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Existential psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the model of human nature and experience developed by the existential tradition of European philosophy. It focuses on concepts that are universally applicable to human existence including death, freedom, responsibility, and the meaning of life.Instead of regarding human experiences such as anxiety, alienation and depression as implying the presence of mental illness, existential psychotherapy sees these experiences as natural stages in a normal process of human development and maturation. In facilitating this process of development and maturation, existential psychotherapy involves a philosophical exploration of an individual's experiences stressing the individual's freedom and responsibility to facilitate a higher degree of meaning and well-being in their life.
The philosophers who are especially pertinent to the development of existential psychotherapy are those whose works were directly aimed at making sense of human existence. For example, the fields of phenomenology and existential philosophy are especially and directly responsible for the generation of existential therapy.
The starting point of existential philosophy (see Warnock 1970; Macquarrie 1972; Mace 1999; Van Deurzen and Kenward 2005) can be traced back to the nineteenth century and the works of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Their works conflicted with the predominant ideologies of their time and committed to the exploration of reality as it can be experienced in a passionate and personal manner.
Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) protested vehemently against popular misunderstanding and abuse of Christian dogma and the so-called 'objectivity' of science (Kierkegaard, 1841, 1844).He thought that both were ways of avoiding the anxiety inherent in human existence. He had great contempt for the way life was lived by those around him and believed truth could only be discovered subjectively by the individual in action. He felt people lacked the courage to take a leap of faith and live with passion and commitment from the inward depth of existence. This involved a constant struggle between the finite and infinite aspects of our nature as part of the difficult task of creating a self and finding meaning.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) took this philosophy of life a step further. His starting point was the notion that God is dead, that is, the idea of God was outmoded and limiting (Nietzsche, 1861, 1874, 1886). Furthermore, the Enlightenment—with the newfound faith in reason and rationality—had killed or replaced God with a new Truth that was perhaps more pernicious than the one it replaced. Science and rationality were the new "God," but instead took the form of a deity that was colder and less comforting than before. Nietzsche exerted a significant impact upon the development of psychology in general, but he specifically influenced an approach which emphasized an understanding of life from a personal perspective.In exploring the various needs of the individual about the ontological conditions of being, Nietzsche asserted that all things are in a state of "ontological privation," in which they long to become more than they are. This state of deprivation has major implications for the physiological and psychological needs of the individual.
While Kierkegaard and Nietzsche drew attention to the human issues that needed to be addressed, Edmund Husserl's phenomenology (Husserl, 1960, 1962; Moran, 2000) provided the method to address them rigorously. He contended that natural sciences assume the separateness of subject and object and that this kind of dualism can only lead to error. He proposed a whole new mode of investigation and understanding of the world and our experience of it. He said that prejudice has to be put aside or 'bracketed,' for us to meet the world afresh and discover what is absolutely fundamental, and only directly available to us through intuition. If people want to grasp the essence of things, instead of explaining and analyzing them, they have to learn to describe and understand them.
Max Scheler (1874–1928) developed philosophical anthropology from a material ethic of values ("Materielle Wertethik") that opposed Immanuel Kant's ethics of duty ("Pflichtethik"). He described a hierarchical system of values that further developed phenomenological philosophy. Scheler described the human psyche as being composed of four layers analogous to the layers of organic nature. However, in his description, the human psyche is opposed by the principle of the human spirit. Scheler's philosophy forms the basis of Viktor Frankl's logotherapy and existential analysis.
Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) applied the phenomenological method to understanding the meaning of being (Heidegger, 1962, 1968). He argued that poetry and deep philosophical thinking could bring greater insight into what it means to be in the world than what can be achieved through scientific knowledge. He explored human beings in the world in a manner that revolutionized classical ideas about the self and psychology. He recognized the importance of time, space, death, and human relatedness. He also favored hermeneutics, an old philosophical method of investigation, which is the art of interpretation. [ circular reference ]
Unlike interpretation as practiced in psychoanalysis (which consists of referring a person's experience to a pre-established theoretical framework), this kind of interpretation seeks to understand how the person himself/herself subjectively experiences something.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) contributed many other strands of existential exploration, particularly regarding emotions, imagination, and the person's insertion into a social and political world.
The philosophy of existence, on the contrary, is carried by a wide-ranging literature, which includes many authors, such as Karl Jaspers (1951, 1963), Paul Tillich, Martin Buber, and Hans-Georg Gadamer within the Germanic tradition and Albert Camus, Gabriel Marcel, Paul Ricoeur, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir and Emmanuel Lévinas within the French tradition (see for instance Spiegelberg, 1972, Kearney, 1986 or van Deurzen-Smith, 1997).[ full citation needed ]
From the start of the 20th century, some psychotherapists were, however, inspired by phenomenology and its possibilities for working with people.
The European School of existential analysis is dominated by two forms of therapy: Logotherapy, and Daseinsanalysis. Logotherapy was developed by psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl.Frankl was heavily influenced by existential philosophy, as well as his own experience in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. The three main components to Logotherapy are Freedom of Will, which is the ability to change one's life to the degree that such change is possible, Will to Meaning, which places meaning at the center of well-being, and Meaning in Life, which asserts the objectivity of meaning. The primary techniques of Logotherapy involve helping the clients to identify and remove any barriers to the pursuit of meaning in their own lives, to determine what is personally meaningful, and to then help patients effectively pursue related goals.
Daseinsanalysis is a psychotherapeutic system developed upon the ideas of Martin Heidegger, as well as the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, that seeks to help the individual find autonomy and meaning in their "being in the world" (a rough translation of "Dasein").
Britain became a fertile ground for further development of the existential approach when R. D. Laing and David Cooper, often associated with the anti-psychiatry movement, took Sartre's existential ideas as the basis for their work (Laing, 1960, 1961; Cooper, 1967; Laing and Cooper, 1964). Without developing a concrete method of therapy, they critically reconsidered the notion of mental illness and its treatment. In the late 1960s, they established an experimental therapeutic community at Kingsley Hall in the East End of London, where people could come to live through their 'madness' without the usual medical treatment. They also founded the Philadelphia Association, an organization providing an alternative living, therapy, and therapeutic training from this perspective. The Philadelphia Association is still in existence today and is now committed to the exploration of the works of philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Derrida, Levinas, and Michel Foucault as well as the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. It also runs some small therapeutic households along these lines. The Arbours Association is another group that grew out of the Kingsley Hall experiment. Founded by Joseph Berke and Schatzman in the 1970s, it now runs a training program in psychotherapy, a crisis center, and several therapeutic communities. The existential input in the Arbours has gradually been replaced with a more neo-Kleinian emphasis.
The impetus for further development of the existential approach in Britain has primarily come from the development of some existentially based courses in academic institutions. This started with the programs created by Emmy van Deurzen, initially at Antioch University in London and subsequently at Regent's College, London and since then at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counseling, also located in London. The latter is a purely existentially based training institute, which offers postgraduate degrees validated by the University of Sheffield and Middlesex University. In the past few decades, the existential approach has spread rapidly and has become a welcome alternative to established methods. There are now many other, mostly academic, centers in Britain that provide training in existential counseling and psychotherapy and a rapidly growing interest in the approach in the voluntary sector and the National Health Service.
British publications dealing with existential therapy include contributions by these authors: Jenner (de Koning and Jenner, 1982), Heaton (1988, 1994), Cohn (1994, 1997),Spinelli (1997), Cooper (1989, 2002), Eleftheriadou (1994), Lemma-Wright (1994), Du Plock (1997), Strasser and Strasser (1997), van Deurzen (1997, 1998, 2002), van Deurzen and Arnold-Baker (2005), and van Deurzen and Kenward (2005). Other writers such as Lomas (1981) and Smail (1978, 1987, 1993) have published work relevant to the approach, although not explicitly 'existential' in orientation. The journal of the British Society for Phenomenology regularly publishes work on existential and phenomenological psychotherapy. The Society for Existential Analysis was founded in 1988, initiated by van Deurzen. This society brings together psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and philosophers working from an existential perspective. It offers regular fora for discussion and debate as well as significant annual conferences. It publishes the Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis twice a year. It is also a member of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis, which stimulates international exchange between representatives of the approach from around the world. An International Society for Existential Therapists also exists. It was founded in 2006 by Emmy van Deurzen and Digby Tantam and is called the International Community of Existential Counsellors and Therapists (ICECAP).
New developments in existential therapy in the last 20 years include existential positive psychology (EPP)and meaning therapy (MT). Different from the traditional approach to existential therapy, these new developments incorporate research findings from contemporary positive psychology.
EPP can reframe the traditional issues of existential concerns into positive psychology questions that can be subjected to empirical research. It also focuses on personal growth and transformation as much as on existential anxiety.Later, EPP was incorporated into the second wave of positive psychology (PP 2.0).
Meaning Therapy (MT) is an extension of Frankl's logotherapy and America's humanistic-existential tradition; it is also pluralistic because it incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, and positive psychotherapy, with meaning as its central organizing construct. MT not only appeals to people's natural desires for happiness and significance but also makes skillful use of their innate capacity for meaning-seeking and meaning-making. MT strikes a balance between a person-centered approach and a psycho-educational approach. At the outset of therapy, clients are informed of the use of meaning-centered interventions appropriate for their predicaments because of the empirical evidence for the vital role of meaning in healing and thriving.MT is a comprehensive and pluralistic way to address all aspects of clients' existential concerns. Clients can benefit from MT in two ways: (1) a custom-tailored treatment to solve their presenting problems, and (2) a collaborative journey to create a preferred better future.
Existential therapy (of the American, existential-humanistic tradition) starts with the belief that although humans are essentially alone in the world, they long to be connected to others. People want to have meaning in one another's lives, but ultimately they must come to realize that they cannot depend on others for validation, and with that realization, they finally acknowledge and understand that they are fundamentally alone. The result of this revelation is anxiety in the knowledge that our validation must come from within and not from others.
Existential therapy is based on a theory of mind, and of psychology. In existentialism, personality is based on choosing to be, authentically, the real you, given an understanding based on a philosophical idea of what a person is. Therefore, practical therapeutic applications can be derived give a theory of personality, emotion, and “the good life.”
This leads to practical therapeutic applications like dealing with personal choices in life that lead to personal happiness. Personal happiness based on a concept of yourself as having the freedom of directing your life and making necessary changes (so to speak, a radical freedom). So, a full philosophical understanding of existentialism is basic to methods implemented for emotional and life changes. That is, a background in philosophy is basic to existential therapy.
Philosophical issues of the self, personality, philosophy of mind, meaning of life, personal development are all fundamentally relevant to any practical therapeutic expectations. Existentialism
Because there is no single existential view, opinions about psychological dysfunction vary.
For theorists aligned with Yalom, psychological dysfunction results from the individual's refusal or inability to deal with the normal existential anxiety that comes from confronting life's "givens": mortality, isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom.
For other theorists, there is no such thing as psychological dysfunction or mental illness.[ citation needed ] Every way of being is merely an expression of how one chooses to live one's life. However, one may feel unable to come to terms with the anxiety of being alone in the world. If so, an existential psychotherapist can assist one in accepting these feelings rather than trying to change them as if there is something wrong. Everyone has the freedom to choose how they are going to exist in life; however, this freedom may go unpracticed. It may appear easier and safer not to make decisions that one will be responsible for. Many people will remain unaware of alternative choices in life for various societal reasons.
Existentialism suggests that it is possible for individuals to face the anxieties of life head on, embrace the human condition of aloneness and to revel in the freedom to choose and take full responsibility for their choices. They can aim to take control of their lives and steer themselves in any direction they choose. There is no need to halt feelings of meaninglessness but instead to choose and focus on new meanings for the living. By building, loving and creating, life can be lived as one's own adventure. One can accept one's own mortality and overcome the fear of death. Although the French author Albert Camus denied the specific label of existentialist in his novel, L'Etranger , the novel's main character, Meursault, ends the novel by doing just this. He accepts his mortality and rejects the constrictions of society he previously placed on himself, leaving him unencumbered and free to live his life with an unclouded mind.[ citation needed ] Also, Gerd B. Achenbach has refreshed the Socratic tradition with his own blend of philosophical counseling, as has Michel Weber with his Chromatiques Center in Belgium.
The strictly Sartrean perspective of existential psychotherapy is generally unconcerned with the client's past, but instead, the emphasis is on the choices to be made in the present and future. The counselor and the client may reflect upon how the client has answered life's questions in the past, but attention ultimately shifts to searching for a new and increased awareness in the present and enabling a new freedom and responsibility to act. The patient can then accept that they are not special and that their existence is simply coincidental, or without destiny or fate. By accepting this, they can overcome their anxieties and instead view life as moments in which they are fundamentally free.
Existential thinkers seek to avoid restrictive models that categorize or label people. Instead, they look for the universals that can be observed cross-culturally.There is no existential personality theory which divides humanity into types or reduces people to part components. Instead, there is a description of the different levels of experience and existence with which people are inevitably confronted. The way in which a person is in the world at a particular stage can be charted on this general map of human existence (Binswanger, 1963; Yalom, 1980; van Deurzen, 1984).
In line with the view taken by van Deurzen,one can distinguish four basic dimensions of human existence: the physical, the social, the psychological, and the spiritual.
On each of these dimensions, people encounter the world and shape their attitude out of their particular take on their experience. Their orientation towards the world defines their reality. The four dimensions are interwoven and provide a complex four-dimensional force field for their existence. Individuals are stretched between a positive pole of what they aspire to on each dimension and a negative pole of what they fear. Binswanger proposed the first three of these dimensions from Heidegger's description of Umwelt and Mitwelt and his further notion of Eigenwelt. The fourth dimension was added by van Deurzen from Heidegger's description of a spiritual world (Überwelt) in Heidegger's later work.
On the physical dimension ( Umwelt ), individuals relate to their environment and the givens of the natural world around them. This includes their attitude to the body they have, to the concrete surroundings they find themselves in, to the climate and the weather, to objects and material possessions, to the bodies of other people, their own bodily needs, to health and illness and their mortality. The struggle on this dimension is, in general terms, between the search for domination over the elements and natural law (as in technology, or in sports) and the need to accept the limitations of natural boundaries (as in ecology or old age). While people generally aim for security on this dimension (through health and wealth), much of life brings a gradual disillusionment and realization that such security can only be temporary. Recognizing limitations can deliver a significant release of tension.
On the social dimension ( Mitwelt ), individuals relate to others as they interact with the public world around them. This dimension includes their response to the culture they live in, as well as to the class and race they belong to (and also those they do not belong to). Attitudes here range from love to hate and from cooperation to competition. The dynamic contradictions can be understood concerning acceptance versus rejection or belonging versus isolation. Some people prefer to withdraw from the world of others as much as possible. Others blindly chase public acceptance by going along with the rules and fashions of the moment. Otherwise, they try to rise above these by becoming trendsetters themselves. By acquiring fame or other forms of power, individuals can attain dominance over others temporarily. Sooner or later, however, everyone is confronted with both failure and aloneness.
On the psychological dimension (Eigenwelt), individuals relate to themselves and in this way create a personal world. This dimension includes views about their character, their past experience and their future possibilities. Contradictions here are often experienced regarding personal strengths and weaknesses. People search for a sense of identity, a feeling of being substantial and having a self.
But inevitably many events will confront them with evidence to the contrary and plunge them into a state of confusion or disintegration. Activity and passivity are an important polarity here. Self-affirmation and resolution go with the former and surrender and yielding with the latter. Facing the final dissolution of self that comes with personal loss and the facing of death might bring anxiety and confusion to many who have not yet given up their sense of self-importance.
On the spiritual dimension (Überwelt) (van Deurzen, 1984), individuals relate to the unknown and thus create a sense of an ideal world, an ideology, and a philosophical outlook. It is there that they find meaning by putting all the pieces of the puzzle together for themselves. For some people, this is done by adhering to a religion or other prescriptive worldview; for others, it is about discovering or attributing meaning in a more secular or personal way. The contradictions that must be faced on this dimension are often related to the tension between purpose and absurdity, hope and despair. People create their values in search of something that matters enough to live or die for, something that may even have ultimate and universal validity. Usually, the aim is the conquest of a soul or something that will substantially surpass mortality (as in having contributed something valuable to humankind). Facing the void and the possibility of nothingness are the indispensable counterparts of this quest for the eternal.
There has not been a tremendous amount of research on existential therapy. Much of the research focuses on people receiving therapy who also have medical concerns such as cancer. Despite this, some studies have indicated positive efficacy for existential therapies with certain populations. Qualitative research has shown there is a positive learning outcome of Existential Therapy.Overall, however, more research is needed before definitive scientific claims can be made.
Existentialism ( or ) is a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centers on the lived experience of the thinking, feeling, acting individual. In the view of the existentialist, the individual's starting point has been called "the existential angst," a sense of dread, disorientation, confusion, or anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Existentialist thinkers frequently explore issues related to the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence.
Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual's well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills. There are also numerous types of psychotherapy designed for children and adolescents, such as play therapy. Certain psychotherapies are considered evidence-based for treating some diagnosed mental disorders. Others have been criticized as pseudoscience.
Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor.
Rollo Reece May was an American existential psychologist and author of the influential book Love and Will (1969). He is often associated with humanistic psychology and existentialist philosophy, and alongside Viktor Frankl, was a major proponent of existential psychotherapy. The philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich was a close friend who had a significant influence on his work.
Logotherapy was developed by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, on a concept based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life. Frankl describes it as "the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy" along with Freud's psychoanalysis and Adler's individual psychology.
Existential crisis, also known as existential dread, are moments when individuals question whether their lives have meaning, purpose, or value, and are negatively impacted by the contemplation. It may be commonly, but not necessarily, tied to depression or inevitably negative speculations on purpose in life such as the futility of all effort. This issue of the meaning and purpose of human existence is a major focus of the philosophical tradition of existentialism.
Ludwig Binswanger was a Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of existential psychology. His parents were Robert Johann Binswanger (1850–1910) and Bertha Hasenclever (1847–1896). Robert's German-Jewish father Ludwig "Elieser" Binswanger (1820–1880) was founder, in 1857, of the "Bellevue Sanatorium" in Kreuzlingen. Robert's brother Otto Binswanger (1852–1929) was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Jena.
Irvin David Yalom is an American existential psychiatrist who is emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, as well as author of both fiction and nonfiction.
Child psychotherapy, or mental health interventions for children have developed varied approaches over the last century. Two distinct historic pathways can be identified for present-day provision in Western Europe and in the United States: one through the Child Guidance Movement, the other stemming from Adult psychiatry or Psychological Medicine, which evolved a separate Child psychiatry specialism.
Daseinsanalysis is an existentialist approach to psychoanalysis. It was first developed by Ludwig Binswanger in the 1920s under the concept of "phenomenological anthropology". After the publication of "Basic Forms and Perception of Human Dasein", Binswanger would refer to his approach as Daseinsanalysis. Binswanger's approach was heavily influenced by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud. The philosophy of daseinsanalysis is centered on the thought that the human Dasein is open to any and all experience, and that the phenomenological world is experienced freely in an undistorted way. This way initially being absent from meaning, is the basis for analysis. This theory goes opposite to dualism in the way that it proposes no gap between the human mind and measurable matter. Subjects are taught to think in the terms of being alone with oneself and grasping concepts of personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself. Binswanger believed that all mental issues stemmed from the dilemma of living with other humans and being ultimately alone.
Philosophical consultancy, also sometimes called philosophical practice or philosophical counseling or clinical philosophy, is a contemporary movement in practical philosophy. Developing since the 1980s as a profession but since the 1950s as a practice, practitioners of philosophical counseling ordinarily have a doctorate or minimally a master's degree in philosophy and offer their philosophical counseling or consultation services to clients who look for a philosophical understanding of their lives, social problems, or even mental problems. In the last case philosophical counseling might be in lieu of, or in conjunction with, psychotherapy. The movement has often been said to be rooted in the Socratic tradition, which viewed philosophy as a search for the Good and the good life. A life without philosophy was not worth living for Socrates. This led to the philosophy of Stoicism, for example, resulting in Stoic therapy.
Existential counselling is a philosophical form of counselling which addresses the situation of a person's life and situates the person firmly within the predictable challenges of the human condition.
Death anxiety is anxiety caused by thoughts of one's own death. Also referred to as thanatophobia, death anxiety is distinguished from necrophobia, which is a specific fear of dead or dying people and/or things; the latter is the fear of others who are dead or dying, whereas the former concerns one's own death or dying.
Paradox psychology is an approach that aims to advance the general field of psychology and treatment. These advances include: An approach that specifically addresses a 'hard-to-treat' or resistant client; A scientific understanding that supports a process for 'spontaneous change'; Unifying behavioral, cognitive, and psychodynamic orientations under a single umbrella theory; A science-based model showing how treating secondary non-criminogenic behaviors will impact primary targeted (volatile) criminogenic behaviors
Logic-based therapy (LBT) is a proposed modality of philosophical counseling developed by philosopher Elliot D. Cohen beginning in the mid-1980s. It is a philosophical variant of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), which was developed by psychologist Albert Ellis. However, there have been no independent, controlled studies to measure its therapeutic value or advantages over classical REBT.
Existential Psychotherapy is a book about existential psychotherapy by the American psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom, in which the author, addressing clinical practitioners, offers a brief and pragmatic introduction to European existential philosophy, as well as to existential approaches to psychotherapy. He presents his four ultimate concerns of life—death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness—and discusses developmental changes, psychopathology and psychotherapeutic strategies with regard to these four concerns.
Paul T. P. Wong is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor. His research career has gone through four stages, with significant contributions in each stage: learning theory, social cognition, existential psychology, and positive psychology. He is most known for his integrative work on death acceptance, meaning therapy, and second wave positive psychology. He has been elected as a fellow for both the American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association.
Second wave positive psychology is concerned with how to bring out the best in individuals and society in spite of and because of the dark side of human existence through the dialectical principles of yin and yang. There has also been a distinct shift from focusing on individual happiness and success to the double vision of individual well-being and the big picture of humanity. PP 2.0 is more about bringing out the "better angels of our nature" than achieving optimal happiness or personal success, because the better angels of empathy, compassion, reason, justice, and self-transcendence will make people better human beings and this world a better place. PP 2.0 pivots around the universal human capacity for meaning seeking and meaning making in achieving optimal human functioning under both desirable and undesirable conditions. This emerging movement is an inevitable and necessary corrective response to the inherent problems of what has been called "positive psychology as usual".
Elisabeth Lukas is an Austrian psychiatrist and is one of the central figures in Logotherapy, a branch of psychotherapy founded by Viktor Frankl. Lukas is an author of 30 books, translated into 16 languages.
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