Existential Psychotherapy, the most philosophical approach to psychology

Existential Psychotherapy, the most philosophical approach to psychology

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Existential therapy

The Existential Psychotherapy It is a style of therapy that emphasizes the human condition as a whole. It is a positive approach that focuses on human capabilities and aspirations, but without forgetting human limitations. The Existential Psychotherapy shares many similarities with Humanist Psychology.


  • 1 Theoretical basis of Existential Psychotherapy
  • 2 Existential anxiety
  • 3 Accept improvement through Existential Psychotherapy
  • 4 The work of existential therapists
  • 5 What mental health conditions can be treated with Existential Psychotherapy?
  • 6 Common concerns and limitations

Theoretical basis of Existential Psychotherapy

Existential Therapy was developed from the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. As one of the first existential philosophers, Kierkegaard develops the theory that human discontent can only be overcome through internal wisdom. Later, Nietzsche further developed the existentialism theory by introducing the idea of ​​free will and personal responsibility. In the early 1900s, philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre began exploring the role of research and interpretation in the healing process. Over the next decades, other contemporaries began to recognize the importance of experimenting in relation to understanding, as a method to achieve psychological well-being and balance.

Otto Rank He was one of the first existential therapists, and later, towards the middle of the 20th century, psychologists Paul Tillich and Rollo May worked on existential therapy through their writings and teachings, as did Irvin Yalom after them. The approach became popular and began to influence other theories, including the Humanist Psychology and the Logotherapy, developed by Viktor Frankl. At the same time, British philosophers further expanded existentialism with the founding of the Philadelphia Association, an organization dedicated to helping people manage their mental health problems with experimental therapies. Other institutions that embody the Existential Theory include the Society for Existential Analysis, founded in 1988, and the International Community of Existential Advisors, created in 2006.

Existential anxiety

The Existential Psychotherapy It is based on the fundamental belief that each one experiences the intrapsychic conflict due to their interaction with certain conditions inherent in human existence such as paradoxes and dilemmas. The theory recognizes at least four primary existential paradoxes:

  • Freedom and associated responsibility
  • Death
  • Isolation
  • Lack of meaning

A confrontation with any of the aforementioned conditions fills an individual with a type of fear commonly known as existential anxiety. This anxiety is believed to reduce a person's physical, psychological, social and spiritual awareness, which can lead to significant long-term consequences.

For example, the fact that each of us and each of our loved ones have to die at some unknown time, can be a source of deep anxiety, and this may tempt us to ignore reality and the need for death in human existence. By reducing the awareness of death, however, we can stop making decisions that can really protect or even enrich our lives. At the other end of the spectrum, people who are too worried about the fact that death is inevitable may lead to a state of neurosis or psychosis.

The key, according to the Existential Psychotherapy, is to strike a balance between being aware of death without being overwhelmed by it. People who maintain a healthy balance are motivated to make decisions that can have a positive impact on their lives, as well as on the lives of their loved ones. In essence, the reality of death encourages us to take full advantage of opportunities and treasure the things we have.

Like death, the threat of isolation, the lack of perceived sense of life and the heavy responsibility for making decisions that affect life, can be a source of existential anxiety sharp According to the theories of Existential Therapy, the way in which an individual processes these internal conflicts and subsequent decisions will ultimately determine that individual's current life and future circumstances.

Accept improvement through Existential Psychotherapy

The Existential Psychotherapy encourages people to deal with Emotional problems They face through full participation and take responsibility for the decisions that caused them. People who undergo this type of therapy are guided to accept their fears and are given the necessary skills to overcome them through action. By gaining control of one's life direction, the person in therapy is able to design the course of their choice. This creates in the individual a feeling of liberation and a feeling of letting go of the despair associated with insignificance and meaninglessness. Existential Psychotherapy consists in teaching the person to grow and embrace his own life, with astonishment and curiosity. By doing so, the person is able to see their life as experience of a trip instead of a trial, and can eradicate the fear associated with death.

The work of existential therapists

Therapists who practice Existential Psychotherapy do not focus on an individual's past, but work with the client to discover and explore the options that are in front of him or her. Through hindsight, the person in therapy and the therapist work to understand the implications of past decisions and the beliefs that led to those that take place, only as a means to change to the goal of creating a new insight into oneself. The emphasis is not to live in the past, but use the past as a tool to promote freedom and new assertiveness. By coming to the conclusion that they are not unique or intended for a specific purpose, the person in therapy is allowed to release the mandatory chains that he or she taxed from existing in fullness from moment to moment. When that happens, he or she is truly free.

What mental health conditions can be treated with Existential Psychotherapy?

People who go to this type of therapy are willing to explore the reasons for their intrapsychic conflicts and the decisions that led to their current circumstances. There are many behavioral and mental health problems that can be treated successfully with this therapeutic approach, including depression, anxiety, substance dependence, and the posttraumatic stress.

Individuals who respond to treatment tend to find meaning and purpose in their lives and often experience greater self-awareness, self-understanding, self esteem and self motivation. The understanding that they are primarily responsible for their own recovery increases the likelihood that people in treatment will see beyond the limits of a therapy session, and the recovery of this vision as a therapeutic process.

Common concerns and limitations

The Existential PsychotherapyLike other types of therapy, it can be misunderstood by people who do not have a deep understanding of the fundamental principles or scope of the associated theories. Some common errors of Existential Psychotherapy include the following beliefs:

  • There is a distinctive theory, existential states are free of internal tensions and cover all the basic assumptions of Existential Psychology.
  • There is no difference between Existential Psychology and existential philosophy.
  • Existential Psychology takes an anti-religious or anti-spiritual approach, for example, denying the existence of God.
  • Existential and humanist theories are the same thing.
  • Existential Psychotherapy consists in taking a negative, dark, or pessimistic view of life.
  • The approach is fundamentally intellectual.
  • It is only beneficial for people of high intellect, who are not experiencing chronic mental or behavioral health conditions.

Due to the fact that Existential Psychotherapy is usually directed towards underlying factors of perceived mental and behavioral health problems, but these approaches may not directly address the main issue that the person being treated is experiencing. As such, Existential Psychotherapy is often used in conjunction with other treatments in order to maximize its effectiveness and promote recovery. In addition, Existential Psychotherapy cannot appeal to people who do not wish to explore their intrapsychic processes, or who are only interested in finding a quick solution to their mental health problems.

Related tests
  • Depression test
  • Goldberg depression test
  • Self-knowledge test
  • how do others see you?
  • Sensitivity test (PAS)
  • Character test


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