Existential Psychotherapy – What is it?
Existential psychotherapy, like all therapy is about reflecting on our life choices and choosing in order to have a well lived life. It takes place within the therapeutic relationship and is underpinned by the following philosophical beliefs:
We have choice and free will.
We are doomed to choose and yet often deny this, never tapping into the wide array of options available to us. We say ‘’I can’t do this’’ Ï shouldn’t do this’’ – all examples of denying the freedom we have – ultimately to be who
we really want to be.
Human nature is intrinsically flexible
We create our reality and ourselves by ‘being-in-relation’ to other people and other things. It is possible to make sense of life by engaging with this reality. We create our reality and ourselves by ‘being -in-relation’. We are not fixed but beings-in-relation who experience the world and co-create through Intentional Acts. ‘Intentionality’ means ‘moving towards’. For example, we do not love, like, want anything in isolation – we love, like and want (or any other adverb), something or somebody. See the co-creation?
There are limitations to our freedom.
We do not have unlimited freedom to choose but are bounded by our social, physical and cultural circumstances.
Existential psychotherapy is a philosophical endeavour.
Van Deurzen says ‘existential psychotherapy is a tutorial in the art of living’ – not about pathologising and considering people to be sick; instead struggling with the very problem of living and making sense of their particular circumstances.
Existential psychotherapy focuses on problems of living and not personality problems.
A individual’s challenges are not seen within a framework of personality differences, nor are people explained in terms of personality type or trait. This would be seen as inauthentic, inasmuch as it presupposes a fixed entity called ‘personality’.
The goal of existential psychotherapy is Authenticity.
This is Heideggerian concept, not to do with being genuine or truthful but embracing the concept of Dasein or ‘’being there’’. Dasein embraces the infinite possibilities of being, against the backcloth of the limits of our existence.
Individuals are unique and their way of seeing the world is valuable
Regardless of how different a client’s beliefs or behaviours are, their subjective experience is real and significant. The psychotherapist will always encourage a client to consider all their choices and their consequences, although they are not there to judge or condemn – their job is to throw light on the extent to which their choice serves them. We often have a tendency to deny we have choice or do not see the choices inherent in everything. Psychotherapy thus open up possibilities we may not have considered before – often a much in ‘ways of seeing’ as in ‘doing’.
Psychotherapists face the same challenges of living as their clients
These challenges are known as ontological i.e. we are born, we die, we relate, we are alone, we have to choose, experience anxiety due to there being no external yardstick to judge the rightness of our choices etc. Our ontic experience is how we encounter and experience these ontological givens. Problems and challenges, from an existential perspective, are seen as encounters with these givens. Existential psychotherapy assists a client to both experience and become the witness of one’s experiences.
Psychotherapists, as well as clients, are changed in the therapeutic process
If every human existent is co-creating and experiencing ontological givens, then whether therapist or client, they are each ‘in relation’. Although focus is in the client’s story and clients may never hear of the therapist’s life, both changed because they have ‘encountered’ each other.
In choosing, we must take responsibility for those choices
By choosing or ‘choosing not to choose’ by allowing others, social myths or circumstances to dictate the direction of our lives, we assume responsibility for what we experience. Once we fully grasp this, we can no longer blame anything outside of ourselves for what we are or experience. We are always ‘in relation’, even if the only choice we experience in a moment is how we think about something in our minds.
Existential psychotherapy is an opportunity to encounter yourself in a way that enrich your life, helps you assume full responsibility for your life in order to leave with meaning and purpose.