Existential therapy is a complex approach to analysis and treatment which delves into self-examination as influenced by one’s thoughts and/or preoccupation with four fundamental concerns – meaning, isolation, death, and responsibility vs. freedom. This form of therapy analyzes one’s thoughts and feelings about their very existence and their ability to discern a healthful manner of reconciliation and integration into the world around them.
By definition, existentialism is the very concentration upon the concern of existence. The approach of existential therapy, therefore, affirms and explores the foundational understanding of:
An individual’s identity is like their fingerprint; this uniqueness is further shaped and enhanced by interaction and relationships with other unique individuals.
Each person’s experiences give them an intricate and individualized capacity for self-awareness.
As one continues through life, each experience and interaction is an opportunity to reevaluate and recreate their thoughts, responses, and philosophies regarding themself and their place in the world.
Such a constant state of metamorphosis can produce great joy as well as intensely anxious circumstances. This vast range of human experience is part and parcel of the life we are given.
Existential therapy affords an opportunity for an individual to evaluate their awareness of death without being overwhelmed by it. Within a nonthreatening context and environment, this approach empowers clients to analyze their decisions, their ability (or lack thereof) to impact certain situations and conditions, and through self-awareness, come to an appreciation and a confidence to take a proactive course of action when appropriate. The focus of existential therapy is essentially acceptance of self within life itself; granting permission to oneself to embrace life as it comes and make the best of their present circumstances with an understanding that circumstances change. While these people may not know how their decisions will actually turn out, they do appreciate the ability to take action when and while they can.
Exploration of mindsets and symptoms such as chronic anxiety, depression, despair, guilt, shame, apathy, angst, avoidance, anger, nihilism, hopelessness, resentment, violence, or psychosis allows therapist and client to explore ideologies and create, through the use of specific goal-setting, tools, and conversation, a practice of reevaluation and reconciliation. By pivoting one’s focus to positive opportunities and relationships, the client is able to integrate and embrace a focus on creativity, empowerment, will, commitment, self-actualization, acceptance, courage, transcendence, and appreciation. Freedom to make personal decisions and take responsibility for one’s thoughts and choices allows an individual to shed the bonds of anxious thoughts and behaviors, and fosters true and lasting transformation. As the person finds increased confidence in their ability to navigate their will, the connection to intention and action burgeons into a confident ability to face additional personal challenges such as addiction, familial relationships, work stress, and interpersonal conflict with a renewed perspective and approach to resolution.
Both an individual and group approach may be conducive to the existential therapy experience. Shared perspectives, empathetic connections of camaraderie, and unique points of view often provide highly effective opportunities for epiphany, intimacy, challenge and expansion of one’s point of view, and ultimately, the ability to examine their own insights, choices, thought processes, and comprehensive approach to existence.
Inevitably, existential therapy confronts thoughts of isolation, acute anxiety regarding life-altering decisions, and/or the seemingly paralytic effects of an inability to make any decision whatsoever. It encourages people to own their thoughts and the emotional issues behind them, as well as to also take responsibility for the decisions that contributed to the development of those issues. Therapy of this nature provides the guidance, mechanisms, and skills necessary to overcome their fear related to inaction, instead providing a course of proactive response and operation. Ultimately, granting oneself permission to control the direction of their life liberates their mind and releases the bonds of doubt and despair upon their lives.