I’m guessing that “existential angst” is not a phrase you would normally hear or use in conversation on an everyday basis.  Nor expect in a relatively brief blog either....

But there are a lot of words and phrases like that just now – words and phrases that have suddenly appeared in our language from nowhere like the virus itself almost: social distancing; lockdown and lockdown-easing; Covid-secure; PPE etc etc.

Some of those words meant different things in “another life” - lockdown in my teenage years, for example, meant a late night in a pub drinking behind closed doors, and feeling part of an exclusive club....not that I took part in any of that, of course!!

PPE, on the other hand, equally refers to university courses in politics, philosophy & economics – though I have to admit that in my university days, we generally used the initials to refer to that particular course as “Pooh, Piglet & Eyeore”....

And most of us now know what an epidemiologist does!

But, back to existential angst.

I found myself in a conversation with a friend the other day, talking about the fact that it almost seems like a trip to the shops has become a potential “life or death decision”.

Perhaps you might find that a little extreme.

But if you have been in that situation where you or a family member have contracted covid-19, then you might connect with that level of feeling a little more closely.

Sometimes we have shared the same or similar experiences as our clients in session.  Sometimes not.

Sometimes we have fought the same battles of recovery from trauma, illness, bereavement.  Sometimes not.

So just how can I, as a therapist, begin to demonstrate empathy with a client whose experience I have not shared?

How can I connect with my client’s feeling of a “life or death decision”, if I simply haven’t had one?

How can I understand, be congruent and demonstrate empathy when I don’t understand the words the client uses to describe their own feelings?

How can I understand existential angst if those feelings have not even fleetingly passed through my mind or being?

Or if I simply don’t understand or connect with exactly what existential angst means?

And as my examples above illustrate, one word or a phrase can mean different things to different people.

Well – I need to ask what it means for my client.

Ask what it feels like inside for them; what physical feelings they have; where they feel it in their body.

Ask what are their thoughts.

Ask them to describe it; experience it with them; mirror their body language; feel those feelings for myself; and with them.

And if we do that, undoubtedly we may then connect with a deeper experience of our own; a core feeling that connects two different people with two different experiences.

But remember, this is powerful stuff.

So think about it.  Because it’s there.  And it will come in great waves.

At very least.  Think about it.