Existential Therapy: Self Examination and Change for a Meaningful Life
Not happy? Dealing with anxiety? Drinking too much?
Would existential therapy work for you?
Existential therapy can help you to make sense of some of human-kind’s biggest questions as it helps you to gain a better understanding of what you really want in your own life. After this process of self examination, making the choices and changes necessary to start living an authentic and meaningful life will result in greater psychological health.
Living consciously = Emotional health
Want to know more? Read on to find out how and why existential therapy works and to see if it might be a good fit for your needs.
Existential Therapy - A Brief Overview
An existential therapist forgets about labels. You don’t have depression or anxiety or a personality disorder – you have a living problem that is caused by the choices you make in life that are not congruent with your true authentic self.
Through the existential therapeutic process, by looking deeply at the challenges of life, personal and universal, and by exploring your personal values and desires you begin to see how and where the choices you make lead you away from living a life that matches with your values and desires. During this process, you grapple with issues like your certain mortality, the isolation we all experience as separate beings and the meaning or meaninglessness of life. Although examining these issues can be difficult, it is only by courageous self examination that we can begin to live in a truthfully authentic way.
After accepting that you have the responsibility and freedom to live in an authentic way - a way which fits with your values and desires and which acknowledges the bigger truths of life, such as mortality – you look honestly at the opportunities available to you within your environment and begin to make the changes necessary to start living a deliberate or conscious life.
By living with your eyes open to the challenges of human existence and in a way that matches your dreams and values (a conscious life) you are freed from the burdensome expectations of others and you gain greater psychological health and happiness.
Existential Therapy – Underlying Concepts
Based on the theory and understanding of existential psychology, problems like anxiety and depression occur not because of pathology but due to an inability to make conscious, authentic and meaningful choices about how to live1 and from angst experienced due to the major challenges of the human condition, such as:
- Death and our awareness of our own mortality
- Our total freedom and our own responsibility for the lives we live
- The isolation we experience as solitary beings
- The meaninglessness of life
Existential therapy is designed to help us answer for ourselves in personally meaningful ways the basic questions of life, such as; is there any point to my life? Why am I here? Why is there suffering? Am I all alone or am I a part of something larger than myself?
"The misfortune is that although everyone must come to death, each experiences the adventure in solitude. We never left Maman during those last days... and yet we were profoundly separated from her." Simone de Beauvoir2
Is Existential Therapy for You?
People most likely to find benefit from this type of counseling include:
- Those who seek self awareness or those who are on a search for the deeper meaning of life
- Those who do not really view themselves as having a disorder such as depression or anxiety but who recognize that some problems in life are affecting their emotional health or ability to thrive
- Those with a terminal disease looking to come to terms with their own mortality
- Those not requiring an immediate fix for their problems3
if we possess our why of life we can put up
with almost any how.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche2
Existential therapy is less useful than other modalities for people:
- Of below average intelligence
- People in immediate crisis
- People who cannot meet their basic, present needs
- People who are not functioning well
Existential Therapy for Substance Abuse
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) has endorsed existential therapy as one of many effective therapeutic frameworks for the treatment of substance abuse disorders during brief interventions.4
Research which argues for the relevance and efficacy of the therapy for those with substance abuse disorders includes a study which demonstrated that a group of people receiving inpatient drug rehab treatment scored much lower on having a sense of meaning in life than a group of matched control subjects5 and another longitudinal study which found that children who scored low on indices of life-meaning were more likely to develop substance abuse problems as adolescents.6
- National Institute of Health: Brief Humanistic and Existential Therapies
- Existential Therapy.com: Existential Quotes
- Counseling Resource: Existential Psychotherapy
- National Institute of Health: SAMHSA TIP 34; Introduction to Brief Interventions and Therapies
- Nicholson, T.; Higgins, W.; Turner, P.; James, S.; Stickle, F.; and Pruitt, T. The relation between meaning in life and the occurrence of drug abuse: A retrospective study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 1994;8(1):24–28.
- Shedler, J., and Block, J. Adolescent drug use and psychological health: A longitudinal inquiry. American Psychologist.1990;45(5):612–630.
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