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The Existential-Humanistic Approach to Psychotherapy
I was trained early on as an "existential-humanistic" psychotherapist. The approach, explained below, is a major component of the work I do with clients. I do, however, include other therapeutic modalities mentioned on the
. Still, I thought you might want to know more about this particular way of working.
Existential-humanistic psychotherapy is the "tough love" branch of psychology. It deals with the harsh realities of living that most of us tend to avoid thinking about. What are these realities? They are the ultimate "givens" all humans share:
The inevitability of physical decline and death
The freedom you possess naturally, and what you do with it
Existential isolation, or the essential aloneness of living
Meaninglessness, or the need to derive meaning while living in an apparently meaningless universe
People often repress existential concerns with distractions, addictions and the sheer busyness of living in a modern society. But for some people the denial of harsh realities doesn't work, and they are left feeling anxious, fearful and depressed.
Rather than try to suppress such anxiety with drugs or other means, the existential psychotherapist encourages a client to acknowledge and accept his/her feelings. The client is guided to find a healthy awareness of existential realities without being overwhelmed by them. The client is given the tools to confront his/her fears by taking action to gain control over the direction of his/her life.
The existential therapeutic approach is less concerned with a person's past and more concerned with that person's unique values, beliefs and circumstances in the present.
Clients are empowered to take responsibility for their lives by realizing that their choices and actions do matter; that there is freedom within limitation.
The goal is to help the client find meaning and purpose, not to live someone else's version of how to live life. The aim is to live an "authentic life" -- or to quote the Greek philosopher Pindar: "To be what you know you are."
Existential psychotherapy is not for everyone. While it does attempt to address the fundamental factors underlying a mental health problem, it may not deal directly with the particular issues the client wants to work on. In addition, some clients are not willing or able to do deep intrapsychic work.