As we grow up and make our way in the world, some of us struggle to identify a meaningful role for ourselves within this new life stage. (For example an adolescent confronting the responsibilities of becoming an adult.) As a child, ideally, parents or guardians satisfied our needs. In the less than idealistic world within which we now exist we are responsible for meeting each and every need on an emotional, spiritual and subsistence level on our own.
This “new world” presents us with a challenging new reality. Existential therapy, a type of psychotherapy, is a philosophical method of therapy that is premised on the belief that interpersonal conflict results from dealing with the challenges posed by this new life stage.
The key theme that the existential therapist will focus on is the “here and now” – how this person is positioned in relation to the “four worlds” :
- Self: an appreciation of one’s self involves the realisation that we live in a physical form in a physical world – these limitations create personal challenges.
- Social circle (close friends and family) and society: how the client interacts with others and factors influencing those interactions such as culture, race, sexuality, religion, cooperation and competition
- Psychological: the individual’s view of their own character, their past experiences and their future responsibilities. Facing issues of loss and death may bring anxiety.
- The spiritual world: how a person relates to the unknown. Facing the void and the possibility of nothingness or accepting eternal life influences a person’s view of the here and now.
Time and freedom restraints we were blissfully unaware of before are now in effect. Along with these can come feelings of isolation and meaninglessness. This awareness creates anxiety and this is caused by the knowledge that our validation must come from within and not from others.
However, one may feel unable to come to terms with the anxiety of how they perceive themselves in the world. If this is the case the existential therapist can assist the client in accepting these feelings as opposed to the client battling to change their feelings. Many people may be unaware that they can actually exercise a choice over these feelings.
Unlike other therapies, the existential psychotherapist is generally not concerned with the client’s past but instead places the emphasis squarely on the choices the client has the power to make in the present and for the future. The role of the counsellor is to facilitate self-discovery, while supporting and validating a client’s emotional experience. The emphasis is upon a goal of healing and personal development, rather than seeking a remedy or fixing a problem.
- Increased awareness of one’s own and others emotional lives
- Enhanced quality of relationships, with the self and others
- Improved feelings of self-esteem and self-efficacy
- Ability to accept and live with challenging emotions
- Ability to recognize and articulate hurdles in life
- Improved health, well-being and sleep