Existential Therapy: Goals & Techniques

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  • 0:02 Philosophical Approach
  • 0:48 Goals, Strengths & Limitations
  • 2:13 Role of the Therapist
  • 3:19 Three Phase of Therapy
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Existential therapy is derived from philosophical roots. What is the meaning of life? Who am I? How does existential therapy work by attempting to answer these questions?

Philosophical Approach

Have you ever seen one of the cartoons where someone climbs to the top of a tall mountain to find a wise old man and ask him the meaning of life? Have you ever wanted to know the answer to this question yourself? If so, you might find existential therapy an easier approach to answering this question than finding a guru on the top of a mountain.

Existential therapy is more of a way of thinking than a neatly defined model with specific techniques. It is a philosophical approach to therapy that assumes we are free to choose and are responsible for our choices. Existential therapy asks questions like, 'Why am I here?', 'What is my purpose?', and 'Who am I?'

Goals, Strengths, and Limitations

Existential therapy typically deals with people in what is called a restricted existence. This means they have a limited awareness of themselves and the nature of their problems. They often see few options available to them and feel helpless or trapped.

The goal of existential therapy is to understand the subjective world of the client and to help them come to new understandings and new options. In order to do this, the client must become fully aware of their feelings and actions in the present, confront their anxiety, and develop a genuine relationship with themselves and with the world around them.

There are many strengths to this approach. First, it can be applied to a wide variety of settings, such as individual therapy, group therapy, family or couples therapy, and even community outreach settings. Another strength is the personal quality of the therapeutic relationship. The client is the central focus and is given respect, freedom of choice, and responsibility for their actions.

However, existential therapy is criticized for its lack of a defined, systematic approach. Its subjective philosophy must be applied by a therapist who is mature, experienced, and well trained. The lack of a systematic approach has also made it difficult to study and measure the effectiveness of existential therapy.

Role of the Therapist

Now, let's look at the role of the therapist. The therapist wants to help people recognize how they are limiting themselves, help them confront avoided anxieties, and help them redefine their understanding of the world. The relationship between therapist and client is essential and is based upon mutual respect. This relationship is critical because the encounters that take place in the therapeutic setting are what bring about positive change in the client's life.

Therapists make use of diverse techniques that come from different theoretical orientations. There is not one right way or rigid set of essential techniques. This lack of a specific technique-oriented approach sets existential therapy apart from other forms of therapy. The therapist typically adapts interventions to their own personality and style. Thus, it is important that the therapist is able to clarify for themselves their own views on life and living.

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