Existential Psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy, which aims at enhancing self-knowledge in the client and allowing them to be the author of their own lives. Existential therapy began when Binswanger attempted to use Heidegger's theory therapeutically; Victor Frankl, Rollo May and others adapted this approach in the United States. More recently its leading exponents have included Ernesto Spinelli and Irvin Yalom.
Existential psychotherapy is described by these writers as one of the most well-worked out forms of philosophical counselling, because it focuses on freedom of choice in shaping one's own life and teaches that one is responsible to shape his/her own life and therefore needs self-determination and self-awareness. The uniqueness of each individual forms his/her own unique personality, starting from infancy. Existential therapy focuses on the present and on the future. The therapist trys to help the client see they are free and to see the possibilities for their future. They will challenge the client to recognise that he/she themselves were responsible for the events in their life. This type of therapy is well suited in helping the client to make good choices or in dealing with life.
Existential Psychotherapy deals with basic issues of existence that may be the source of present conflict within a person. These concerns are universal, and inherent in the human condition: death, freedom, essential aloneness, and meaninglessness. In therapy, the person leans how to integrate the paradoxes around these issues, and thereby increase tolerance of the tension that may be associated with them. Personal responsibility and choice is emphasised, and focus is more here-and-now rather than on historical origins. Conscious awareness is of key importance to becoming healthier and fully functioning.
Existential therapy is based on developing a client's insight, or self-understanding, and focuses on problems of living such as choice, meaning, responsibility, and death. This therapeutic approach emphasises "free will," the ability to make choices that are not dictated by heredity or past conditioning, through which an individual can become the person that he or she wants to be. Existential therapy attempts to restore meaning to life so that the client is inspired to have the courage to make choices that are both rewarding and socially constructive.
Following his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Victor Frankl developed a kind of existential therapy he called logotherapy. Frankl believed that one of the major factors that contributed to the prisoners who survived was their ability to maintain "logos," a sense of meaning. Logotherapy is directed towards helping clients reappraise what is really important (most meaningful) in their life.
Existential therapy often focuses on the following issues:
Increasing self-awareness and authentic living - People often avoid listening to themselves and their real needs and desires, and instead make decisions based on the influences of society, family, and peers. This sometimes results in painful inner conflicts, unhappiness, and feelings of powerlessness. In existential therapy, the challenge is helping the person find his "inner authority" and become more truthful with himself and authentic in the choices he makes.
Taking responsibility for decisions - Existential therapists help people to become more cognisant of their choices, their freedom to make decisions, and the consequences of their actions. This type of therapy helps people develop a better sense of how they are the "authors" of their lives.
Finding personal meaning - Existential therapists often believe that emptiness and meaninglessness are pervasive problems in modern society, which lead to despair, many psychological illnesses, and destructive activities. Therapists help people to uncover meaning in their lives (including meaning from painful experiences and crises) through deep personal reflection and subsequent action. The therapist will pay attention to the person's emotions, beliefs, and talents. The person is encouraged to find her own meanings and truths.
Coping with anxiety - All people share certain conscious or unconscious anxieties. Personal values and goals aren't always clear-cut. During different stages of life, people often experience a painful bewilderment and anxiety of not knowing what direction to take. Existential therapists can help people examine roots of some of their anxieties and learn how to better cope with them.
Living in the present - The therapist helps the person to understand that we live in the moment-that everything passes and nothing lasts. The goal is to get the person to believe that life is his or her experience in the here and now, and they should live more fully in each moment.
The benefit of existential therapy is that it helps people to clarify and choose among different ways of living, and ultimately lead richer and more meaningful lives.
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