Existential Psychotherapy

***This post is a study exercise as I prepare for the NCE exam.  It contains excerpts from several paper’s I’ve written***

Because existentialists are sensitive to the ways in which theories may dehumanize people and render them as objects, authentic experience takes precedence over artificial explanations….When experiences are molded into some preexisting theoretical model, they lose their authenticity and become disconnected from the individual who experienced them, Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p311).”

Existentialism is a movement that stresses the, “ . . . existence of the individual person as a free agent who is burdened with personal responsibility and whose existence cannot be investigated objectively, being unrevealed by the reflection on existence in time and space. It tends to disparage scientific methodology and knowledge and to reject objective values” (Coleman, 2009. p.264).  Existential psychotherapy, while not an independent school of thought, works well with other therapy objective empirically based methods of psychotherapy, (Corsini, & Wedding, 2011).

Historical Overview

Founding Fathers

The history of existentialism was born out of philosophical movement that thrived in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s.  Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) is often described as the father of existentialism.   Kierkegaard stated, “I exist, therefore I think” compared to Rene Descartes’ famous quote of “I think, therefore I am.” Kierkegaard’s statement swayed a group of European philosophers and psychologists, changing their approach to treatment; however, Kierkegaard’s philosophy was not readily accepted in the United States.

Fredrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), is another early founder of existentialism.  Like Kierkegaard, he stressed the importance of subjective experience.  However, Corey, (2015), notes: “where Kierkegaard emphasized the ‘subjective truth’ of an intense concern with God, Nietzsche located values within the individual’s ‘will to power’, (p. 135).”

Still other early influential existentialists worth knowing include Buber & Sartre.  Jean Paul Sartre, (1905–1980) was a French philosopher and novelist described an existential spaces he descrbies as “nothingness—between the whole of our past and the now frees us to choose what we will. Our values are what we chooser, (Corey, 2015, p. 135).”   Martin Buber, (1878–1965), on the other hand has a less individualistic perspective of human existence in his description of the i-thou relationship.  “There is never just an I, but always an other. The I, the person who is the agent, changes depending on whether the other is an it or a Thou, (Corey, 2015, p. 135).

Key Modern Figures

Rollo May (1909-1994), the American psychologist who was an existentialist advocate, credited the introduction of existentialism to the United States psychologist and philosopher, William James. James advocated free will, a key component of existentialism. In the 1920s and 1930s, existentialism was discretely introduced in university classrooms. Other notable philosophers and psychologists, such as Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) were introducing existentialism to the world through their writings. It was not until Rollo May and other psychologists such as, Abraham Maslow and Herman Feifel participated in the American Psychological Association (APA) Symposium on Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy on September 5, 1959, that existential psychology began to reach the forefront of the psychology field (Spear, n.d.).

Assumptions of Existential Models

A Caution Against the Medical Perspective

Existential models caution against utilizing a medical perspective, since it utilizes a diagnostic/disorder perspective with which to examine a client’s issues (Ingram, 2012).  Rather than working to alleviate symptoms, existential therapy is ultimately concerned with the meaning people give to their subjective experiences, (Corsini, & Wedding, 2011). According to existential therapy, underlying our psychological, social, biological, and interpersonal concerns is a greater existential crisis regarding life’s ultimate meaning (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).

A Focus on Intrinsic Meaning.

At the core of human existence is the notion that life contains no intrinsic meaning.  Understanding this inherent meaninglessness can allow clients to realize the freedom they have in choice.  Existential therapy aims at enabling a client to understand themselves as a creator of their own experience (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).   By examining the underlying choices we make to create meaningful lives we can begin to live more authentically. (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).  We are ultimately empowered by an awareness of the choices our make as we assume responsibility for those decisions. In this respect existential theories point out that with freedom comes self-responsibility.

Stresses the I/Thou Relationship

In Existential Psychotherapy client’s aren’t seen as an “it” (constant entity) but a person in the process of change (Rosenthal, 2005).  During therapy, both therapist and client experience change as a result of the relationship.  The above video provides a good summary of the concept, the quote below provides a brief description of the i-thou relationship.

“we humans live in a kind of betweenness; that is, there is never just an I, but always an other. The I, the person who is the agent, changes depending on whether the other is an it or a Thou. But sometimes we make the serious mistake of reducing another person to the status of a mere object, in which case the relationship becomes I/it, (Corey, 2015, p. 135).”

As the above quote notes, a serious mistake often occurs when reduce others as objects of our perception. Acknowledging the other individual and their being, requires us to become present.

Honoring Subjective Experience

Existentialism describes humans as “meaning-makers” and is “sensitive to the ways in which theories may dehumanize people and render them as objects” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010 p. 311).  It is on this basis that Existentialists caution against a medically-based perspective.  In order to honor an individual’s subjective experience, existentialists focuses on issues such as the purpose of life, mortality, meaning, death, freedom, and responsibility (Corsini & Wedding, 2010).

Rejects a Deterministic Perspective

“One of the aims of existential therapy is to challenge people to stop deceiving themselves regarding their lack of responsibility for what is happening to them, (Corey, 2015, p. 134).”

Existential Psychotherapists reject the perspective of behavioral determinism since this conceives individuals as victims to circumstances.  “Psychoanalysis sees freedom as restricted by [the] unconscious…behaviorists see freedom as restricted by sociocultural conditioning, (Corey, 2015, p. 133).” In contrast, existentialism provides an optimistic perspective that stresses self-responsibility and an individual’s ability to choose what we make of our circumstances, (Corey, 2015; Rosenthal, 2005).  Existential Psychotherapy stresses patient autonomy: that we are free and “external circumstances are only seen an excuse that can limits people” (Rosenthal, 2005).”

View of Human Nature

Existentialism provides a theoretical approach to counseling that does not focus on techniques but instead a perspective of human nature, (Corey, 2015).  “Existentialists regard people as meaning-making beings who are both subjects of experience and objects of self-reflection, (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 311).”  On the one hand, existentialism provides a positive and optimistic perspective that stress personal choice, individual autonomy, and self-responsibility (Rosenthal, 2005).  This optimism is balanced with an acknowledgment of the limitations and tragedies that are integral to human existence (Corey, 2015).   Existential psychotherapy is concerned with how we balance the realities of our human existence as an ever-evolving self.  In a textbook titled “Theory & Practice of Psychotherapy” (Corey, 2015), is a list of basic dimensions of human nature:

“The basic dimensions of the human condition, according to the existential approach, include (1) the capacity for self-awareness; (2) freedom and responsibility; (3) creating one’s identity and establishing meaningful relationships with others; (4) the search for meaning, purpose, values, and goals; (5) anxiety as a condition of living; and (6) awareness of death and nonbeing, (Corey, 2015, p. 139).”
Self-Awareness:  Existential approaches are aimed at increasing our self-awareness so we are not prisoner to our identity and past decisions.
Freedom & Responsibility:  Existential approach states we “are the authors of our own lives….and we alone are responsible for our choices, (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 311)  With freedom comes responsibility.
Identity & Relationship with Others: Existential perspectives stress the delicate balance that exists in maintaining our relationships and our sense of identity, (Corey, 2015).
Search for Meaning:  Existential psychotherapy states that humans strive to find meaning in their lives. “We create our own world and have to answer for ourselves why we live and how we shale live, (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 213).”
Existential Anxiety: “Existential anxiety is the unavoidable result of being confronted with the “givens of existence”—death, freedom, choice, isolation, and meaninglessness, (Corey, 2015, p. 148).”
Awareness of Death:  Existential perspectives acknowledge of our eventual demise as a painful and vivid reality we must acknowledge.  Frankl asserts the awareness of our death makes the idea of living each day to its fullest a priority.  

Theory of Personality

Existentialism’s view individuals in a continual process of change.  Personality development is going as we struggle with questions such as: “Who will I be? Who am I? Where do I come from? (Sharf, 2015, p. 166).”   Existentialism is concerned with how we understand ourselves and the world around us.

Being in the World.

“The term…being-in-the-world…refers to the ability of individuals to be able to think about and reflect on events and to attribute meaning to them, (Sharf, 2015, p. 166).” Rollo May adds that this involves being the subject and object of one’s own experience.  “Man’s capacity to stand outside himself, to know he is the subject s well as the object of experience, to see himself as the entity who is acting int he world of others, (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 217).”

Four Ways of Being

“Existentialists identify four ways of being-in-the-world. Human beings exist in the Umwelt, Mitwelt, Eigenwelt, and Überwelt simultaneously. The Umwelt refers to the biological world or the environment. The Mitwelt means “with- world” and concerns the area of human relationships. The Eigenwelt is the “own-world” and refers to the relationship that individuals have to themselves. The Überwelt refers to one’s relationship with spiritual or religious values, (Sharf, 2015, p. 167).”
Umwelt: The umwelt world we are thrown into, or the biological world of self-awareness (Rosenthal, 2005; Sharf, 2015).  As a night-shift worker, getting sleep is concerning. I’m trying to lose weight, and watch my food intake closely.
Mitwelt:  “Mitwelt refers to the world of relationships or encounters with others, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  I worry about the impression I will leave at my next internship.
Überwelt:  Uberwelt refers to our beliefs about the world (Sharf, 2015).  The beliefs we hold about the world influence greatly our experience in it.
Eigenwelt:  “Eigenwelt, one’s ‘own world,’ is more than a subjective, inner experience; it is a self-awareness from which we see the world, (Sharf, 2015, p. 168).”

Factors Influencing Personality Development

Freedom & Responsibilty

Awareness of our personal freedom implies responsibility for our life (Corsini & Wedding, 2010).  With freedom comes self-responsibility.   “They are responsible for creating their own world, which rests not on the ground but on nothingness, (Sharf, 2015, p 171.”  With an awareness of our ability to freely choose, comes the need to accept responsibility for our choices.


“Coming to terms with existential isolation..is a second dynamic conflict that structures the personality, (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 219).”  Yalom describes three types of isolation: “Interpersonal isolation refers to distance from others…Intrapersonal isolation occurs when one separates parts of oneself by using defense mechanisms…Existential isolation is even more basic than either personal or intrapersonal isolation. It refers to being separated from the world” (Sharf, 2015 p. 171).”   In order to avoid existential isolation, it is essential to shareoneself with others.   The I-thou concept (mentioned earlier) is important.


“How does a being who requires meaning find meaning in a universe that has no meaning? (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 320).”  This question also influences our personality development.  Systems of meaning help us make sense of our world and discover what we value most in it.

Motivations Driving Us

Sharf, (2015) describes three final factors that also influence our personality development: Self-Transcendence & authenticity.  Regarding the issue of self-transcendence: “human beings to transcend their immediate situation and their self-interest to strive toward something above themselves, Sharf, 2015, p. 173).”   In contrast, authenticity simply refers to a striving to live a life that is consistent with our personal value system.

Rollo May: Anxiety & Creativity

A Definition of Anxiety.

In his work titled “The Meaning of Anxiety” Rollo May discusses the concept of anxiety at length (May, 1950). Gathering insights from an array of fields such as Sociology, Religion, and Psychology, Rollo synthesizes them into his own overarching definition of anxiety. With this in mind, May states that “anxiety is apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holes essential to his existence as a personality….the threat of meaninglessness” (May, 1950, 191-193).   Anything that is a threat to our secure sense of meaning, produces anxiety (May, 1950). For example, May states that a job loss for a person whose identity is invested in that career, can be very anxiety producing (May, 1950).

Overcoming Anxiety – A Creative Experience.

According to Rollo May, the key to overcoming anxiety is to examine existential matters as their root cause (Corsini & Wedding, 2011). This means learning to see beyond our own perspective. Doing so can enable us to examine our lives and create our experiences from within this viewpoint.   It is this ability to know ourselves as “the subject as well as object of our experience” (Corsini, 2011, 312) that lies at the heart of this creative experience.

This capacity to experience a gap between expectations and reality, and with it the capacity to bring one’s experiences into reality are the characteristics of all creative endeavor which Kierkegaard described as conceiving ‘possibility’ and bringing possibility into actuality….Now we have noted that this capacity, however it may be defined is the condition both for anxiety and for creativity…So our discussion now comes full circle: we see that man’s creative abilities and his susceptibility to anxiety are two sides of the same capacity (May, 1950, 356).

Its when we can understand our anxieties as resulting from an existential crisis, that we can develop a greater understanding from which to recreate our lives (May, 1950). By examining how we give our lives meaning, and define possibilities for ourselves we are more aware of the underlying existential choices in life (May, 1950). Aligning these choices in accordance with reality is how we create realities out of possibilities.

Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy


Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna, Austria on March 26, 1905. Frankl was an excellent student who was involved in Socialist youth organizations and it was this interest in people that brought him to the field of psychiatry. Frankl worked with both Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler; however, he disagreed with Freud’s will to pleasure and Adler’s will to power and soon broke his ties and went out on his own. The most notable event that shaped Frankl’s views was his time in concentration camps, which also led him to write his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl stated:

“And throughout his ordeal, he could not help but see, that, among those given a chance for survival, it was those who held on to a vision of the future; whether it be a significant task before them, or a return to their loved ones; that were most likely to survive their suffering. Frankl lost his wife, his parents, and other members of his family to the Holocaust and it was the meaning he found in that suffering that led to the writing of Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl’s Biography, 2009. para.9).”

Major Concepts

Viktor Frankl focused on three aspects of the human existence – will of freedom, will to meaning, and the meaning of life. Existential freedom is not the same as political freedom but rather it has more to do with responsibility for what we experience. “Responsibility is inextricably linked to freedom because we are responsible for the sense we make of our world and for all of our actions and our failures to act” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011. p.312). Viktor Frankl talked about freedom of will, which he witnessed during his time in concentration camps. Frankl believed that many things except their ability to look at their situation in a positive manner restrict humans. More specifically, he saw that even people in concentration camps, who suffered the worst atrocities, could find a purpose in their lives – they had the freedom to choose whether to find a purpose and meaning or become victims (Das, 1998). Ultimately, people have the freedom to choose how they perceive their lives and the situations in which they find themselves.

Frankl believed will to meaning was that people did not live for self-actualization but rather they lived to find as much meaning and value in their lives as possible (Das, 1998). Frankl thought we create our own world and have to answer to ourselves about how we live and how we react to life’s suffering (Das, 1998). Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning (2006), “One should not look for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation and mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment, which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it” (p.109). Frankl also believed that man’s search for meaning, although may be unsettling, was in no way a neurosis but rather an achievement because it recognizes that man understands life and that life does have meaning and purpose (Frankl, 2006). Frankl believed in order to find meaning in life one must discover meaning through values, which are discovered through work, love, and through confrontation with our suffering (Frankl, 2006).

According to Frankl, only the prisoners who could find a meaning to their lives and looked forward to fulfilling it were able to sustain the brutalities of the concentration camps. These people had the motivation to live and a reason to overcome the cruel abuse and unspeakable living conditions. Frankl believed everyone needs meaning of life in order to live a fulfilled existence – even in times of suffering. Frankl proposed that the process of trying and fighting for a meaningful goal is what gives man ambition for life and is what affords man with gratification once the goal is accomplished. “This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning” (Frankl, 2006. p.99). Frankl suggested that individuals who do not find meaning to life live in an existential vacuum. The existential vacuum, according to Frankl, “ . . . manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” (Frankl, 2006. p.106). The existential vacuum results from man’s loss of interest and lack of initiative in life. Frankl felt this existential vacuum was associated with industrialization; when neither social tradition or instinct directs man towards what he ought to do, thus, leading man to loose touch with what he wants to do with his life (Frankl, 2006).

“Logos” is a Greek word that means “meaning”. Logotherapy focuses on the meaning of human life as well as man’s search for meaning (Frankl, 2006). Frankl’s logotherapy techniques are paradoxical intention and modification of attitudes to name a few. Paradoxical intention is a way of actually facing the condition head-on, and intentionally trying to make it worse so that it will ultimately get better. For example, if a person has a fear of dogs and becomes panicked whenever he or she sees one, Frankl suggests letting that panic rise and ride it out. The premise is that the anticipatory symptoms are what cause the phobia; therefore, recognizing and attaching oneself to the symptoms will help alleviate the phobia. “Self-attachment enables the patient to adopt a new attitude, to stand back or laugh at the situation or self. In applying paradoxical intention, the therapist tries to mobilize and utilize exclusive human capacity for humor” (Wong, 2007. para.46). Logotherapy also uses a technique that is quite simple in terms but can make an enormous impact on the client, especially those who suffer from depression and addiction. This technique is called modification of attitudes, and it is exactly what the name implies, it helps the client change his or her attitude about a stressful situation in his or her life. “ . . . the emphasis is on reframing attitudes from negative to positive. For example, the client may be asked: ‘Is there anything positive about the situation?’ or ‘What freedom is still available to you in this situation?’” (Wong, 2007. para.56).

At the core of logotherapy is that it teaches patients to transcend his or her negative belief patterns, which hinder personal growth. By letting go of our constrictive thought process, the patient is free to pursue his or her deepest aspirations and achieve a life of fulfillment and purpose. The therapist guides the patient to alternate his or her perception in order to view events differently and receive and embrace what is beyond his or her control. Effective communication and a strong patient-therapist relationship are key to logotherapy because the patient must be able to feel comfortable with communicating his or her deepest thoughts – the meaning of being and the purpose of life. Many say this therapy is more a way of life rather than a way to treat challenging issues (Good Threpay.org, 2012).

Assumptions of Logotherapy

One assumption of Frankl’s theory is man is free, therefore, responsible for his choices. Frankl witnessed much of this in the concentration camps by observing how the prisoners reacted to their situation. As Corsini and Wedding stated, “life is groundless, and we alone are responsible for our choices” (p.311). This is a powerful statement – humans have the ability to think and make choices and this, at times, can be very daunting because we are all responsible for the choices we make. Another assumption of Frankl’s theory is the will to meaning, which assumes that every man strives to find meaning in his life. Frankl states:

As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible (Frankl, 2006. p.109).

Another assumption is life has meaning under all circumstances. Again, Frankl learned this by observing his patients and fellow inmates in the concentration camps. Even under stress and suffering life has meaning and purpose – it just takes one’s will to meaning to discover this. One of this author’s favorite quotes by Frankl is: “What is to give light must endure burning” (Frankl, 2011). In suffering, individuals find meaning or at the very least the desire to find meaning in life.

There are situations in which one is cut off from opportunity to do one’s work or enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering (Frankl, 2006. p.114).

Strengths and Weaknesses

One aspect of Frankl’s logotherapy which could be seen as a weakness by some in his field, is that Frankl saw anxiety as a healthy condition rather than problematic. Frankl believed that anxiety was a healthy condition because he felt anxiety was a powerful force behind the human drive to live and finding meaning in life (Frankl, 2006). Therefore, Frankl did not treat anxiety as a disorder, as most counseling theories do, and did not treat this condition accordingly. This may lead to undue suffering from clients who seek this type of therapy.

Another weakness of Frankl’s therapy is that it will only work with highly intelligent people who think rather philosophically. Frankl’s logotherapy is deeply based on philosophical ideas; thus, it may not be for everyone. For example, someone who is mentally challenged would not be able to comprehend this type of therapy. Logotherapy would not be beneficial to patients who are suffering from psychotic episodes for this same reason. Furthermore, with existential therapy there is very little guidance from the counselor; responsibility of treatment lies with the patient. This can be very difficult for certain patients who are not motivated enough to take on all the responsibility for their treatment.

A strength of Frankl’s therapy and existentialism therapy is that it can be integrated into many other forms of therapy. Since logotherapy is mainly a philosophical point of view it can be used with many other forms of therapy such as, cognitive therapy, REBT, and person-centered therapy.

Overview of Approach

A Core Clinical Hypothesis

I dug up another course textbook that provides an interesting perspective, titled “Clinical Case Formulations,” (Ingram, 2012).  It’s purpose is as follows. “A clinical case formulation is a ‘conceptual scheme that organizes, explains, or makes sense of large amounts of data and influences the treatment decisions’ (Ingram, 2012 p. viii).”  What I love about this book is it provides clinical hypotheses that are useful in providing “a single explanatory idea that helps us structure data about a given client (Ingram, 2012 p. 11).”  In chapter eleven of this textbook is a section titled “Existential & Spiritual Models”  In it is are a few clinical hypotheses based on this perspective.  It useful in understand how this theory could be utilized for purposes of case conceptualization…

“By applying the hypotheses in this category, the therapist refuses to pathologize, medicalize, or objectify the patient. Clients do not have a ‘disorder’ but are struggling with inevitable problems of human existence, (Ingram, 2012, p. 257)”

(ES1) Existential Issues Hypothesis

Useful in cases where a person is suffering from a “Crisis of Meaning” in their lives due to death or loss; depression and/or severe anxiety (Ingram, 2012).  Existential therapists addressing these issues by noting that suffering in life is ultimately unavoidable.   Existentialists suggests that we view “painful emotions as useful signals that can help, (Ingram, 2012, p. 259) us live more effectively.  Rather than medication emotions, this approach suggests we clients become aware of these unpleasant emotions and the underlying thought processes (Ingram, 2012).

Application of Hypothesis

The role of the existential therapist is to “facilitate the client’s self-understanding…remove obstacles that are in the way of change and growth…[and] shine a light on blind spots, (Ingram, 2012, p. 263).”  Rather than developing a pragmatic and goal-directed treatment plan existentialists might promote the idea that no change is okay.   I would surmise this approach yields two benefits.  FIRSTLY, it gives clients the feeling they are free to choose since they are no longer held to the standard of showing progress. SECONDLY, sometimes awareness and understanding itself is transformative.  Other unique aspects of existentialism is its phenomenological approach that allows therapists to act as a “fellow pilgrim [that can engage in] philosophical discussions, (Ingram, 2012, p. 265),” with the client.

Best Case Match

Logotherapy and existential therapy would best suit individuals who are facing boundary situations such as, “. . . a confrontation with death, the facing of some important irreversible decision, a sudden thrust of isolation, or milestone that mark passage from one life era into another” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011. p.333). Clients, who view life’s problems as challenges, rather than symptoms of psychopathology, would best be served by logotherapy because logotherapy views anxiety as a healthy aspect of the human condition rather than a problematic symptom. Logotherapy is also suited for individuals who want to find meaning in life and who are concerned with increasing self-awareness and self-examination. This approach is also good for individuals who are questioning their own ideologies and beliefs such as, religion or politics. “ . . . some existential practitioners suggest the approach is particularly appropriate for those who feel at the very edge of existence, including those with terminal illnesses or who are contemplating suicide, or perhaps those who are just beginning a new phase of life in some way” (Malhauser,2012. para.10).

Frankl also believed logotherapy worked well with patients who were suicidal because this type of therapy focuses on one’s will to live or meaning in life. In most therapy sessions the therapist asks the patient if they plan on harming him or herself; however, Frankl devised another question to ask in conjunction with this question to better understand if the patient was truly suicidal or not. This question was to ask the patient “why or why not” in regards to wanting to commit suicide or harm him or herself. If the client could readily explain why they could not commit suicide, then Frankl believed the patient had a meaning to life. If the client could not answer this question then they did not have a meaning to life and that indicated that he or she was deceiving the therapist to thwart off any intervention (Marshall, 2011).

The Role of the Existential Therapist

So what exactly is the role of a therapist when utilizing existential psychotherapy? This is admittedly a tough question, in light of a clear absence of specified training methods and a lack of empirical evidence, (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).    Still some interesting observations about this theory can be made, in helping to differentiate it from other methods.

Existential therapy is aimed at focusing on the subjective experiences of the client, with a unique relationship as “fellow-travelers” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011). Unlike cognitive and behavioral therapies that appear to have an objective scientific approach based on inductive reasoning, this theory is unique (Corsini, & Wedding, 2011). Its utilization alongside other therapy methods seems particularly appealing in light of its subjective and deductive reasoning (Kershen, 2006). In fact, it is the feeling of this author that understanding the difference between deductive and inductive logic, is vital to appreciating this method (Kershen, 2006; Wong, 2010).

On the one hand, inductive logic starts with specified and objective observations, and develops generalities on the basis of this (Inductive Logic, 2006). It is this form of logic that underlies the scientific method and is aimed at critically testing hypotheses (Inductive Logic, 2006). On the other hand, the deductive method starts with general principles such as meanings and beliefs, and moves to specific observations (Deductive Logic, 2006). In contrast to inductive logic it is unique proposition is that of preserving greater truths (Deductive Logic, 2006).

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