Researching the Creative Aspect of Understanding Existentialism

By Lori McAndrew and Bari Glickman 

CMHC blog image HPW

We can’t believe we are already considered “second years” in the Graduate Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. So far our program director, Dr. Kestemberg, and faculty members, such as Dr. Wood, have given us a personalized learning experience that continues to support us in becoming the best counselors in training we can be.

When Dr. Wood announced in class last year that she was looking for two students to work with her on a research project for an upcoming conference and on-going research continuing into Fall 2016, we both knew it would be a unique opportunity. We are happy to share: It has been! This work has allowed each of us to enrich our learning experience in our chosen career, exposing us to new and unfamiliar territory within our master’s program. In addition, the chance to work with our professor in a more intimate setting has enhanced what we are already learning in the classroom setting.

We met several times in the Fall 2015 semester and brainstormed about various topics and ideas. Through a collaborative team effort, we decided to look at the creative aspect of learning and understanding the concept of existentialism. Existentialism is a counseling approach that empowers clients to make meaning of their life experiences and emphasizes the existence of the individual person as having free will in making decisions in their life in relationship to themselves and others. In the classroom, some existential topics in regards to counseling that we had learned about had been complicated for us and our fellow students, so coming up with a creative solution and researching it to hopefully help other graduate students understand and appreciate Victor Frankl’s existential theory was an exciting prospect!

We learned through our research that most young clinicians do not have experience with utilizing existential concepts in their practice and that there is a belief that existentialism “does not easily fit into a therapist’s toolbox” (Shumaker, 2008, p.377). This led us to develop our theory that using music might help to support the learning of the existential concepts, allowing these concepts to be more tangible and relatable, and in return, help them improve their application of existential concepts with clients in the clinical realm.

It was a team effort creating a diagram which was designed to show the inter-connection of existential core concepts. We then began to build a music catalog that would help exemplify these concepts. We spent several hours listening to music, reading lyrics and categorizing the songs into the existential concepts. This was ultimately transferred to a flash drive that we used as a handout for our poster presentation.

One of the most exciting moments occurred when a conference participant made a special effort to come see our poster presentation. Knowing that the project we are working on is as interesting to others as it is to us provided us with a feeling of confidence and success. This, coupled with the guidance that our professor provided us, helped to put our nerves at ease and enabled us to discuss our poster with confidence and enthusiasm.

We are in the process of developing goals to move forward with our research. One of our goals is to test pilot this research with the new cohort of students in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Master’s program that started this fall. We are looking to have our research published in the Journal of Creative Counseling and ultimately present our research at future conferences.

As the first cohort in Molloy College Master’s Program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, we have a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement. The comradery we share as a cohort allows us to be a community of learners, a group that supports each other in our studies and celebrates each other in our accomplishments.

One thought on “Researching the Creative Aspect of Understanding Existentialism”

  1. I had the pleasure of witnessing these students in action. They provided a comprehensive review of the research and project and were adept at addressing questions and feedback. They did a fantastic job!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *