Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Existential Therapy

             Viktor Frankl                                 Rollo May                               Irvin Yalom
              (1905-1997)                              (1909-1994)                                (1931-)

Existential Therapy is more so seen as a way of thinking or an attitude about psychotherapy rather than a style of practice. It is not clearly defined with models or techniques. Existential therapy is best described as a philosophical approach that influences a therapist's approach. This therapy focuses on things like; morality, meaning, freedom, and responsibility.


The existential therapy movement was not founded by any one particular person. However there were many whom lead the way and had heavy influence on what we see today. Some of these key figures in existential therapy seen today include Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, and Irvin Yalom.

Viktor Frankl: (1905-1997) Frankl was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp from 1942-1945. During this time period he lost his wife, children, parents, and brother. While these horrible experience from his past haunted him he was able to use them constructional and not let them ruin his life. He still loved and enjoyed life very enthusiastically. Frankl received his PhD (1949) and his MD (1930) in philosophy. His works have been translated in 20 different languages. Frankl believes that the highest goal humans can aspire is love.

Rollo May: (1909-1994) May was a very unhappy child in regards to his home life. He continued his unhappiness with two failed marriages later in life. He graduated in 1930 and went on to be a teacher in Greece. He decided that the best was to reach people was through psychology rather than the theology that he was teaching. The greatest personal influence to May was Paul Tillich who became his friend as well as his mentor. He believed that psychology should be aimed at helping people discover the meaning of their lives.

Irvin Yalom:  (1931-) Yalom's parents immigrated here from Russia after WWI. Yalom grew up in the inner city of Washington D.C. and lived very poor. He was an avid reader and made trips to the library to stock up on material frequently. He tuned the love of reading into a love of writing and has written several teaching novels. Yalom's work has been translated into 20 different languages and is Wiley read by therapists.

Goals of Therapy:

The goal of existential is to help clients recognize the ways in which they are not leading authentic lives. And to help the client make choices in which they are capable of being. Moving clients towards some authenticity and making them aware of where in life they are deceiving themselves. Existential therapy also aids in helping clients face anxiety and engaging in creating a worthy existence. Existential therapists are mainly concerned with helping people reclaim their own lives. Clients come to realize that they can make changes in their world.


The existential approach is unlike many other approaches to psychotherapy because it is not technique oriented. Although many therapist do incorporate techniques from other forms of therapy. Practices often times include description, understanding, and exploration of the client's reality rather than diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Existential therapists prefer to thought of as companions or fellow travelers. one ground rule is openness to the individual creativity of not only the client but the therapist as well. The first phase of this therapy involves the client to identify and clarify their assumptions of the world. Later on the client is assisted in examining their value systems. Throughout final phases of this therapy the therapist focuses on what the client has learned and putting it into action. 

Key Concepts:

  • View of Human nature: bases therapeutic practice on an understanding of what it means to be human. Significance of our existence is never fixed however we continue to recreate ourselves. 
  • The Capacity for Self-Awareness: Freedom, choice, responsibility. Increase capacity to live as we increase awareness. increasing awareness increases the person and personal goals. 
  • Freedom and Responsibility: people are free to choose -->shapes destiny. Freedom implies that we are responsible for our lives. 
  • Striving for Identity and Relationship to Others: we strive for uniqueness yet go above and beyond ourselves to be able to relate to another human being. experience with aloneness, relatedness, and identity. 
  • Search for meaning: a sense for significance and purpose in life. "why am I here?" "What is the meaning of life?"
  • Anxiety as a Condition of Living: anxiety arises from one's sense of striving to survive. being confronted with the givens of existence such as: death, freedom, choice, isolation etc. 
  • Awareness of Death and Nonbeing: death not viewed negatively  but gives significance for living. Grasp the future and inevitability of death. 


Suggested Sites

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Information courtesy of Gerald Corey, Theroy and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy 9th Ed. 

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