February 2, 2017
According to previous readings, the existential approach considers human nature to be open-ended, flexible and capable of an enormous range of experience. The person is in a constant process of becoming. I create myself as I exist. There is no essential, solid self, no given definition of one’s personality and abilities.It is concerned with the understanding of people’s position in the world and with the clarification of what it means to be alive. It is also committed to exploring these questions with a receptive attitude, rather than a dogmatic one: the search for truth with an open mind and an attitude of wonder is the aim, not the fitting of the client into pre-established categories and interpretations.
Existentialism was an overall European phenomenon and the primary focus of this approach is the relationship between counselor and client. Existential psychotherapy should do with seeking change in our lives I relation to the reality of our existence or being. This approach is much more concerned with the present and future than it is with the past. It is concerned with the understanding of people’s position in the world and with the clarification of what it means to them to be alive. It is also committed to exploring these questions with a receptive attitude, rather than with a dogmatic one. The aim is to search for truth with an open mind and an attitude of wonder rather than to fit the client into pre-established frameworks of interpretation. It states that each client has the freedom do as he pleases with his life although it may come with anxiety, although some fear exists in having anxiety, we learn to cope. There is a fear of death as well. Some of the most famous contributors to this approach are:
Victor Frankl (1905-1997): he was a holocaust survivor and he taught persons to find meaning in life in the face of adversity. He states that we have the freedom to state I would like to be one way or another, despite conditions. “Frankyl developed logotherapy, which means therapy through meaning” (Corey, 2014, p131).
Rollo May1909-1994): the unconscious remains a constant motive in his work, but for Rollo May psychotherapy he thought must seek change at the level of an individual’s relation to existence itself. This change requires that we experience the relationship of our existence especially anxiety, loneliness etc. May state that “there is a constant struggle within us. Although we want to grow towards maturity and independence, we realize that expansion is often a painful process” (Corey, 2014, p131).
Irvin Yalom 1931-): who is still alive today has “developed his approach to individual and group psychotherapy based on the notion that existentialism deals with “basic givens of existence”: isolation and relationship with others, death and fully living, and meaningless and meaning” (Corey,2014, p132).
James Bugental (1915-2008): he coined the term existential humanistic theory and what it deals with is the fact that we exist. The core issue of life is life itself, and it helps deal with persons deal with the now of their lives and how to be in tune with it.
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55)protested vigorously against Christian dogma and the so-called objectivity’ of science (Kierkegaard, 1941, 1944). He thought that both were ways of avoiding the anxiety inherent in human existence. He had great contempt for the way in which life was being lived by those around him and believed that truth could ultimately only be discovered subjectively by the individual in action. What was most lacking was people’s courage to take the leap of faith and live with passion and commitment from the inward depth of existence. This involved a constant struggle between the finite and infinite aspects of our nature as part of the difficult task of creating a self and finding meaning. As Kierkegaard lived by his own word he was lonely and much ridiculed during his lifetime.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)took this philosophy of life a step further. His starting point was the notion that God was dead (Nietzsche, 1961, 1974, 1986) and that it is up to us to re-evaluate existence considering this. He invited people to shake off the shackles of moral constraint and to discover their free will to soar to unknown heights and learn to live with new intensity. He encouraged people not to remain part of the herd, but to dare stand out. The important existential themes of freedom, choice, responsibility and courage are introduced for the first time.
Heidegger (1889-1976)applied the phenomenological method to under- standing the meaning of being (Heidegger, 1962, 1968). He argued that poetry and deep philosophical thinking can bring greater insight into what it means to be in the world than can be achieved through scientific knowledge. He explored human being in the world in a manner that revolutionizes classical ideas about the self and psychology. He recognized the importance of time, space, death and human relatedness. He also favored hermeneutics, an old philosophical method of investigation, which is the art of interpretation. Unlike interpretation as practiced in psychoanalysis (which consists of referring a person’s experience to a pre-established theoretical framework) this kind of interpretation seeks to under- stand how the person herself subjectively experiences something.
Limitations of Existential Psychotherapy
Existential psychotherapy, much like othertypes of therapy, may be misunderstood by people who do not have a thorough grasp of the fundamental principles or scope of the associated theories. Common misperceptions of existential psychotherapy include the following beliefs:
There is one distinctive, united existential theory which is free of internal tension and covers all the basic assumptions of existential psychology.
There is no difference between existential psychology and existential philosophy.
Existential psychology takes an antireligious or anti-spiritual approach, for example, denying the existence of God.
Existential and humanistic theories are the same thing.
Existential psychotherapy involves taking a negative, dark, or pessimistic view of life.
The approach is fundamentally an intellectual one.
It is only beneficial to people of high intellect, who are not experiencing chronic behavioral or mental health conditions.
Corey, G. (2012). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. California: Brooks/Coole.