The Role of Hope in Healing

During a workshop I attended on trauma the lecturer related the story of a client who said they felt without any glimmer of hope. This resonated with me and is something I have heard many times over the years. So what is hope? How can we define it? Hope is the essence that provides our lives with trajectory, a sense that we are generally moving in the right direction, no matter how faint the light that guides us. The desire to feel hope is hard wired into our being.

Without those messages that tell us life can change for the better, we fail to thrive, we collapse inwards, our nervous systems shutdown. Ultimately our spirit dies and our bodies follow.

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, renowned psychotherapist and author, believed that man needs a sense of hope in order to survive. He wrote that someone could endure any amount of pain, anguish and darkness provided that he or she could hold onto a vestige of hope that things would one day change.

Let us imagine that I am sitting with a client, either in person or using our computer screens to create a connection between us. The client is on edge, perhaps it is their first session with me. They do not know what to expect, or how I can help them. They know only that they feel unable to cope alone with the issue they are experiencing. They describe their life, their sleep patterns, the feelings manifesting in their body, they may tentatively describe their fear, sadness or anger. They may tell me that “things feel hopeless”. And that is the point that I will tentatively challenge their perspective. I will tell them that their hope brought them into counselling. It is their sense of hope that guided their hand to write the email or dial the phone to contact me.

Together, that client and I can nurture their faint glimmer of hope. We can gently breathe on its dying embers and celebrate each small triumph that encourages the warming flame. That flame will ultimately cast light into the shadows.

When we listen to our hopes, no matter how quietly they whisper, we can be guided towards a better way to exist. We can be piloted towards a place of safety, where we can heal. Hope will show us how to find meaning in life. Hope will ultimately guide us to a place of wholeness, where we can each thrive. Hope is inherent in the act of being alive and no matter how dark the place which you currently inhabit, the future is abundant with possibility.

And the message to take away? A full life is not suddenly going to spring into existence with the wave of a wand, no matter how much that myth may tempt and beguile. When all hope feels lost, it is possible to find some meaning, if only in the recognition of the smallest things. Perhaps noticing a flower forcing it’s way out of the frozen winter soil, or enjoying the warmth of a hot drink. Not only can you thrive in the future, you can begin to live now.

As Frankl so inspiringly wrote:                

“…it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp” (Frankl, p55)


Frankl, V. (2004) Man’s Search for Meaning, London: Rider

Helen Clarke is a qualified Humanistic Integrative Counsellor based in Coastal West Sussex. She specialises in loss and the associated physical signs of profound, traumatic loss, such as palpitations, sleep issues, panic attacks, vivid and recurrent dreams, unexplained aches & pains, a sense of immediate and physical fear or overwhelming sadness.

Follow this link for more information on Helen’s private practice.

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A new day brings hope