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Existential Therapy


Existential Therapy:

Existential therapy is a form of psychological counseling that is rooted in the ideals and philosophies of “Existentialism”. As existentialism is the philosophy of basic human existence, the existential therapist aim to bring the patient to an individual place of acceptance of the way things are, in particular his or her existence.

Existentialism says that humans experience isolation meaninglessness and death. These absolute givens in the human experience cause all of us to suffer in our lives at one point or another. One of the biggest manifestations of that suffering is anxiety. Depression, frustration and anger are common ways in which we express our experience with the given existentialism


  1. All persons have the capacity of self-awareness. As free beings, everyone must accept the responsibility that comes with freedom. Each person has a unique identity that can only be known through relationships with others.
  2. Each person must continually recreate himself. The meaning f life and existence is never fixed; rather, it constantly changes. Anxiety is part of the human condition. Death is basic human condition that gives significance to life.

How does Existential therapy Address Human Pain?

Existential therapy addresses human pain by helping the patient to:

  • Understand the pain.
  • Find ways to alleviate the pain.

The focus of E.T is on the development of self-awareness and self-understanding because existential therapy contends that “we are each responsible for creating the circumstances in our lives and finding meaning of our life experiences.”

Dimensions of Human Existence:

  1. Physical → limitations due to illness or aging and financial troubles.
  2. Social → relationships, ethnic, class and race identity, conflict, competition and failure.
  3. Psychological → the way we relate to ourselves and our personal sense of identity.
  4. Spiritual → attitude toward the unknown and how we assign meaning to our experiences.


  1. The first is cultivating a naïve attitude, implying that the therapist takes on a naivety that allows the patient to explicitly define his or her own values and themes in life.
  2. The second method is facing limitations, meaning that the therapist should help the patients to face the givens in existentialism head on. These given can be presented as guilt from the consequences of choices and actions, or as anxiety that comes from the many unknown in life.
  3. The third method is exploring a personal world view. This means that the therapist guides the patient in the process of discovering the world according to his or her own unique interpretations.
  4. The fourth method is enquiring into meaning. To do this, the therapist listens carefully to the patient and then guides him or her in the explorations of emotions and beliefs in an attempt to assign meaning to experience.

Existential Therapists: Counseling:

Characteristics of existential therapists:

Empathy and Neutral:

  • Neutral throughout the process in order to honor the concept of true subjectivity on the part of the patient.
  • The therapist needs to be empathetic so as to alleviate anxiety over loneliness and isolation, but only to the point of easing some of that pain.
  • An E.T is trained to ask “what” and “how” over “why” questions so that the patient can first describe before delving further into the reasons, or meanings of life.
  • Finally, existential therapists are committed to being in attendance during the therapy, and to facilitate, but not do the work because it is up to the patient in order to reach his or her own state of mental health.

Empty-Chair Activity:

The therapist has the patient sit in one chair facing an empty chair. The empty chair represents another person who as part of an on resolved issue. The patient then role plays with the imaginary person in the empty chair. The patient moves back and forth speaking out both roles. This helps the patient to become more fully present in the immediate moment and leads to more clarity regarding the unresolved issue. The goal is greater awareness, acceptance of personal responsibility and resolution.

Keep a journal:

  • Therapists pose some personal questions that deal with some rather vague ideas and ask the patient to write his or her thoughts regarding that question.
  • Some questions are or therapist may ask to write his or her own epitaph assigns the patient to delve into the aspect of “who were you in life”?
  • May ask to explore feelings of loneliness and isolation and asking when they feel most alone and how they handle it.
  • What gives your life meaning?

Many times during the writing process patients can make great discoveries and uncover meaningful insights.

Concluding Remarks:

Existential therapy is a way of thinking and not a practicing theory group. Corey states that

“Existential therapy is based on the assumption that we are free and therefore, responsible for our choices and actions”.

This being said, existential therapists work with patients to examine how their choices have brought them to the state they are in. The therapist continues to work with the patient to revise their thinking to the life they want to have. Existential therapy does not believe in psychological or physical issues because people make their own choices on now they will handle the situations they are in.


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