Existential therapy is derived from philosophical roots. What is the meaning of life? Who am I? How does existential therapy work by attempting to answer these questions?
Have you ever seen one of the cartoons where someone climbs to the top of a tall mountain to find a wise old man and ask him the meaning of life? Have you ever wanted to know the answer to this question yourself? If so, you might find existential therapy an easier approach to answering this question than finding a guru on the top of a mountain.Existential therapy is more of a way of thinking than a neatly defined model with specific techniques. It is a philosophical approach to therapy that assumes we are free to choose and are responsible for our choices. Existential therapy asks questions like, ‘Why am I here?’, ‘What is my purpose?’, and ‘Who am I?’
Goals, Strengths, and Limitations
Existential therapy typically deals with people in what is called a restricted existence. This means they have a limited awareness of themselves and the nature of their problems.
They often see few options available to them and feel helpless or trapped.The goal of existential therapy is to understand the subjective world of the client and to help them come to new understandings and new options. In order to do this, the client must become fully aware of their feelings and actions in the present, confront their anxiety, and develop a genuine relationship with themselves and with the world around them.There are many strengths to this approach.
First, it can be applied to a wide variety of settings, such as individual therapy, group therapy, family or couples therapy, and even community outreach settings. Another strength is the personal quality of the therapeutic relationship. The client is the central focus and is given respect, freedom of choice, and responsibility for their actions.However, existential therapy is criticized for its lack of a defined, systematic approach.
Its subjective philosophy must be applied by a therapist who is mature, experienced, and well trained. The lack of a systematic approach has also made it difficult to study and measure the effectiveness of existential therapy.
Role of the Therapist
Now, let’s look at the role of the therapist. The therapist wants to help people recognize how they are limiting themselves, help them confront avoided anxieties, and help them redefine their understanding of the world. The relationship between therapist and client is essential and is based upon mutual respect. This relationship is critical because the encounters that take place in the therapeutic setting are what bring about positive change in the client’s life.Therapists make use of diverse techniques that come from different theoretical orientations.
There is not one right way or rigid set of essential techniques. This lack of a specific technique-oriented approach sets existential therapy apart from other forms of therapy. The therapist typically adapts interventions to their own personality and style.
Thus, it is important that the therapist is able to clarify for themselves their own views on life and living.
Three Phases of Therapy
There are typically three general phases of existential therapy: identification and clarification, self-exploration and examination, and application. Let’s briefly walk through an example of this with our client, who we will call Bob.The first thing Bob must do in therapy is to clarify how he views the world. He will examine his values, beliefs, and assumptions. At first, Bob focuses on how his wife makes him feel worthless. The therapist teaches him how to examine his own role in creating this problem.
Next, Bob will examine the source of his values, beliefs, and assumptions. Through this process, Bob realizes that he doesn’t feel worthless because of how his wife treats him; he feels worthless because he has not made choices that he values in his life. Bob has always wanted to do something with his life that gives back to others.
He does not feel he has accomplished this goal.Finally, the therapist will help Bob take action on what he has learned about himself. Bob decides to begin volunteering at a local youth shelter in his free time. This makes him feel better about himself, and it improves the relationships with others in his life.
Existential therapy is more a way of thinking than a neatly defined model with specific techniques. It is a philosophical approach to therapy that assumes we are free to choose and are responsible for our choices. The goal of existential therapy is to understand the way the client sees the world and help them make choices based on this new insight.People often have a limited awareness of themselves and the nature of their problems. This is called a restricted existence.
The therapist helps the client look at the world objectively, deal with his/her anxieties, and see the world in a new way.The three phases of existential therapy are identification and clarification, self-exploration and examination, and application. Existential therapy can be applied to a wide variety of settings and has a strong focus on the client’s needs. However, it’s difficult to empirically measure its success rate due to the lack of a specific, systematic approach.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe existential therapy
- Recall the benefits and drawbacks of existential therapy
- Explain how a therapist administers existential therapy
- State and describe the three phases of therapy