This is the second part of a series on identifying the types of therapy I practice. Read Part 1 here.
What's the meaning of life? Why are we here? What's our purpose and passion? These are the kinds of questions I wanted to help people discover through therapy and turned to Existential therapy for framework.
Existential therapy is an optimistic approach that firmly believes in the human potential. It's a therapy that asks clients to confront and resolve conflicts of the human condition to live a meaningful and purposeful life.
Irvin Yalom identified four themes or conflicts to the human condition: death, freedom (& responsibility), isolation, and meaningless. These four themes are the root of psychological problems and do not have real answers. They're used to conceptualize and address problems.
Death: Confronting the reality of death is a central pillar of Existential therapy. The goal is to encourage awareness of death with resources to not allow someone to become overwhelmed by it. Existential therapy works to identify denials of death through avoidance (afterlife, distancing), and/or uniqueness. "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? How would you live differently?"
Freedom (& Responsibility): Freedom is choice, agency, and awareness of constructs. Existential freedom helps one understand the influences one has been subjected to and encourages taking ownership for thoughts and feelings. The responsibility that comes with freedom is acknowledging what one has done and recognizing defensive patterns. This is where change happens.
Isolation: Yalom identified three types of isolation. Interpersonal isolation is separation from oneself and others. Intrapersonal isolation is splitting oneself off from their relationships as to not be fully present. And existential isolation is the concept that we're never able to truly overcome our isolation, as it's part of the human condition. Understanding how and why we isolate is important to recognizing defensive and destructive patterns.
Meaningless: Existential therapy maintains that humans are meaning seeking and/or meaning creating being, depending on your world view. I hold that to a degree both are true - life can be meaningless and we create meaning out of it. However, I also think there are aspects of life that have meaning, we're just seeking them out. It is in this theme we explore coping versus growing, and seek to help individuals move from just coping with perceived problems into growing and fully living.
Existential therapy believes that humans are essentially alone but long to be connected. Though we seek connection, our own validation must come from within. We cannot seek validation from others.
Existential therapy is a powerful and deep framework I use to conceptualize some of life's greater problems. As a counterweight to CBT, it works well in identifying patterns and motivations, resolving life struggles, and dissecting the root of the problem.