What is Existential Therapy?
Existential Therapy is a way of ‘thinking’ or an ‘attitude’ about psychotherapy rather than a style of therapy ‘practice’.
Existential Therapy is best described as a philosophical approach that influences a therapist’s way of working. It is not clearly defined with models or techniques, however there are consistent themes coming into focus:
Existential therapy focuses on fostering ‘free will’ and a responsibility for one’s life decisions.
Your Therapist is your fellow traveller rather than an elevated expert, and offers empathy, understanding and unwavering belief in your capacity for self-awareness.
The core question addressed in this kind of therapy is not
“how do I get myself out of uncertainty, conflict or death” – focusing on strategies and solutions
“who am I in the face of uncertainty, conflict, or death?”, “how do I recognize the meaning of my experience?”
For example, existential therapy for loneliness will not direct energy into helping you find ways of social activities and connection, but It will help you understand the deeper roots of those feelings of loneliness or ‘disconnect’ and help you to decide how you want to include them into your personal sense of meaning. Once we acknowledge, accept and befriend the feeling, stop resisting and recoiling, we notice the emergence of new quality – ‘the choice’
“The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves”
Once you discover and accept that – things become lighter and your sense humor improves …
Three main principles of existential therapy are
Relatedness – we acknowledge that each individual is unique and special, but at the same time all people and phenomena are interconnected
Uncertainty – the awareness of being reliant on all the other elements we are interconnected with, makes our ‘sense of being unique and special’ grounded in uncertainty. Uncertainty is a constant faculty underpinning our existence, not just when we “lack certainty”. Accepting uncertainly is acknowledging the loss of individual control. As much as it may seem pessimistic, it may also create the opposite, ‘Optimism’ or an optimistic sense of possibility in each moment we create.
Anxiety and Loneliness – once we have accepted the concepts of relatedness and uncertainly the only logical outcome are feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and loneliness, not in the clinical diagnosis sense, but as an acknowledgement of the nature of our existence.
The nihilistic approach to those findings would be asking “what is the point and meaning of such existence?”, and coming to a conclusion that there isn’t any.
Existential therapy offers a dramatically different, opposite, optimistic and exciting response, encapsulated best by one of the founder of this approach, Viktor Frankl:
“Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.”
Existential Therapy and finding the meaning of your life
Some helpful articles and videos on Existentialism and the meaning of life
The School of life offer this take on our quest for meaning in our existence: