Existential therapy is a form of psychotherapy that explores the difficulties that an individual experiences but from a philosophical perspective. This type of therapy focuses on the holistic aspects of the human condition as a whole. Existential therapy focuses on the individual and not the symptoms that the individual is presenting with but also recognizes the power of the individual to choose their actions. Emotional and psychological difficulties are viewed as inner conflict caused by an individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence. Rather than exploring the past, the existential approach looks at the here and now. It can be highly effective with adolescents and adults that are struggling to make healthy life choices, as well as the consequences of their choices.

What is Existential Therapy?

Existential therapy is a type of talk therapy that is based on some of the main ideas behind existentialism as a philosophy. The goal of existential therapy is to assist individuals on accepting and overcoming existential fears that are inherent in being human. An example of these existential fears include freedom and responsibility, isolation, meaninglessness, and death. Existential therapists evaluate a person’s experience in four dimensions of existence; the physical, social, spiritual, and psychological. Through these dimensions are the existential fears of that individual’s life explored. Existential therapists look to help individual’s live more authentically and to be less concerned with superficiality. Existential therapy focuses on each individual’s uniqueness as well as how their choices shape their life. It also helps guide individuals on their journey to self-understanding and self-acceptance. Within existential therapy, the individual is empowered to take responsibility for their choices that shape their life. There is no structure to existential therapy therefore the amount of sessions are not predetermined like with most cognitive behavioral therapy. Existential therapy encourages individuals to:

  • Evaluate their values, beliefs and situation.
  • Acknowledge their limitations as well as the possibilities for their lives.
  • Find meaning and purpose in their lives.
  • Develop more effective ways of communicating. (CRC Health, 2019)

The existential approach stresses that:

  • All people have the capacity for self-awareness.
  • Each person has a unique identity that can be known only through relationships with others.
  • People must continually re-create themselves because life’s meaning constantly changes.
  • Anxiety is part of the human condition. (Psychology Today, 2019)

What Existential Therapy is Used for:

Existential therapy can be used to treat various psychological problems. Existential therapy can be used to treat addiction, anxiety, depression, and a range of other psychological and behavioral issues. Existential therapy is not for everyone nor every type of mental health problem. Existential therapy is also good for treating those those facing issues of existence, for example, those with a terminal illness, those contemplating suicide, or even those going through a transition in their life.

Choosing a Type of Therapy:

No matter what type of therapy a therapist uses it is crucial to determine what fits an individual’s personality and their presenting symptoms. It is also important to ensure that whomever the therapist is utilizing existential therapy, that they are qualified. Qualification should include their background, education, certification, licensing, and their areas of expertise. Change does not happen over night and is not one sided. Similar to most forms of therapy, existential therapy is most beneficial for an individual who is willing to engage in honest self-evaluation. The therapist’s job is not to “fix” the individual or make unpleasant situations go away. Existential therapy provides individuals with new perspectives, lasting change and provide insight for the anxieties of life like freedom, death, responsibility, meaninglessness, etc.

Resources:

  • Better Help. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/existential-theory-what-it-is-and-how-psychologists-apply-it/
  • Counseling Directory. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/existential-therapy.html
  • CRCHealth. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.crchealth.com/types-of-therapy/what-is-existential-therapy/
  • Positive Psychology. (2019). Retrieved from: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/existential-therapy/
  • Psychology today. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/existential-therapy