“Many people suffer from the fear of finding oneself alone, and so they don’t find themselves at all.” Rollo May
Existential Therapy is centered on answering the question: What does it mean to be human? An existential approach to psychotherapy is not so much technique oriented, as it is philosophically framed.
It began as a philosophical approach that was aimed at understanding the concept of the self and one’s experiences in the world. Themes such as freedom, responsibility, meaning, loneliness, death, and anxiety are at the forefront of existential thought.
Existential therapy is a client-centered approach that shares many similarities with humanistic psychotherapy, along with the further incorporation of identifying and exploring existential themes.
From an existential standpoint, our problems arise from our self-awareness of having freedom, which leads to a self-awareness of the role of death in the human experience. This creates a feeling of lacking purpose, driving us to search for a way to fill this empty void.
Instead of focusing solely on cognitions or past experiences, existential therapy focuses more on the human condition as a whole. Therefore, in a sense, it can serve to normalize many issues and concerns that you may have.
How Can Existential Therapy Help?
The existential approach focuses on your capacity for self-awareness, and your determination to find meaning in life. Existential psychotherapy approaches mental health issues in a non-pathologizing way, seeing issues such as depression and anxiety as a normal part of the human experience. To do this, existential therapists aim to help you to find purpose in your life.
Core questions that can be tackled in existential psychotherapy are things like:
- Who am I, and what does it mean to be human?
- What is the meaning of life?
- Do I have agency (free will) to do as I choose?
- Am I responsible for my behaviour?
- Is struggling in relationships better than being alone?
Ultimately, existential therapy focuses on helping you confront your anxieties within these themes. The therapist’s role aims to help you gain awareness of your own responsibility in making choices in your life.
An existential approach in therapy can help with issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Furthermore, it can be used to improve relationships, enhance spirituality, deal with feelings of shame and anger, or help overcome the fear of death.
What to Look for in an Existential Therapist
In addition to their mental health training, existential therapists often have a background in philosophy. Licensure varies state by state, but many existential therapists complete graduate degrees in psychology or counseling, for example. They also complete additional supervised fieldwork in existential therapy.
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