what is existential therapy?
Most of us have heard the term 'existential crisis' or 'angst,' which are terms that are closely related to philosophical ideas from thinkers such as Nietzsche, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Buber, Yalom and Frankl. Existential therapy considers how basic (and often, uncomfortable) truths about life affect all human beings, and how they influence our perspectives and choices.
One of the major ideas in existential therapy is the relationship between freedom and responsibility, and the process behind making choices. In some ways, liberation can be frightening when we consider how to define our meaning of life. Existentialists contend that there is no inherent meaning in life, which can feel daunting. This is often connected to death anxiety, which comes from knowing that we all die someday. Suppressing death anxiety can result in more suffering from trying to avoid acknowledging the fact of dying one day.
You might be thinking this all sounds a little gloomy -- thankfully, these discussions are utilized to increase acceptance about the facts of life. When we choose to contend with our existential fears, it can create room to feel more grounded in our lives. Rather than living in fear, we can use an existential framework can help uncover more possibilities and give us tools to acknowledge our existential angst.
If nothing else, one may take comfort in knowing that these processes and fears are present for every living person, to one degree or another. In dominant Western societal narratives, death is rarely discussed explicitly. Being willing to open these conversations up can help reveal what is most important, what values are held, one's hopes and goals for life, as well as fears that drive decisions.
I use these concepts with clients to figure out together what patterns may be changed, what defines "well-being" for them, and the ways that existential fears may be manifesting in other areas of life. Interested in talking more about this with me? Please feel free to contact me and let's discover if an existential approach may be right for you!