According to existentialism, the human condition might be lonely, meaningless, and temporary, but we have the free will to face it and find meaning regardless. Existentialism seeks to answer the questions "What is the meaning of my life and death?" and "Why am I here?" Within this framework, it is natural to feel afraid or isolated, but using free will can help reconcile these feelings.
Since existential theory can be applied to several types of therapy, those who believe in a higher power could also benefit from some of its ideas. However, the emphasis on free will could clash with some religious beliefs in which "God" is a larger authority than the self.
If existential therapy or its techniques don't seem helpful to your concerns, it's important to remember there are many types of therapy available for whatever you're dealing with. It's normal to interview a few specialists before choosing the right fit, and it's also acceptable for your therapeutic needs to change over time.
An existential therapist might ask you what you think makes life meaningful. They could also ask how everyday events make you feel to encourage you to be present and authentic. An existential therapist might further ask what you can do with the circumstances you're living in to add more creativity or meaning to your life.
There are several psychotherapists who have contributed to existential therapy. In 1946, Victor Frankl wrote "Man's Search for Meaning" after having survived concentration camps during the Holocaust. Frankl introduced the world to logotherapy, the idea that human beings can find meaning in their lives no matter their circumstances. American psychologist Rollo May studied in Europe and brought ideas about existential psychology to the United States in the late 1950s. In 1980, Irvin Yalom named the four "givens" of freedom, isolation, meaninglessness, and death that existential theory is based on.
Feizi M, Kamali Z, Gholami M, Abadi BAGH, Moeini S. The effectiveness of existential psychotherapy on attitude to life and self-flourishing of educated women homemakers. J Educ Health Promot. 2019;8:237. doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_473_18
Existentialism proposes that people have the freedom, and the responsibility, to make our own choices and that leaning on institutions or other individuals to tell us how to make our moral choices is inauthentic and hinders our personal development. According to existential thought, we must look within ourselves to find meaning, to assert our values, and to make the decisions that shape our lives.
Similarly, existential therapists are not the cold and aloof professionals or the white tower intellectuals of psychoanalysis, nor are they experts who assign the magical combination of exercises and assignments that allow a client to heal. Rather, existential therapists are fellow humans undergoing the same journeys and dealing with the same inevitable truths of the human condition (Diamond, 2011).
While the original philosophers credited with their contributions to existentialist thought may be considered the founders of existential therapy, there were a few practicing therapists who did the legwork of incorporating existentialism into a cohesive therapy.
Due to the nature of existentialism, existential therapy is likely to help clients bring about a lasting change in their perspective, rather than encouraging short-term effort that the client may lose motivation to continue as soon as the sessions end.
While the therapeutic relationship is vital in any form of therapy, it is especially important in existential therapy. As mentioned earlier, the therapist is not a distant expert who is magnanimously guiding a client through self-discovery; rather, he or she is a fellow human who has also experienced existential anxiety and fear and aims to guide others through the difficult process of accepting and living with the inevitabilities of human life.
Besides existential techniques, Existential therapy may incorporate techniques or ideas from other forms of therapy, including cognitive, behavioral, narrative, and others, but all existential therapy sessions depend on the productive and close relationship between therapist and client to succeed (Diamond, 2011).
What do you think of existential therapy, and existentialism in general? Do you think we each create our own sense of meaning or purpose in life? Have you tried existential therapy, as a client or as a practitioner? Let us know in the comments!
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You might consider existential-humanistic psychology, which seeks to give clients a greater awareness of how their constellation of pleasures, worries, thrills and anxieties all come together to form their experience of living.
To that end, humanistic psychologies draw from a range of philosophical approaches such as existentialism, feminism, postmodernism and constructivism, all designed to orient the study of the mind and behavior toward understanding what it means to a be a human being. Existential-humanistic psychology emphasizes the importance of human choices and decisions and feelings of awe toward life.
Put in a therapeutic context, existential-humanistic approaches to therapy emphasize the same factors that research suggests make any therapy successful, such as therapeutic alliance, empathy, the provision of meaning, the provision of hope and affective attunement, says Kirk Schneider, PhD, a psychologist and faculty member at Saybrook University and the Existential-Humanistic Institute in San Francisco, who advocates for the field. Schneider and his colleague Orah Krug, PhD, also at Saybrook, last year co-edited APA's first book about the field, "Existential-Humanistic Therapy." This fall, Schneider says, a partnership between Saybrook and EHI will launch the first nationally recognized certificate program in existential-humanistic practice.
What sets apart existential-humanistic psychology, Schneider says, is that all aspects of therapy are seen through the lens of a concept called presence. He describes presence as entering into a heightened awareness of yourself, opening yourself up to learning what truly matters to you and experiencing in the here-and-now the barriers to and opportunities for change that therapy offers.
Existential-humanistic psychology's roots go back several decades, to Rollo May, PhD, who helped found Saybrook University in San Francisco in 1971, and to the work of Abraham Maslow, PhD, who developed a hierarchy of human needs. Maslow, May and like-minded colleagues emphasized understanding the existential causes of mental distress rather than just focusing on symptoms.
Barry Wolfe, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Rockville, Md., integrates existential and humanistic practices with other forms of therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. In a typical session, he says, he'll first work to build a therapeutic alliance with his client, because that's the foundational step for any effective therapy. Next, he'll use cognitive-behavioral therapy to give people the tools to get past their fears and anxieties. But then he gives his clients a choice: whether to delve deeper into their anxieties and figure out what's ultimately behind them, or to stop there and leave them with their cognitive-behavioral tools.
Many people are just fine stopping at that point, he says. The existential-humanistic framework isn't universally applicable. Action-oriented people who want to know what to do to get over their insecurities and then move on with their lives don't care much about the root causes of those insecurities.
So she felt trapped between her desire for independence and the time and energy she'd invested in her relationship. In other words, an existential crisis. They could have stopped therapy after providing her with the tools to get past her phobia, but she ultimately learned much more about herself, her emotions and needs by going deeper, he says.
Schneider says that, in the case of existential-humanistic psychology, a qualitative approach instead is often the most useful. "Existential psychology teases out deep, subjective shifts," he says, which are difficult to capture using quantitative methods.
Some researchers are, in fact, trying to quantify whether existential-humanistic approaches to therapy work, Hayes says. For example, an article published in December in Archives of General Psychiatry (Vol. 67, No. 12) found that mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy was as successful as antidepressants in preventing relapse in symptoms of major depressive disorder. But large-scale empirical testing of existential methods and the existential framework remains to be done.
That shouldn't stop clients and other psychologists from turning to the existential-humanistic framework to expand the range of their therapies and emphasize the importance of the big picture, though, Schneider says. That's a worthwhile and doable goal for anyone looking for more meaning in his or her life.
While many people helped shape the development of the existential-humanistic psychology movement, two figures stand out, particularly in the United States. While many others, including prominent humanistic theorists, deserve some recognition for their contributions, for now, I will focus on these two figures. These theorists played a prominent role in developing, defining, and promoting existential theory and therapy. Without their leadership, it is doubtful that existentialism would be where it is today.
Bugental is the existential thinker who best embodies this. When watching his therapy demonstrations it is amazing how simple it often appears. Yet, for any well-schooled therapist, it is evident that his approach is far from simple. It is the broader awareness, which guided his way of being, that helped him to be effective in a seemingly simplistic manner. A therapist who merely tries to mimic this approach without the foundation of understanding would not be nearly as effective. 041b061a72