Powerpoint Chapter 6

Chapter Six: Existential
Counseling Theories -- EPSY 6363
Dr. Scott Sparrow
Basic Principles of Existentialism
• We are free because we can choose: I am
what I choose
• We are responsible for our choices
• Life, and becoming, is a project of creating
who we want to be
• The fact of our death serves as a source
of meaning by standing behind every
decision and action
Key Figures in Existentialist Philosophy
• Kierkegaard (religious) -- role of anxiety and
uncertainty; leap of faith
• Nietzsche (atheistic)-- will to power (creativity and
originality) rather than group mentality
• Heidegger -- phenomenology, study of subjective
Key Figures in Existentialist Philosophy
• Sartre -- power of choice in the present
• Buber -- I-thou relationship; presence
• Binswanger -- therapist, holistic model between
self and environment
• Boss -- therapist, being in the world, entering
subjective world of client
Main Figures in Existential Psychotherapy
• Victor Frankl -- logotherapy, or therapy through meaning.
Niezsche: “He who has a why to live can bear with most
any how.
• Rollo May -- the struggle is between security of
dependence and the delights and pains of growth
• James Bugental -- therapy as a journey into the client’s
subjective world; very demanding of therapist
• Irwin Yalom -- death, freedom, isolation and
meaninglessness; most comprehensive
Precepts of Existentialism and
Existentialist Psychotherapy
• It is more of a philosophy than a method of
doing therapy
• Reaction against techniques
• Emphasis on what it means to be human
• Focus on aloneness and isolation
Basic Dimensions of Existentialism
• Self-awareness --the greater the awareness the greater the
potential freedom; everthing is a choice; anxiety
accompanies awareness of our finitude and the
consequences of our choices.
• Freedom and responsibility -- bad faith of not accepting
responsibility -“There are no victims here.”
• Creating oneself and relationships -- looking beyond the
conventional guidance and what others expect of us; using
our sense of aloneness to get in touch with what are truly
our values and goals
• choosing relatedness
Basic Dimensions of Existentialism
• Search for meaning -- questioning meaning; discarding old
values; meaninglessness and existential guilt; meaning must
be pursued obliquely, or as a byproduct of engagement
• Anxiety as a condition of life -- Normal/existential anxiety is
unavoidable; neurotic anxiety is not desirable; freedom
brings anxiety as we move away from security and familiar
ways of living. Tolerance of ambiguity.
• Suffering can a source of meaning
• Awareness of death as a springboard to meaningful choices.
Key Concepts
• Nothing is fixed, all is in movement
• We are constantly discovering and making sense of our
• The fundamental themes do not vary: Who am I? What can
I know? What should I do? Where did I come from? Where
am I going?
• We can become self aware
• We are free to choose, and can shape our destinies
• If I am free, then I am responsible for my life, my actions,
and for failure to take action.
Key Concepts
• Ultimately, we are alone and separate.
• We strive to define ourselves as individuals and in
relationship to others.
• Relationship needs to support each individual, rather than
serving to mitigate our fears and the inevitability of our
aloneness and deaths.
Key Concepts
• The search for meaning involves:
• challenging and discarding old values
• dealing with a sense of meaninglessness that easily
arises when observing the world, one’s powerlessness,
one’s smallness
• creating meaning by standing up to pain, despair, guilt
and death
Key Concepts
• Anxiety is inescapable
• neurotic anxiety, based on a fear of losing control
• existential anxiety, unavoidable is one is honest
• Death is a basic human condition that can give significance
to our lives.
• need to contemplate and discuss death
• this awareness motivates us to do what is important
Therapeutic Process
• Fosters movement toward authenticity; no escape
from freedom; no one else to blame.
• Challenges narrowness of thinking that blocks a sense
of freedom--there is no escape from freedom
• Increases awareness of what a client is doing and how
he/she can get out of victim role.
• Here and now focus, not on history
Therapeutic relationship
One of the Main contributions to modern therapy
• Central force in therapy
• Direct, mutual and present
• Therapist is a fully alive, open, and
creative human companion.
• Therapists model authentic behavior
Therapeutic Techniques
• No prescribed techniques
• Therapist is free to draw on any
techniques that will serve the goals of
• Techniques need to be responsive to the
uniqueness of the client.
• We are all faced with the same human
dilemma of confronting our aloneness,
dealing with existential anxiety, and
creating meaning through our own
• Regardless of context, clients can be
encouraged to address these issues, and
to make choices and take responsibility for
those choices.
• An existential perspective can provide the
client with a spirit of optimism and hope,
by shifting the emphasis away from
limiting or oppressive conditions to one’s
ability to create change and meaning
through courageous choice.
• By placing emphasis on individuality,
existential therapy can overlook the
importance of family and culture.
• It can also fail to appreciate the extent to which
many people are severely limited in the
choices that they can make. There are true
victims in the world, not just those who
perceive themselves as victims.
Three Phases of Existential
• Clarifying assumptions about the world
• Examine source and authority of current
value system
• Taking new awareness and putting it into
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