Test: connect all nine dots with no more than four lines without lifting your pencil from the paper (a solution below).
This problem shows the power of a mental set, an unconscious predisposition to approach a problem in a particular way based on experience and habit. A mental set exemplifies the limitations experience puts on choice. However, the past is simply one of several limitations placed on our freedom.
Freedom is the beating heart of Existential philosophy, a critical wellspring of E-H Therapy. On the one hand, we are free, able to pause, deliberate, and decide. Yet freedom is not self-sufficient and unlimited. It is at once grounded in and constrained by finitude, by our facticity (Sartre, Heidegger) or destiny (Tillich). Shorthand, destiny is “myself as given, formed by nature, history, and myself.” (Tillich, 1951, p. 185) Biology, laws of nature, culture, conscience, and so on are elements of our destiny.
E-H Therapy theory holds that four existential givens (also called paradoxical polarities) pervade The Cosmological Dimension of the Therapeutic Encounter. The second polarity is the wish for freedom and the reality of limitation.
Finite freedom is present in therapy in any number of guises. It appears, for example, in self-restriction based on fear, guilt, or shame and in despair over dashed hopes or unrealizable expectations. Alternatively, it can occur in self-expansion manifest as aggrandizement, the unbridled pursuit of power or money, and so on. Our task as therapists is to help clients acknowledge and accept the realities and understand the influences of finite freedom. In so doing, we hope to help them move beyond their own mental set toward greater possibility, toward the expansion of freedom.
Tillich, P. (1951). Systematic theology: Volume one. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Links to Related Resources and Blog Posts:
Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.