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Existential Therapy

Source: Corey, G. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 9th Ed

Basic Philosophy The central focus is on the nature of the human condition, which includes
a capacity for self-awareness, freedom of choice to decide ones fate,
responsibility, anxiety, the search for meaning, being alone and being in
relation with others, striving for authenticity, and facing living and dying.

Key Concepts Essentially an experiential approach to counseling rather than a firm

theoretical model, it stresses core human conditions. Interest is on the
present and on what one is becoming. The approach has a future
orientation and stresses self-awareness before action.
Goals of Therapy To help people see that they are free and to become aware of their
possibilities. To challenge them to recognize that they are responsible for
events that they formerly thought were happening to them. To identify
factors that block freedom.
The Therapeutic Relationship The therapists main tasks are to accurately grasp clients being in the
world and to establish a personal and authentic encounter with them.
The immediacy of the clienttherapist relationship and the authenticity
of the here-and-now encounter are stressed. Both client and therapist
can be changed by the encounter.
Techniques of Therapy Few techniques fl ow from this approach because it stresses
understanding fi rst and technique second. The therapist can borrow
techniques from other approaches and incorporate them in an existential
framework. Diagnosis, testing, and external measurements are not
deemed important. Issues addressed are freedom and responsibility,
isolation and relationships, meaning and meaninglessness, living and
Application This approach is especially suited to people facing a developmental crisis
or a transition in life and for those with existential concerns (making
choices, dealing with freedom and responsibility, coping with guilt and
anxiety, making sense of life, and finding values) or those seeking
personal enhancement. The approach can be applied to both individual
and group counseling, and to couples and family therapy, crisis
intervention, and community mental health work.
Contribution Its major contribution is recognition of the need for a subjective
approach based on a complete view of the human condition. It calls
attention to the need for a philosophical statement on what it means to
be a person. Stress on the I/Thou relationship lessens the chances of
dehumanizing therapy. It provides a perspective for understanding
anxiety, guilt, freedom, death, isolation, and commitment.

Limitation Many basic concepts are fuzzy and ill-defined, making its general
framework abstract at times. Lacks a systematic statement of principles
and practices of therapy. Has limited applicability to lower functioning
and nonverbal clients and to clients in extreme crisis who need direction.