Life can bring pain with it. There might not be any human being alive without experiencing the pain of life. Most of us try to manage or avoid the pain we feel. Existential therapy addresses human pain by helping the patient to - understand the pain and to find ways to alleviate the pain.
What is Existential Therapy?
Existential psychotherapy is a method of therapy that operates on the belief that inner conflict within a person is due to that individual's confrontation with the givens of existence.
These givens, as noted by Yalom, are: the inevitability of death, freedom and its attendant responsibility, existential isolation and finally meaninglessness. These four givens, also referred to as ultimate concerns, form the body of existential psychotherapy and compose the framework in which a therapist conceptualizes a client's problem in order to develop a method of treatment.
There are three key areas of interest in existential therapy:
Freedom: Human beings are free to choose their destiny.
Meaning: To find value in life, to give ourselves a reason to live a meaningful life.
Anxiety: The anxiety that motivates us to act can become the motivation behind not acting.
Existential therapy was introduced by Victor Frankl and Rollo May.
Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. He was the founder of logotherapy, a form of Existential Analysis. Frankl was one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists.
Rollo May is generally considered to be the father of American Existential Psychotherapy. He is the Author of such works as Love and Will, The Cry for Myth, and Freedom and Destiny, Rollo May was heavily influenced by the writings of the philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich. In developing an existential approach to therapy, May was also influenced by many of the existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
Actually existential therapy stems from a branch of philosophy known as existentialism, which examines the meaning of existence. It can be traced back to the last century to the work of philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
Kierkegaard’s philosophy has been a major influence in the development of 20th century philosophy, especially Existentialism and Postmodernism. Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish philosopher who has been called the "Father of Existentialism”. His philosophy also influenced the development of existential psychology.
Nietzsche- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher and classical philologist, his influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism.
Other famous existentialists include Jean Paul Sarte, and Irvin Yalom
Jean Paul Sarte - Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, existentialism, and Marxism, and his work continues to influence fields such as Marxist philosophy, sociology, and literary studies.
Irvin Yalom is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Stanford University and the author of Existential Psychotherapy and The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. He thinks that there are four existence which include the freedom to make our lives as we will, finding the meaning of life, how loneliness can affect us and how existential therapy can enable us to comprehend these.
According to Emmy van Deursen an existential therapist of United Kingdom, existential therapy deals with how therapists enable individuals to become truthful to themselves by widening their perspectives on themselves and on the world around them.
Albert Ellis(was an American psychologist who in 1955 developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy – REBT) is unique in the sense that he furthered the concept of existential psychotherapy, which in essence works in the interest of the individuals from the dynamic point of view that takes into account of all aspects of life and the emotional response individuals elicit.
Is Existential different from other therapies?
Existential therapy is fundamentally different from every kind of therapy.
Existential psychotherapy is a powerful approach to therapy which takes the human condition seriously.
It is an optimistic approach in that it embraces human potential; while on the other hand, it is realistic because it is aware of human limitations.
This therapy is a therapy for existence; it is a remedy for the problems of living.
How Existential Therapy Works Theoretically.
It works on four core dimensions of human existence:
1. Physical: We relate this to our physical environment, including our own bodies. Physical limitations due to illness or aging and financial troubles usually fall into this category. Existential therapists help their patients to recognize and accept such limitations.
2. Social: Socially, we relate to others in our world. Therapy issues in this category include relationships, ethnic, class, and race identity, conflict, competition, and failure.
3.Psychological: The psychological dimension refers to the way we relate to ourselves and our personal sense of identity.
4.Spiritual: The spiritual dimension has to do with our attitude toward the unknown and how we assign meaning to our experiences.
How Existential Therapy Works Practically.
Techniques used by Existential therapist:
Existential therapists usually facilitate intensive psychotherapy sessions and behavior modification techniques.
These techniques help people become more truthful with themselves and come to the ultimate realization that their own free will can bring about positive change in their lives.
Psychotherapy is used to help people solve problems, achieve goals, and manage their lives by treating a variety of mental health issues like acute depression, Schizophrenia., anxiety, eating disorders, phobias, and drug addiction. Depending on the needs of the patient, it may be used alone or in conjunction with other therapies and treatment methods. This type of therapy may last for just a few sessions, or treatment may last for several years, depending on the individual needs of the patient.
Behavior modification is a type of treatment which focuses on altering maladaptive behavior, to teach patients more adaptive behavior and to break bad habits. In these sessions, patients are essentially trained out of maladaptive behavior. It can take numerous sessions, and the approach is usually tailored to the patient. Approaches can be as simple as time outs for a child who acts up in class, or as complex as to get patients to stop chewing their nails.
Approach of Existential Therapy:
Existential Therapy focuses on the exploration of a person's sense of being-in-the-world.
Therapists tend to take a here-and-now approach, emphasizing their client's ability to make decisions in the present, rather than rely on the influences of their past.
It encourages the client to be honest with themselves, to broaden their views on their surrounding world and environment, and to make firm decisions about future plans.
It attempts to explore the meaning of certain problem areas for a client through a philosophical approach.
Therapy is based on the assumption that people are directly responsible for their lives and the environment they exist in.
Thus existential therapy’s approach has a future orientation.
The therapist may:
1. Share their own reactions to the patient’s thoughts.
2. Disclose their own similar experiences to the patient.
3. Get the patient to express their feelings over the necessity to choose in an uncertain world.
4. Challenge the patient to look at the ways they are avoiding decisions, and to make a judgment concerning this avoidance.
5. Share with the patient that their experience is the unique quality of being human -
They are ultimately alone.
They must decide for themselves.
They will experience anxiety over not being sure of decisions.
They will have to struggle to define their own meaning in a world that appears meaningless.
Aim of Existential Therapy:
The aim of existential therapy is to encourage clients to reflect on life, recognize their range of alternatives and decide among them.
The goal is to make people realize the ways they passively accept circumstances and surrender control, in order for them to start consciously shaping their own lives by exploring options for creating a meaningful existence.
The therapy’s central tasks are to invite the client to recognize how they have allowed others to decide for them, and to encourage clients to take steps towards autonomy (independence).
Advantages of Existential Therapy:
Existential therapy is a form of dynamic psychotherapy.
The foundation of the therapy is the need for individuals to cope with the ultimate concerns: death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness
Existential psychotherapy is suitable for those willing to increase their self-awareness and who are prepared to take control of their lives and make positive changes. Relationships and family matters are among the issues that can be addressed.
Existential anxiety treatments are very useful in treating anxiety, which is a general collection of mental disorders characterized by apprehension, fear of losing control, sleeplessness, increased heart rate and even diarrhea may also accompany an anxiety disorder Anxiety arises from personal strivings to survive and to maintain and assert one’s being.
Existential therapists differentiate between normal and neurotic anxiety. Normal anxiety is an appropriate response to an event being faced. Existential anxiety is a constructive form of normal anxiety and can be a stimulus for growth.
Existential therapy may be used most effectively when a client is able to access emotional experiences or when obstacles must be overcome to facilitate a client's entry into or continuation of recovery.
Existential therapy treats depression by helping individuals address the underlying causes of their disease. This therapy views "disease" as a negative response to the challenges of existence and is based on understanding that each person is the creator of his own life and has the freedom to choose how to respond to each moment of existence.
Existential therapy is a good therapeutic alternative for people who have issues with life, death and the meaning of our existence. Many people benefit from this form of therapy, and it's a powerful tool for healing and acceptance of life.
1. It is weak in terms of precision, testability, and empirical validity.
2. Has not produced a fully developed model of counseling.
3. Lacks educational and training programs.
4. Difficult to implement beyond an individual because of its subjectivity.
5. Clinicians do not diagnose or test their clients.
6. Closer to existential philosophy than to other theories and therapies associated with counseling.
7. Lacks a systematic statement of principles and practices.
8. It has limited applications for lower-functioning clients, clients in extreme crisis who need direction, poor clients, and those who are nonverbal.
9. It tends to oversimplify some complex human problems and is based heavily on common sense.
According to Albert Ellis, existential therapy is still a relatively new concept and not accepted by many. One of the reasons being that the field deals with both cognitive as well as behavioral. The dynamic nature of the concept therefore tends to evolve the concept as more and more individuals are exposed to it.
Existential therapy can pose to be confusing, frightening or even scary to those who are not much aware of it. But, the more you learn about it, you will understand that this is not as scary as it might seem.
Unlike many traditional therapies that deal with coming to terms with the past, existential treatments try to get the patient to focus on the present and the future. Just because a person did something in the past doesn't mean he has to keep doing it.
In other words existential therapy is aimed at helping an individual improve and enhance his/her hold on choice making, freedom, and their self-knowledge. Making them responsible and capable in their own lives. So the purpose of therapy is not about fixing broken clients but about helping people accept who they are and come to terms with life as a human being.
Author’s brief Biodata: Mrs. Mani Mozhi is teacher by profession with 18 years of experience. She is qualified as a Master Trainer under the Intel Teach to the Future Program. She is good at conducting Quiz competitions, compering for school functions and Annual days. She loves drawing and painting. She is a fabulous cook. She is doing a diploma in counseling at present.