Existential psychotherapy: what does it consist of?

Existential psychotherapy can be very beneficial for those who suffer from disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. This is a therapy that leads patients to think about the future and its many possibilities in the life.

It is born from existential theory and aims to help find the purpose of life through one's own ability to make decisions. It is closely linked to the concept of free will and the ability that we all have to shape the future, an action that does not necessarily have to be stressful or disconcerting.

Existential theory: what is it?

As we mentioned, existential psychotherapy comes from the homonymous philosophical theory. But, what is it about? One of its precursors was Søren Kierkegaard, a European philosopher who considered that existence and freedom were not distant concepts from each other.

For the theory of this lawyer, called the prophet of existence, the key to life is to understand freedom. The freedom that all people have to choose their own existence and the meaning of it.

Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre followed this philosophical trend and were able to further develop Kierkegaard's concepts. They also believed that the only way to achieve personal evolution was through self-awareness and self-respect.

They considered that, in a changing and constantly evolving society, man had to decide what he wanted to be and at what moment he wanted to be. That is, this ancient philosophy takes the concept of free will to a high level; the capacity of choice that we human beings have.

Thinking about the future freely is one of the goals of existential psychotherapy.

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Existential psychotherapy: what does it consist of?

This therapy is based on the existence of the individual and the specific concerns that such existence entails. Irvin Yalom, a contemporary existentialist psychotherapist, raises four major concerns that arise from the mere fact of being alive:

  • Death.
  • Isolation.
  • Freedom.
  • The vacuum.

Thus, existential psychotherapy treats the anxiety produced by facing the conflicts of life. So, the therapist seeks to help each person focus on individual decision-making capacity and responsibility. Therefore, Yalom called the therapist fellow traveler, who supports the patient to find the knowledge that facilitates their choices.

On the other hand, the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, forerunner of current existential therapy and Austrian survivor of a concentration camp, developed logotherapy. Her goal was to help people who need to find meaning in life and she was considered the third Viennese school of psychotherapy. Although part of psychoanalysis, it prioritizes the search for the meaning of life.

From their experience it was understood that people related to the abuse of psychoactive substances tend to have a low meaning in life. This being what makes them prone to consumption.

In short, this psychotherapy was designed to help people solve their essential problems through certain instructions and design of some goals. But nevertheless, only the individual can make the free decision to follow them in search of finding meaning in their existence.

How does existential psychotherapy work?

Existential psychotherapists will not focus their sessions on providing answers to the patient. The idea is that it is the individual himself who responds to his existential dilemmas. Let's remember that Yalom named them fellow travelers, therefore, its function is to allow us to inquire about ourselves.

For this, it is necessary for the patient to describe his subjective experiences about the world with the guidance of that partner. The psychotherapist will never impose or provide the patient with a notion of truth that does not correspond to his own interpretation.

Their actions will be framed by the use of creativity and love, as well as by other experiences that lead the patient to make decisions that determine their future in a positive way. For it it will be necessary to guide him on a path that makes it easier for him to let go of worries and fears related to the four aspects that Yalom reviewed.

Thus, a successful existentialist psychotherapy will lead the person to make decisions without fear for the here and now, aware of the impact on their future, but without the anxiety or worry of what this implies.

Existential psychotherapy has its common form in individual sessions, although it was also experimented with in group forms.

Read also: Today I choose that the rest of my life be the best of my existence

Potential existential psychotherapy patients

Although anyone who doubts the meaning of life could take existential psychotherapy, people who face situations, problems or symptoms of anxiety, depression, use of psychoactive substances, post-traumatic stress, feelings of resentment or psychosis are potential candidates.

Some studies suggest that this therapy has positive effects in people suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. As well as in older adults residing in geriatric homes with depression, since it has a considerable impact on their life expectancy.

Not recommended for those seeking quick answers about their condition or seeking a mere diagnosis. This follows from the fact that the objective of this therapy is to raise questions, solve them and reveal truths that lead to overcoming fears and concerns.

Group existential psychotherapy

Although this psychotherapy seeks that each individual finds the meaning of life for himself and based on his own perception of reality, some results have been demonstrated in groups. Studies carried out on communities of housewives found that, after participating in group existential psychotherapy sessions, they had a much more positive attitude towards life.

However, another study found that patients were encouraged to do group therapy if the meetings were short. But this duration leaves in doubt the effectiveness of the therapy, so it is necessary to continue with research on this way of doing existential psychotherapy.

We are capable human beings

The great reflection and invitation that existential psychotherapy leaves us is that human beings have the ability to define our present and future without fear or anxiety. Let us remember that the objective of this therapy is to guide people along a path that culminates in identifying the meaning of their own existence.