest for their own authentic relation to all that is, and to overcome apparent obstacles to fulfilling it, even if they come in despair, hardly even daring to think of even daring to think of having such a quest, whether in personal relationships or in work or play. I am often astonished by their emerging creativity.
Family therapy’ means attentively helping family members disentangle, demystify, and sometimes deepen their relationships with one another.
Again, this makes sense only if they want and ask for this. However, a therapist may reasonably suggest that what a family or a family member has thought of hitherto as the problems of one member, which could be addressed by individual therapy, may be better understood as part of a pattern of interpersonal problems of the family as a whole, which family therapy might clarify. It is up to family members then to decide whether they think this a good idea or not.
Existential’ refers to the nature of human existence, which cannot ultimately be grasped by any system or science. Existence is related etymologically to ecstasy. We human beings are not entities of the kind which can be adequately studied by the natural sciences of statics, kinematics or dynamics, or even biology, psychology or sociology. Rather, as the philosopher Martin Heidegger put it, the human being is ecstatic, in the sense that our very being is in question for ourselves. The study of human reality has to be a kind of ec-statics.
‘Daseinsanalysis’ is existential psychotherapy grounded in this understanding of the ecstatic nature of human existence or ‘Da-sein (to be here)’: a term meant to convey the immediacy of our being-in-the-world with fellow human beings, living creatures and things. Authentic Daseinsanalysis, then, incorporates the phenomenological, experiential insights of psychoanalysis (founded by Sigmund Freud) and of analytical psychology (founded by C.G. Jung), but rejects the reductive ‘theory and pseudo-scientific jargon in which practitioners of those disciplines too often tend to frame their findings.
Human beings, traditionally thought of as made in the image of the Ineffable, are therefore themselves ineffable. And so psychotherapy, too, is ultimately ineffable.