The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: Love

For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,
When every fowl comes there his mate to take,
Of every species that men know, I say,
And then so huge a crowd did they make,
That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake
Was so full, that there was scarcely space
For me to stand, so full was all the place.

  • Excerpt from Parliament of Fowls
    by Geoffrey Chaucer

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s worth delving into its rich history and what it teaches. Tracing back to the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, Valentine’s Day transformed with the spread of Christianity. It became associated with Saint Valentine, a martyr who, according to legend, sent a love letter signed “Your Valentine.” Chaucer romanticized the day in the Middle Ages, linking it with the tradition of courtly love. Today, we principally celebrate romantic love, exchanging notes and small gifts, often mass-produced (e.g., Valentine’s cards) in our modern, commercial world.

While Valentine’s Day focuses on romantic love, love is complex. The Greeks identified several types of love, a lost nuance. “Eros” is passionate, romantic love. “Philia” refers to deep friendship and goodwill. “Storge” is the unconditional, protective love often found within families. “Agape” is a selfless, universal love beyond personal affection. Each type offers a lens to view relationships, including the therapeutic relationship.

Existential Humanistic Therapy is relational and experiential. What is the role of love in therapy and in the therapeutic relationship?

“Unconditional Positive Regard,” an attitude and approach popularized by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, entails a therapist’s non-judgmental, empathetic acceptance of their client, more or less regardless of what the client says or does. This approach doesn’t necessarily imply approval of all behaviors but an understanding and validation of the client’s feelings and experiences. It’s about creating a supportive and safe environment, crucial for effective therapy and fostering growth.

The Greek taxonomy of love clarifies the role of love in therapy. “Eros” risks boundary crossing. It’s a situation to get consultation support if the therapist feels it and a potential clinical opportunity if the client feels it. “Philia” is lovely in therapy, but let’s be honest: we don’t always like our clients. That’s not the end of the world. It may be part of the reason they are there (i.e., relationship challenges), offering an opportunity. “Storge” or “motherly love” is also lovely in therapy. The warmth and support matters. However, the relationship with our kids or siblings is different.

“Agape” illuminates the role of love in therapy. “Unconditional Positive Regard” shares similarities with “agape’s” selfless nature. Both involve acceptance and care that is not contingent on someone’s actions or responses. We care without expectation. The approach helps create a “safe space” for openness, honesty, and connection. Notably, “agape” isn’t about what our clients (or others) do. It’s about a choice we make. It’s a powerful tool, arguably the most powerful, in therapy. And, frankly, our world cries for it.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Share this post

Related Posts:

The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: Micro-skills: Reflecting

Reflection is a bit like the work of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. We mirror or reflect our client’s experience—the content presented, the process or experience in the moment (e.g., nonverbals, tone, pattern of speech, etc.), self and world constructs (e.g., “I am…”), protective patterns and inner tensions, and core vulnerabilities or wounds.

Read More »
The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: Bringing there-and-then into here-and-now

E-H Therapy is experiential and relational. The approach leverages several “micro-skills “to develop experience in the room, including tagging, slowing down and tuning in, reflecting back, etc. Each works to deepen presence “here-and-now.”

One skill is “bringing there-and-then into here-and-now.” It looks like, for example, the therapist’s statement above, “How does that feel to say?” The client narrated a story “there-and-then.” However, the realization of PTSD occurred in the present moment, suggesting a critical path to explore. Working in the present offers tremendous therapeutic potential. While nothing is wrong with narrating, experiencing offers immense possibilities for growth.

Read More »
  • Search EHI's Blog

    Upcoming Events

    Ongoing series on Existential & Humanistic therapy

    Get Updates

    Join our mailing list and get the latest in news and events.

    Blog Archives