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Holding Hope in Illness and Uncertainty: Light in Dark Times

I attended a workshop on hope* today. It particularly looked at what it means for medical practitioners and counselors to work with hope in light of serious illness and death – and how to support people’s many versions of hope in those spaces.

But hope can be such important territory for all of us to explore, in all sorts of phases of our lives, so I’d like to share some thoughts from the workshop with you, and also to invite you to share your own definition of hope here, too.

For instance, David Morowitz (in a video) asked about “holding hope”:

“What does [hope] mean for the client
and how might we hold it?”

It’s a big question.

So how might you ‘hold’ hope in your life?

Is it something you hold gently? Or do you hang on tight?

Does it feel like it’s hard to hold sometimes?
Are there days it seems to slip through your fingers?
Days you’d like to pin it down.

Where do you hold it?

Is it sort of physically located somewhere in your body?
Or emotionally?
Or spiritually?

What helps you to hold it?

In the same video, Dr Winston Liauw noted that it’s hard to even look at hope closely sometimes: “researching hope is difficult because it hasn’t fit into a box since Pandora let it out many eons ago.”

So what even is hope for you?
Is it easy or hard to define?
What exactly is it that you hope for in your life?
Just now.

And what of the relationship between hope and denial? In the workshop video, an inspiring woman – both a doctor and a patient with end-stage cancer – wondered about these two factors:

Hope and denial – I’m not sure if sometimes they’re the same thing.”

So are there places in your life where hope and denial might meet?
Or do they feel clearly separate?
How can you tell when one becomes the other?
Which one replenishes you more?

And what of uncertainty’s role in all of this?

In my work facilitating telephone support groups for people living with cancer, I’ve often heard people speak about the toughness of uncertainty. The rawness and tension of that place where no clear answers can be found.

The uncertainty of what people’s lives will be like with this illness.
Of how it might impact their families and relationships and their sense of identity.
The uncertainty of the future.
Of living or dying…

Yet at this workshop I found myself wondering if perhaps this very unknowing – this painful uncertainty – may actually be part of the deal with hope sometimes. That perhaps certainty might sometimes be too concrete to ‘hold’ our hope. And that maybe hope needs these richer, darker soils and question marks to grow in.

In some ways, this seems similar to the uncertain blankness that many artists also speak about – that confronting emptiness that comes before the creativity. “The creative void.”

And perhaps uncertainty, itself, is a bit like that – a creative void of sorts – a dark, uncharted, challenging space where the light of hope can be seen. Where we can awaken in ourselves a creative response to life. Even when it’s hard.

Perhaps in this way, as Dr Frank Brennan suggested on the tape,

hope is an act of imagination”…

(So how do you imagine hope into your life?)


* This workshop was presented by Simone Connell and Dr Judith Lacey (and was based on a workshop Simone Connell presented at the World Congress on Psycho-oncology in Quebec in May, 2010; and at the Inaugural Whole Person Care National Symposium in Sydney, October 2009).

Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

Holding Hope in Illness and Uncertainty: Light in Dark Times

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2019). Holding Hope in Illness and Uncertainty: Light in Dark Times. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 15, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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