Existential therapy is defined as a philosophical technique of therapy that centers on the development of the patient’s self-awareness by close consideration of aloneness, mortality and meaningless of human beings. This kind of therapy was founded by Rollo May and Victor Frankl (Corey, 2009). The aloneness of human beings leads to the belief of meaninglessness and this can be overcome if the client’s meanings and values are created which is enhanced by use of existential therapy. Human beings have the power to create their own meanings and values because they are free to choose. According to Corey (2009), Existential Therapy was developed on the basis of various theories from philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre. The therapists such as Ludwig Binswager, Medard Boss, Emmy van Deurzen, and Ronald Laign contributed towards the development of the existential therapy. In the United Kingdom, Emmy van Deurzen established the Society for Existential Analysis which was the first of its form (Corey, 2009). The key concepts, role of a therapist, and the research support of existential therapy will be the focus of this discussion.
Existential therapy is comprised of about six key concepts which include: responsibility and freedom; self-awareness capacity; creation of an individual’s identity and establishment of significant relationships with other people; searching for meaning, values, goals, and purpose; awareness of nonbeing and death; and anxiety as a status of living (Corey, 2009). A remarkable trait of human beings is their capacity to select their stance amongst any circumstance. According to May (1961), “…… self-consciousness, his capacity to transcend the immediate concrete situation and see his life in terms of ‘the possible,’ and that this capacity is one aspect of his experiencing himself as a being having a world” (p. 44).Therefore, this can be considered as their freedom because they have an immense capacity to control their being which is not dictated by events. However, for an individual to acknowledge and accept freedom, they demand responsibility (Corey, 2009). Self awareness is another key concept whose expansion increases the capacity to meet the necessary conditions for a health life. The client is challenged to recognize how they have been detached from their identity, especially by allowing other people to plan life on their behalf. Hannush (1999) explains the following:
Self-awareness or self-consciousness can lead to the enlarging of consciousness. It can lead to the expansion of control of one’s life. Self-awareness involves the capacity of not only looking back, but also looking ahead. Self-awareness is not only a gift, but it is a responsibility. (p.75)
They should learn on how to relate with others depending on their fulfillment and not upon their deprivation. According to existential therapy, life is basically meaningless and therefore human beings are required to create their own meaning (Corey, 2009). Due to existential therapy human beings are aware of death and this influences them to do those things that matter. It has been found that death creates priorities or meaning in life in a paradoxical manner. Finally, according to existential theory, anxiety is considered as a crucial aspect of life and therefore a significant source of growth (Corey, 2009).
Role of the therapist
In existential therapy, the therapist plays a unique role. The therapist creates an honest and mutually open relationship with the client which will help the client clarify other types of relationships beyond the client-therapist relationship (Raskin, 1978). The existential therapist facilitates encounter of the client with themselves, and helps the client on the exploration and understanding their own values, ideals, and assumptions (Holt, 1966). In this case, the therapist aids the clients to generate as well as select the most appropriate options among many alternatives. Due to the aid of existential therapists, clients are able to elaborate and elucidate on their own perspectives which ultimately results into better lives of clients. The therapist should identify instances and methods of responsibility avoidance which he or she must make known to the client (Holt, 1966). Existential therapist interrupts the client whenever he or she realizes hears the client avoiding responsibility. Whenever the clients perceive their life situations negatively the therapist investigates how the clients created the situations. Therefore, the existential therapist enables the client to be responsible in taking good care of their own lives because they can be able to make life decisions effectively and efficiently (Raskin, 1978).
Research support for the theory
Due to research findings, the key concepts of existential therapy are seen to be effective in enabling the clients to fully understand their life as they can be able to make their own meaning regarding the meaningless life (Raskin, 1978). The development of existential therapy was based on various theories from different psychologists as well as contributions from different therapists. Corey (2009) suggests that from the time the existence therapy was developed, therapists have enabled the clients to be in charge of their own life. According to Arieti (1977), existential therapy is effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders because it enables the clients to significantly face up anxiety. Anxiety disorders are reduced to fears which can be dealt with more easily. Anxiety is physically characterized by elevating blood pressure, increased heartbeat, and fearful expectations (May 1977). Existential therapy confronts the client firmly and directly and this cannot be achieved by other psychotherapies such as the person-centered therapy. Raskin (1978) explained the following:
I used the early concept of the client-centered therapist to bolster the inhibition of my anger, my aggression, etc. I got some feedback at that time that it was difficult for people, because I was so nice, to tell me things that were not nice, and that it was hard for people to get angry at me. (p. 367)
In existential therapy, the therapist perceives the client as an existing and immediate person. Existential therapy is comprised of responsibility and freedom; self-awareness capacity; creation of an individual’s identity and establishment of significant relationships with other people; searching for meaning, values, goals, and purpose; awareness of nonbeing and death; and anxiety as a status of living as its basic concepts. The therapist must ensure maximum openness and honesty in the therapeutic relationship. The purpose of existential therapy is to make the clients responsible to create and select the most appropriate options among many alternatives. Due to the aid of existential therapists, clients are able to elaborate and elucidate on their own perspectives which ultimately results into better lives of clients. Existential therapy has been found very appropriate for the treatment of anxiety disorders but in their neurotic forms.