Existential Therapy Chapter

Existential Therapy Chapter 6


Existential Psychotherapy

Born from philosophy

A phenomenological philosophy of “humanness”

Humans are in a constant state of transition, evolving and becoming

Clients are searching for meaning in their subjective worlds

Common questions/sources of existential angst for clients

“Who am I?”

“I will die.”

“What does it all mean?”

“Will I die alone?”

“How am I going to get to where I want to be in my life?”


Existential Therapy A Philosophical/Intellectual Approach to Therapy


The capacity for self-awareness

The tension between freedom & responsibility

The creation of an identity & establishing meaningful relationships

The search for meaning

Accepting anxiety as a condition of living

The awareness of death and nonbeing


The Capacity for Self-Awareness

The greater our awareness, the greater our possibilities for freedom

Awareness is realizing that:

We are finite–time is limited

We have the potential and the choice, to act or not to act

Meaning is not automatic–we must seek it

We are subject to loneliness, meaninglessness, emptiness, guilt, and isolation


Identity and Relationship

Identity is “the courage to be”– We must trust ourselves to search within and find our own answers

Our great fear is that we will discover that there is no core, no self

Being existentially “alone” helps us to discover our authentic self

Relatedness– At their best our relationships are based on our desire for fulfillment, not our deprivation

Relationships that spring from our sense of deprivation are clinging, parasitic, and symbiotic

Clients must distinguish between neurotic dependence and the authentic need to be with others

Balancing aloneness and relatedness helps us develop a unique identity and live authentically in the moment


The Search for Meaning

Meaning– like pleasure, meaning must be pursued obliquely

Finding meaning in life is a by-product of a commitment to creating, loving, and working

“The will to meaning” is our primary striving

Life is not meaningful in itself; the individual must create and discover meaning


Anxiety – A Condition of Living

Yalom’s four givens of existence create anxiety: mortality, isolation, meaningless, and freedom

Existential anxiety is normal – life cannot be lived, nor can death be faced, without anxiety

Existential therapists help clients develop a healthy view of anxiety

Anxiety can be a stimulus for growth as we become aware of and accept our freedom

Anxiety can be a catalyst for living authentically and fully

We can blunt our anxiety by creating the illusion that there is security in life

If we have the courage to face ourselves and life we may be frightened, but we will be able to change


Goals of Existential Psychotherapy

Helping clients to accept their freedom and responsibility to act

Assisting people in coming to terms with the crises in their lives

Encouraging clients to recognize the ways in which they are not living fully authentic lives

Inviting clients to become more honest with themselves

Broadening clients’ awareness of their choices

Facilitating the client’s search for purpose and meaning in life

Assisting clients in developing a deep understanding of themselves and the ways they can effectively communicate with others


Relationship Between Therapist and Client

Therapy is a journey taken by therapist and client

The person-to-person relationship is key

The relationship demands that therapists be in contact with their own phenomenological world

The core of the therapeutic relationship

Respect and faith in the clients’ potential to cope

Sharing reactions with genuine concern and empathy


Application to Group Counseling

Provides an ideal environment for therapeutic work on responsibility

Clients are responsible for their behavior in group

Group settings provide a mirror of how clients may act in the world

Through feedback members learn to view themselves through another’s eyes

Members learn how their behavior affects others

Builds interpersonal skills

Provides members with the opportunity to be fully themselves while relating to others

Creates an opportunity to relate to others in meaningful ways

Provides an opportunity to explore the paradoxes of existence

Learning to experience anxiety as a reality of the human condition

Making choices in the face of uncertainty

Discovering there are no ultimate answers for ultimate concerns


Limitations of Existential Psychotherapy

The individualistic focus may not fit within the world views of clients from a collectivistic culture

The high focus on self-determination may not fully account for real-life limitations of those who are oppressed and have limited choices

Some clients prefer a more directive approach to counseling

The approach may prove difficult for clients who experience difficulty conceptualizing or have limited intellectual capacities

The approach does not focus on specific techniques, making treatments difficult to standardize

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