The Journey - a metaphor for existential therapy

The metaphor of the journey can bring the experience of regular therapy closer to clients wondering what it is all about

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Apr 04, 2017
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We often end up in therapy because we have become lost and we no longer recognise our world. The picture we had constructed of ourselves no longer makes sense; we have entered an unknown world.

I believe that metaphors can be of great help to some clients, giving them the freedom to relate an experience more closely to that what is lived. I like the metaphor of the journey to describe what happens in therapy. Like a journey, the process of therapy is one of gradual uncovering and discovery of our self and our world. This is how I would illustrate it.

During therapy, we spend fifty minutes together each week. The encounter is like a sailing through the outer and inner worlds of the client. We journey through sunny and cloudy landscapes, storms even. We deal with tides, we dodge rocks and hidden shallows; we plot one course only to change, perhaps because the wind has died. We are constantly repairing, cleaning and clearing decks. At times we sail into calm waters, enjoy a glimpse of sun. Light is thrown where there was shadow, or perhaps even darkness. As our focus shifts, so do the light and the shadow. At other times, we may get stuck in a shallow or have to retrace our course.
Sailing, like life, is a process of constantly making choices and learning from our experiences. We have the freedom to go wherever we want on the open sea of life, but we can never sail two courses at once; choosing one direction always implies forgoing the possibility of another. Some of the therapeutic work is becoming aware of the freedom we have while also accepting that for every choice we make inevitably, we lose the possibility of another choice and its outcome.


As the therapy continues, so does the journey. The work helps us to create new routes and learn new ways of sailing -- a tiny navigational shift in the course, unobservable at first, can lead to a final destination miles off the treacherous rocks or the submerged sandbank we might have been heading for initially.

As an existential analyst, I remain flexible and open to work with whatever experience the client brings into, or to put it differently, I am ready to sail with the client on their chosen route, be that into the heart of the storm or a sunset.

I help the client to unpack their different choices and consider their consequences. Through therapy they may gain a new insight on how they are sailing the seas of their world. The work may help them to develop a different perspective, allowing them to plot a course that suits them better and to make different choices on how to deal with storms, low tides or windless days.

I support my clients as they creates their own meanings, choose attitudes that suit them best and take responsibility for their lives, today and in the future.

Go to the profile of Ondine Smulders

Ondine Smulders

Experienced Existential Psychotherapist. I am here for when life becomes overwhelming. Whatever you face, relationships issues, stress at work, low mood, long term illness, a sense of isolation or bereavement, I can offer you a place to pause, be heard and hear yourself. I will support you as you try to make sense of your experiences and create different possibilities for yourself. Following my own spell in therapy and my work as a volunteer at the Samaritans, I retrained as an Existential Psychotherapist. I have a PgDip and ADEP and am accredited with the UKCP. I have worked across a variety of mental health services including the NHS, Mind and the domestic violence charity, the Woman’s Trust. I currently work in private practice in EC1 and W1, and am an associate at Therapy Harley Street. I also work as a counsellor at Breast Cancer Haven. Before retraining, I spent more than a decade in Investment Banking and 13 years in a think-tank where I personally experienced the stressful nature of highly competitive work environments. My on-going role as a member of the supervisory board at an energy-services company allows me to maintain my business interest and involvement.

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