An Existential approach to therapy strongly focuses on the human condition as a whole and more specifically, what it means to be alive. The existential approach is a philosophically based approach that is based on the foundation of such philosophical thinkers as Buber, Dostoevsky, Frankl, Heidegger, Husserl, Jaspers, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Satre, and Tillich. As its roots are in philosophy it is focused on understanding people in relationship to the world in which they live. It is also focused on understanding the individual search for what it means to be alive while also exploring the process and meaning of death.
The foundation of existential psychotherapy is based in the belief that each individual experiences inner conflict that is the result of interactions with certain conditions that are part of our existence (known as “givens”). There are four primary existential givens: (1) Freedom and responsibility, (2) Death, (3) Isolation, and (4) Meaninglessness.
When faced with any of these conditions, an individual becomes overwhelmed with dread (“existential anxiety”) which then impacts all aspects of their experience (physical, psychological, social, and spiritual). The key is to find a balance between being aware enough but not overwhelmed by these givens so that we can maintain a healthy balance. As an example, having an awareness of death can be very anxiety provoking, but the denial of it can also be problematic in terms of how we live our lives. Exploring the reality of it as part of the human condition, allows us to live a life that makes the most of opportunities and to really appreciate the present moment and what we have.
Existential psychotherapy helps people to address the emotional issues they face through full engagement with them and to take active responsibility for the decisions that caused them to be developed or maintained. The therapist will help the client to accept and face their fears, while also helping them to develop the skills necessary to overcome them. It is through gaining a sense of control over their own life, that clients are able to better map out a course of life that is more to their choosing. This can help with feeling empowered and to feel free from the despair that might have been paralyzing them or leaving them stuck.
Therapists who practice existential therapy work with the client to explore the choices that they have. Time is also spent looking into the impacts of past choices and the beliefs behind those choices with the goal of promoting freedom. Clients find that they respond find meaning and purpose in their lives, in addition to self-awareness, self-understanding, self-respect, and self-motivation.
For more information: