Existential Psychotherapy Counselling

Existential Psychotherapy

Existential psychotherapy emphasises the human condition by using a positive approach that celebrates human capabilities and ambitions while acknowledging human limitations at the same time. It shares similarities with depth psychotherapy, experiential psychotherapy, humanistic psychotherapy, and relational psychotherapy.
One of the first therapists to pursue this discipline was Otto Rank. However, by the mid-20th century, psychologists Rollo May and Paul Tillich used their teachings and writings to bring existential therapy into the mainstream. Irvin Yalom soon followed them. Before long, this increasingly popular therapeutic approach began to influence other theories, such as humanistic psychology and logotherapy, created by Viktor Frankl.

“Givens” of Existential Psychotherapy

Existential psychotherapy was created under the belief that everyone experiences intrapsychic conflict resulting from his or her interactions with certain conditions intrinsic in human existence known as givens. The theories recognise at least four primary existential givens:

  • Death
  • Freedom and associated responsibility
  • Isolation
  • Meaningfulness

A confrontation with any of these givens causes an individual to experience a type of dread, which is often referred to as existential anxiety. This anxiety is believed to decrease a person’s psychological, physical, spiritual, and social awareness, which could lead to substantial long-term consequences.
For example, the fact that all of us and all of our loved ones will die at some unknown time could be a source of significant anxiety, which could persuade us to ignore the reality and necessity of death in human existence. However, by decreasing our awareness of death, we may fail to make decisions that could safeguard or even enrich our lives. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people who excessively conscious of the inevitability of death may be driven to a state of psychosis or neurosis.
According to existential psychotherapy, the key is to find a balance between being aware of death and not being overwhelmed by thoughts of it. People who are able to maintain a healthy balance are inspired to make decisions that will enrich their lives, as well as the lives of the ones they love. Despite not knowing how these decisions will turn out, they understand the need to take action when they can. The reality of death inspires us to make the most of opportunities and treasure what we do have.
Just like death, the fear of isolation, the responsibility of making potentially life-altering decisions, and the supposed meaninglessness of life also have the potential to cause acute existential anxiety. According to the theories of existential therapy, the way in which a person processes these internal conflicts, along with the ensuing decisions he or she makes will determine the person’s present and future circumstances.

Accepting and Overcoming Fears Through Existential Psychotherapy

Existential psychotherapy urges people to address emotional issues they face using full engagement and by taking responsibility for the decisions they made that caused them to develop. People who use this therapy are taught to accept their fears and are given the needed skills to overcome them through action. Gaining control of the direction of one’s life in therapy allows the person to design the course of his or her own choosing. In turn, the person develops a feeling of letting go and a sense of liberation from the despair associated with meaningless and insignificance. In existential psychotherapy, a person is taught to grow and embrace his or her own life and to exist in it with curiosity and wonder. In doing this, the person begins to view his or her life experience as a journey instead of a trial. This can eradicate the fear they associate with death.

Existential Therapists’ Process

Instead of focusing on a client’s past, a therapist who practices existential therapists works with the client to discover and explore the choices they will face in the future. Through retrospection, the client and therapist work to comprehend the implications of past choices and the beliefs that led these choices to be made. This is done to shift to the goal of creating a greater insight into oneself. The goal is not to focus on the past, but to use it as a tool to encourage freedom and newfound assertiveness. By realising that they are not unique or destined for a specific purpose, the client is allowed to release the obligatory chains that burdened him or her from living in fullness from moment to moment. When they are able to do this, they are completely free.
Michelle Rockey

Michelle Rockey couselling services website logo