What is Existentialism?
In philosophy, existentialism has a unique perspective on the meaning of everything in the world. Namely, that everything that we experience (including objects, sensations, and emotional feelings) has no inherent meaning. That is not to say that our lives have no meaning but rather, that there is no built-in, or “default” meaning in our world and everything in it.
Whatever meaning we derive from the world, all of this meaning and these concepts are created by ourselves. According to this view, we are all unique individuals with free will and we make our own meaning in life through the choices we make. Life has no meaning asides from that which we assign to it. For example, to see meaning in your career, it is your responsibility to choose a job that is meaningful to you – or to create the meaning through your choice of which duties you perform. When not taking this approach, you may choose a job that society tells you is meaningful.
Therefore, according to existential thought, we must look within ourselves to create meaning, to assert our values, and to make the decisions that shape our lives. The existentialist does not search for meaning, for example by looking to societal norms, they create it.
What is Existential Psychotherapy?
Existential therapy is a unique form of psychotherapy that looks to explore difficulties from this philosophical perspective. Focusing on the human condition as a whole, existential therapy highlights human capacities and encourages us to take responsibility for our successes. It uses a positive approach that applauds human aspirations and potential while simultaneously acknowledging human limitations.
As a therapeutic approach it centres on you, your free will, self-determination, and your search for meaning rather than any symptoms. Emotional and psychological difficulties are viewed as an inner conflict caused by an individual’s confrontation with the ‘givens of existence’. These givens – also known as the six propositions of existential therapy – are:
- Capacity for self-awareness
- Freedom and responsibility
- Establishing an identity and meaningful relationships
- Finding meaning
- Awareness of mortality
- Acceptance that anxiety is unavoidable
Rather than delve into the past, the existential approach looks at the here and now, exploring the human condition as a whole and what it means for you as an individual. As a result, according to this perspective, anxiety, for example, is simply a natural feature of human life. We must come to terms with any anxiety that we experience in order to live authentically.
How does Existential Psychotherapy help?
As people, we often try to deal with anxiety through a series of self-learned and ineffective coping mechanisms which can temporarily alleviate anxiety but still impede our ability to experience a fulfilled life. These internal conflicts can grow into more pronounced states of anxiety that impact our lives in a profoundly negative manner.
The first step in dealing with existential anxiety is guiding the individual through a self-investigation process. Existential therapy does not place emphasis on past events like some therapy types. This approach does take the past into consideration but only so that together, the therapist and the individual can understand the implications of past events. However, instead of placing blame on (or deriving meaning from) past events, existential counselling uses these as insights. From this perspective, past experiences are tools to promote your freedom and assertiveness. Coming to the realisation that you are not defined by your history and that you are not destined to have a certain future is often a breakthrough that brings liberation and release.
What is the aim of Existential Psychotherapy?
The role of existential therapy is to help facilitate an individual’s own encounter with themselves and to work alongside them as they explore their values, assumptions, and ideals. An existential therapist will avoid any form of judgment and instead help the individual to speak from their own perspective. The goal of the therapist is to understand the individual’s assumptions with clarity that the individual may not be able to muster by themselves.
Existential psychotherapists help people with the existential, eternal, unsettling, and human experiences such as feelings of meaninglessness, isolation, and the fear of death. A belief that lies at the heart of existential counselling is that although human beings are essentially alone in the world, we have an innate tendency to seek connections with others. This belief can help to explain why certain concerns appear and may help the individual to understand why they feel the way they do sometimes. It is important to recognise existential therapists as fellow humans undergoing the same journeys and dealing with the same inevitable truths of the human condition.
What happens in Existential Psychotherapy?
Your therapist will guide you through sessions and teach you how to take responsibility for your choices and to make choices that align with your values. This will help you to relieve your symptoms and live more authentically. The point is not necessarily to learn certain skills or pick up particular habits or coping mechanisms but to form a realistic and authentic relationship with life. As such, this form of therapy will not focus on fancy techniques or assigning homework to reach the desired results.
Is Existential Psychotherapy for me?
Existential therapy is for someone who feels unclear about their direction and life choices. They may be feeling lost, numb, faced with traumatic events, experiencing a sense of lack of meaning in life, and apathy.
Existential therapy can be highly effective for young people and adults who are struggling to make healthy life choices and also to accept the consequences of these choices. This may include individuals trying to cope with addiction, anxiety, depression, and a wide range of psychological and behavioural issues.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are not clear what is wrong but feel a significant lack of meaning in your life (or any other states and moods which are hard to define) existential therapy may be the right psychotherapy for you.
Is Existential Psychotherapy for me?
No, existential therapy involves an individual and personal journey which is difficult to measure. As a large organisation the NHS tends to prescribe widely used solutions. They are not currently able to provide this specialised type of therapy.
How can I find out more about Existential Psychotherapy and whether it’s a suitable treatment option for me?
There are lots of insightful resources on Existential Psychotherapy online. Alternatively, for a friendly and entirely confidential conversation, please feel free to get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 07570 084856. Or simply click here to visit our contact page. We will be happy to answer your questions and advise whether our existential psychotherapy service is the best option for you.