Existential Therapy is an approach that emerged from the works of existential philosophers such as Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and Nietzche. It focuses on what it means to be human and therapy aims to bring greater awareness to how one relates to such themes as meaning, connection, mortality, and freedom. Existential therapy sees suffering as a given in life but suggests that we still always have choice in how we relate to our circumstances and struggles.
Existential therapy suggests that all human beings grapple to some extent with the existential concerns of meaning/meaninglessness, isolation/connection, mortality, and freedom/responsibility. People often respond to the anxiety the awareness of these themes produces by employing defense strategies. While these can temporarily alleviate distress, they also prevent one from considering what it means to be alive and how they make meaning of their existence, processes which can be deeply healing and freeing. Existentialism sees people as fundamentally agentic: while we may not be able to choose our circumstances, we have choice in how we relate and respond in life. There are universal themes common to all of humanity and by facing and making sense of them, people can unlock a greater sense of agency and meaning.
Because existential therapy views all human beings as struggling with many of the same “givens” in life, existential therapists do not place themselves in the position of expert and are careful not to impose their own opinions or agendas. Rather than giving advice they guide clients to draw on their own internal resources to find meaning and purpose and aim to enter deeply into clients’ subjective experience. Therapy maintains a here-and-now focus that strives to bring all aspects of the client’s experience into consciousness, deepening the client’s self-awareness and capacity to make meaning of their experience.
References: Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.
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