Everyone will go through a stage in their life where they begin to question everything about themselves and their lives. This can often be characterized as a ‘mid-life crisis’ where individuals start to question their point of being is? Why are they here? What is the meaning of life?
Existential therapy attempts to answer the vast majority of those questions to allow individuals to find meaning and understanding within their lives. Existential therapy techniques seek to end the fear of the unknown. The current therapy techniques will actively encourage their patients to use their capacity to make choices and develop their lives in a specific way that maximizes their whole existence within this world and the reasons for them being here.
The theory behind existential therapy
Existential therapy techniques completely embrace personal choice and freedom. This type of therapy emphasizes that humans can choose their meaning and existence within the world.
European philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is thought to have been the first philosopher of existential therapy, with Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche following closely after further developing the ideas. These three philosophers believe that self-respect and self-awareness are the only way to know who you are and own your identity. They wholeheartedly believe that personal evolution is necessary since the world is constantly changing. No matter how small the change may be.
Existential therapy assumes that people’s problems come from not exercising choice and judgment enough–or well sufficient–to forge meaning in their lives. Each individual is responsible for making meaning out of life. Outside forces, however, may contribute to the individual’s limited ability to exercise choice and live a meaningful life. For the existential therapist, life is much more of a confrontation with opposing internal forces than for the humanistic therapist.
Existential therapy, also known as existential psychotherapy, is based upon the main ideas behind existentialism which includes the concepts of:
- We are responsible for our own choices
- We must come to terms with a certain amount of anxiety to live authentically
- We make our meaning of life with the choices we make
- Every single one of us is a complete individual due to the choices we make
- Everyone encounters a certain amount of anxiety throughout life
Building on the above comments, existential therapy aims to help patients accept and overcome the existential fears inherent in being a human. These fears can include but are not limited to:
While it may be more comforting to simply keep your mind busy and not think about the inevitable, the reality of the issue will slowly become more severe until the individual can no longer block it out. People must accept or at least find a way to live with the realities of being a human, which results in us having to live as authentically as possible.
What are the existential therapy techniques?
Existential therapy can be incorporated into various types of psychotherapy, which involves listening, talking, engaging, and answering questions with your medical therapist over weeks or months, depending on the severity of your mindset. The therapist will treat the patient as a person instead of their anxiety.
Through retrospection, the individual in the therapy session and the therapist will work together to understand the implications of the individuals:
- Past beliefs
- Past choices
This will allow the therapist the opportunity to shift the patient’s mindset with specific goals to reach.
In existential therapy, the therapist will voice that the patient does not linger in the past or continue hurting for past decisions; instead, the therapist will utilize the past as a tool to promote freedom in the present and future. By allowing the patient to understand that they are not destined for a specific purpose, the individual can mentally be released from their ‘chains,’ which would have prevented them from living life to the fullest. When this happens and only when this happens, an individual can start fully living life and become truly free.
How can existential therapy help you?
Existential therapy is perfect for individual who are willing to explore the reason for their intrapsychic conflict, and any decisions, no matter how hard they may be to speak about, led them to their current circumstances.
There are a variety of mental health disorders and behavioral issues that can be successfully treated by this specific therapeutic approach which can include but is not limited to:
- Substance abuse
- PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
Existential therapy will leave individuals understanding the finding the meaning to their specific life. The therapy experience will often increase:
The realization that they are the sole responsible for their own life and the recovery part of their life will often increase the likelihood of seeing beyond the limits of therapy.
Further studies have shown that existential therapy may also have positive benefits for people who are incarcerated, living with a terminal illness, or have a chronic disease.
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It can be straightforward to feel completely overwhelmed with anxiety when you stop and think about the world, the universe, and how you play a part. They are massive questions that even the most outstanding scientists do not have the answer to. Many individuals are thinking about these questions too often or pondering on the questions for too long, leading to an existential crisis.
The ultimate goal of existential therapy is to guide people not to feel overwhelmed when thinking about the future or learn to deal with their emotions when they are doing so. The therapist will help you find a balance that suits you by being aware of your responsibilities to your future without becoming too overwhelmed.