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On Living Fully: A Guide for Client and Therapist

Exploring what creates fulfillment.

Key points

  • Examining four areas of existence that are integral to all of us can lead to a more fulfilling life.
  • Carl Rogers, Ph.D., emphasized the importance of unconditional positive regard as essential to living fully.
  • Viktor Frankl, MD, emphasized the need for discovering a meaning to our lives as essential to living fully.

What does a fulfilled life look like? How does a therapist help a client to live fully? I’ve been examining these questions since I was a new therapist in my mid-20s. Over the course of my career, I have culled it down to four areas of existence that I believe need to be addressed in order to create a fulfilled life.

The areas are:

  1. Being with myself
  2. Being with others
  3. Being with my immediate purposes
  4. Being with an overall meaning

Let’s define each area and examine how a therapist can facilitate the client in this exploration.

Being with myself

This area asks the question, "Who am I?" To answer this, we need to be aware of our inner life. We need to recognize the range of our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations as they flow through us. It is hearing and seeing who we are. It is discovering our authentic self in the moment. It is being known to ourselves. Without knowing ourselves, we can be susceptible to floating aimlessly through life. We can also ignore our authentic self and become what others want or expect us to be.

As therapists, we want to facilitate the client to bring their attention to themselves. We want to empower our clients to recognize that they are the authors of their own life. This is an intrapsychic exploration.

For example, the client focuses primarily on what others think and feel about them. As therapists, we want to move their focus to what they think of themselves. We also want to help our client explore what gets evoked in them in reaction to the judgment of others. This allows the client to take more ownership of their life. The more the client gets in touch with their own self, the more agency they will have in their life.

Being with others

This asks the question, "How do we relate to others?" Since, as human beings, we are interconnected, being emotionally close to others is part of a fulfilled life. We want our authentic self to be seen by someone. We want to see them as well. We need someone, whether it is a friend or partner, to trust and to share our innermost thoughts and feelings with.

As therapists, we want to facilitate the client to explore if they feel they are known by others in a meaningful way. One of the healing components for any client is our unconditional positive regard (Carl Rogers, Ph.D.), as well as our empathy. By providing this, the client will have the experience of being known. This allows trust and safety to develop which is essential to the client sharing openly and deeply.

As therapists, we also want to be aware of how authentic our clients are with us, and we are with them, in the context of our roles as client and therapist. We notice what hinders or supports our ability to see and hear each other. This exploration allows the client to also be aware of how they relate to others outside of the therapy room. Through this, the client can discover how to develop closer relationships with the people in their lives. This is an interpersonal exploration.

Being with my immediate purposes

This area asks the question, "How do we structure our daily life?" We explore what we give top priority to in our schedules. We explore how do we choose our priorities? Do we attend to our need for work, leisure, and community in a way that feels good? Do we listen to our authentic needs?

As therapists, we want to facilitate our client to recognize what they have chosen as their priorities. Do their daily priorities fit who they are now? Are they satisfied with the priorities that they have chosen? Is there anything they would want to change? Are they actualized in how they want to be in the world? If not, what blocks them?

Our clients’ exploration of how they prioritize their immediate purposes can lead to a more powerful and satisfying engagement with life.

Being with an overall meaning

This area asks the questions, "What is the meaning of Life?" and "What is our meaning for being alive?" These two questions are what philosophies ponder and religions attempt to address. While the previous three areas address the search for meaning within the self, others, and immediate purposes, there is something missing if we don’t discover an overall meaning for our existence. The overall meaning we discover becomes the container for the other three areas.

For all of us, on both the micro and the macro level, being embodied has its challenges. For example, on the micro level, someone close to you dies unexpectedly. On the macro level, the current global pandemic has killed almost four million people. We ask ourselves why did either of these events happen? They are incredibly painful and they don’t make sense.

As therapists, we need to facilitate our clients to find a way to reinterpret what cannot be denied (George Kelly). As therapists, we need to facilitate our clients in making sense of why the human race exists on Earth. We need to help them explore not only what is their meaning for living, but what is the meaning of life for all of us?

As therapists, we want to facilitate the client to find a way to make sense of what doesn’t make sense to them currently. We want to help them develop a coherent meaning which will give them a framework to answer these two questions. In this exploration, we must also leave room for what we may never know. One therapeutic model that explores this search for meaning was developed by Viktor Frankl, MD, a noted psychiatrist. He created Logotherapy in response to how he made meaning during his years in a concentration camp during World War II.

All four of these areas of existence are intertwined. If a client is too focused on their relationship to themselves, they may not focus on their relationship to others. If a client is too focused on their relationship to others, they may be avoiding examining their relationship to themselves. If a client is too focused on their immediate purposes, they may not seek out an overall meaning to their life. If a client is too focused on their overall meaning, they may neglect a thorough search for their immediate purposes.

We strive for fluidity in all four areas as we seek to live a fulfilling life. This will be a lifelong exploration since each of these four areas are continuously impacted by our ongoing experiences through our life.

We can use this framework to explore our lives. Take time to notice which areas you feel good about, and which areas evoke a sense of vulnerability. While doing this exploration, be sure to allow space and time to let each awareness emerge. This exploration will guide you to what area needs the most attention to live a fulfilled life.

I wish you the best in this exploration. I believe it can be challenging and it will be rewarding.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.