Chapter 6-Existential Therapy
Existential therapy is more a way of thinking than any particular style of practicing psychotherapy. It is neither an independent nor separate school of therapy, nor is it a neatly defined model with specific techniques. Existential therapy can best be described as a philosophical approach that influences a counsellor’s therapeutic practice. This approach is grounded on the assumption that we are free and therefore responsible for our choices and actions. The existential approach rejects the deterministic view of human nature espoused by orthodox psychoanalysis and radical behaviourism. Psychoanalysis sees freedom as restricted by unconscious ...view middle of the document...
It grew out of an effort to help people resolve the dilemma’s of contemporary life, such as isolation and alienation. The thinking of existential psychologists and psychiatrists was influenced by a number of philosophers and writers during the 19TH century. To understand the philosophical underpinnings of modern existential psychotherapy, one must have some awareness of such figures as Soren Kierkegaard, Friederich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Jean Paul Sartre. These major figures of existentialism provided the basis for existential therapy.
Soren Kierkegaard: A Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard was particularly concerned with angst-a Danish and German word whose meaning lies between the English words dread and anxiety. There is existential anxiety associated with making basic decisions about how we want to live.
Friederich Nietzsche: This German philosopher is the iconoclastic counterpart to Kierkegaard, expressing a revolutionary approach to the self, ethics and society. He emphasized the importance of subjectivity. He set out to prove that the ancient definition of humans as rational was entirely misleading.
Martin Heidegger: His phenomenological existentialism reminds us that we exist “in the world” and should not try to think of ourselves as beings apart from the world into which we were thrown. The way we fill our everyday life with superficial conversation and routine shows that we often assume we are going to live forever and can afford to waste day after day.
Jean Paul Sartre: A philosopher and novelist, Sartre was convinced that humans are even more free than earlier existentialists had believed. The existence of space-nothingness-between the whole of our past and the now frees us to choose what we will
Key figures in contemporary existential psychotherapy
Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, James Burgental and Irvin Yalom all developed their existential approaches to psychotherapy from strong backgrounds to both existential and humanistic psychology. Viktor Frankl was a central figure in developing existential therapy in Europe and also in bringing it back to the united states. Frankl developed logotherapy which means “therapy through meaning”. This philosophical model sheds light on what it means to be fully alive.
Rollo May was deeply influenced by the existential philosophers, by the concepts of Freudian psychology. Both Frankl and May welcomed flexibility and versatility in the practice of psychoanalysis. May was one of the key figures responsible for bringing existentialism from Europe to US and for translating key concepts into psychotherapeutic practice.
Along with May, two other significant existential therapists in the United States are James burgenthal and Irvin Yalom. Burgental developed an approach to depth therapy based on the existential concern with an individual’s immediate presence and humanistic emphasis on the integrity of each individual. Irvin Yalom acknowledges the contributions of both European and American...