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The Existential Moment – Authenticity

In the late 1930s, the “discovery” of a previously unknown masterpiece by the famed Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, titled “The Supper at Emmaus,” took the art world by storm. Then eminent art historian Abraham Bredius, nicknamed “the Pope” because his word was gospel in matters of art authenticity, thoroughly examined the painting and confirmed its authenticity.

There was only one problem: it was a fake.

Frustrated by the critical neglect of his work and harboring a desire for revenge for the slight, Han van Meegeren, a Dutch painter, meticulously forged this Vermeer painting. Using forgery techniques from period-appropriate pigments and canvas to “aging” the work, he passed it off as an authentic Vermeer, with the esteemed Boijmans Museum proudly acquiring it.

Van Meegeren’s deceit unraveled post-World War II when one of his forgeries was found in the collection of Nazi leader Hermann Göring. Facing charges of collaboration, van Meegeren confessed to the lesser crime of forgery. To prove his claims, he painted another “Vermeer” in police custody. “The Supper at Emmaus” ruse unraveled, stunning the art world and opening the question of other fakes.

Authenticity is a core concept of existential philosophy and an essential touchstone in E-H therapy. Moral connotation (i.e., socio-political ideal) aside, authenticity means congruence with oneself – who we really are. It stands opposite ideas like “bad faith” or “alienation.”

Clients often grapple with societal pressures, parental expectations, an oppressive conscience, self-deceptions, internal conflicts, past traumas, etc., that deter them from seeing and living their authentic path. The ground of that path is the realization that they are the ultimate author of their lives. Experiential presence and honesty are vital allies along the way.

Therapists grapple with the influence of the historical echo of being “a blank screen.” Sound therapy, so it goes, entails being non-reactive and opaque. However, the therapist’s authenticity is instrumental in E-H therapy’s “here-and-now” relational work. In this case, authenticity is wrapped up with self-disclosure, noting the distinction between disclosing to support healing and growth and simply disclosing your personal life. Finally, being authentic also serves as a model and a beacon, illustrating the transformative power of genuine self-awareness and understanding.

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read more posts about working in the “here-and-now” on EHI’s blog.

Read more posts about relational work in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

Existential Moment Author: Scott Gibbs, LMFT, EHI Board Member-at-Large | Website: | Twitter: @Novum_Organum

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