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What Is Existential Psychotherapy?

Mar 30

The focus of existential psychotherapy is on the whole of human experience. Human potential and ambitions are celebrated in existential psychotherapy while also accepting one's own limits. With regards to humanistic psychology, experiential psychiatry and depth psychiatry in particular, existential psychotherapy has a lot to offer.



Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard's ideas on existential philosophy helped shape the field of existential therapy. Kierkegaard, one of the earliest existential thinkers, argued that the only way to transcend human unhappiness was to cultivate inner insight. Eventually, Nietzsche expanded his idea of existentialism by incorporating themes such as the drive to power and personal accountability. Philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre began to investigate the importance of study and interpretation in the healing process in the early 1900s Many other thinkers in later decades began to see the value of first-hand experience as a means of cultivating psychological well-being and equilibrium.

Psychologists Paul Tillich and Rollo May, as well as Irvin Yalom, pushed existential therapy into the mainstream with their writings and teachings in the early 20th century, but Otto Rank was the first to actively research the field. Humanistic psychology and Viktor Frankl's logotherapy, both of which were influenced by the popular approach, were among the first to catch on. Experiential treatments were developed by British philosophers as a way to assist individuals manage their mental health concerns. The Philadelphia Association was founded at the same time. The Society for Existential Analysis, formed in 1988, and the International Community of Existential Counselors, founded in 2006, are two such organizations that represent the idea of existentialism.

Givens, the circumstances inherent in human existence, are at the heart of existential psychotherapy's foundational notion that all persons experience intrapsychic conflict. Among the hypotheses, there are at least four fundamentals:

  • Death
  • Isolation
  • Meaninglessness

A feeling of dread known as "existential anxiety" is experienced by people when confronted with any of the aforementioned situations or givens. A person's physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being may suffer as a result of anxiety, according to research.

For example, the knowledge that everyone of us and the people we care about will die at some point in the future may cause us great worry, leading us to deny death's actuality and need in human existence. However, if we lose sight of the fact that we will die, we may miss opportunities to improve our quality of life or even save our own lives. In extreme cases, those who are extremely aware of the idea that death is unavoidable may suffer from psychosis or neurosis.

Existential psychotherapy says that the objective is to find a happy medium between being aware of death and being paralyzed by it. As a result, they are more likely to make decisions that will benefit themselves and their loved ones in a favorable way.. These people, even if they may not know how their decisions will turn out, understand the need of acting quickly. Since we all know that we will die, facing the possibility of it makes us more appreciative of the things we do have.

Existential anxiety can be exacerbated by the fear of being alone, by a belief in the meaninglessness of existence, and by the enormous weight of making life-altering choices. If you believe in existential therapy, your actions based on how you deal with your internal problems will have a direct impact on your current and future situations.




In existential psychotherapy, a person's emotional troubles are not only addressed, but also the actions that led to those issues are taken responsibility for. Through exposure therapy, clients learn to embrace their anxieties and develop the tools they need in order to face them head on. In counseling, a person may take charge of their life and strive to establish a plan of action that best suits them. People who engage in this type of activity frequently feel liberated and able to let go of the misery that comes with feeling insignificant and pointless. Thus, existential psychotherapy teaches people in treatment to develop and accept their own lives, and to live them with awe and wonder. Developing the capacity to see life as a journey rather than a struggle might help people overcome their fear of death and help them see life as a journey rather than a challenge.



Existential psychotherapists don't dwell on the client's history. As a substitute, they help the individual in therapy find and consider the options that are available to him or her. The therapist and patient work together to grasp the consequences of prior decisions and the ideas that led to those decisions, but only as a way to move to the objective of generating a keener insight into oneself. It's not about reliving the past, but rather using the past as a springboard for fresh independence and self-confidence in existential therapy. The individual in treatment is able to free themselves from the shackles of obligation that may have been hindering them from living fully in the present moment by realizing that they are neither unique nor predestined. It is only when this happens that they are fully free.



Existential psychotherapy may be extremely beneficial to those in treatment who are ready to examine the causes of their intrapsychic conflicts and the actions that lead them to their current situation. One of the numerous behavioral and mental health concerns that may be successfully addressed with this therapy method is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from exposure to military war, sexual abuse in childhood, interpersonal violence or other life-threatening situations.

People that react well to therapy tend to have a greater sense of self-awareness, self-understanding, self-respect, and motivation. People in treatment are more likely to regard recovery as a therapeutic process when they realize they are in large part accountable for their own relapse prevention.



If you don't understand the core concepts or extent of the ideas involved with existential psychotherapy, you may be misinterpreted. Before and throughout therapy, it is beneficial to be informed of the concepts, theories, and givens.

The following misconceptions about existential psychotherapy:

  • Existential psychology's foundational assumptions are all covered by a single, separate existential theory that is devoid of internal conflict. In reality, the method is divided into at least five categories, which is seen as a strength by researchers since it encourages a thorough study of the approach's fundamental assumptions and allows for better adaptability.
  • The terms "existential psychology" and "existential philosophy" are interchangeable. Both existentialist philosophy and existental psychology have areas of commonality but also points of divergence. The differences between these two approaches have helped to shape their growth.
  • To put it another way, existential psychology rejects the existence of God, for example. There are numerous Christian professors and pioneers in existential psychology, despite the fact that it is not intrinsically religious and discourages people from following one person or faith without inquiry.
  • Existentialism and humanism are the same concept. Despite the fact that the two theories are in accord, they are not identical. Differences in emphasis rather than full divergences tend to separate these two schools of thought.
  • In contrast to more upbeat approaches, existential psychotherapy adopts a more dismal view of existence. Due to existential psychology's idea that pain may be welcomed as a part of human existence, it can be seen as pessimistic literature While acknowledging that pain is an unavoidable component of being human, this is not an incitement to further misery. In order to work with and learn from pain, existential therapy encourages patients to accept it as a fact of life.


Because it is primarily an intellectual approach, it is only useful for those with high IQs who are not suffering from long-term behavioral or mental health issues. Anyone, regardless of intellectual level, has the capacity to recognize and make sense of their own humanity and the feelings and concerns that accompany it. The principles of existential therapy may be used by anybody, regardless of their background in philosophy or psychology, and many people who are currently battling mental health concerns can benefit from the method.

Because existential psychotherapy focuses on the root causes of a patient's behavioral and mental health issues, it may not directly address the primary problem a patient is facing. Thus, existential therapy is frequently utilized in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities due to its adaptability. Using these methods together can increase their efficacy and help patients recover more quickly. An additional drawback of existential psychotherapy is that it may not be suitable for those who do not intend to investigate their intrapsychic processes or who are looking for a quick answer to their mental health issues.