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Existential Psychology

Our online course, Existential Psychotherapy:

I grew up in a post-Holocaust household where my parents replaced their belief in God with belief in humanity. Dinners in my household have not been about the “soup of the day” but the “idea of the day.” Rollo May, Buber and Sarter were often served as the “Existentialist of the day.” Existentialism was the religion of the household at the time. As a result, I have learned to identify my existential angst and to continuously attempt to come to term with my sense of loneliness and mortality. As a clinician, I try to differentiate between depression and anxiety and, when appropriate, view human struggling in existential terms rather than DSM terms.

It was very exciting when Dr. Kirk Schneider, prolific author and editor of Journal Of Humanistic Psychology, agreed to develop a new online course on Existential Psychotherapy.

Here is a quick refresher about what existential psychotherapy is all about:

  • In today’s quick-fix, “efficiency” oriented mental health market place – where the emphasis is on speed, instant results and appearances – existential psychology reminds us that all this speed and all the purchases in the world would not provide us with meaning or even freedom.
  • Existential therapy aims not at “patching people up,” but, as Rollo May put it, “setting people free.”
  • Freedom within contemporary existential therapy is understood as the cultivation of choice within the natural and self-imposed limits of living.
  • Existential humanism embraces the following values and principles:
    • Freedom: The capacity to choose and the burdens that come with it.
    • Experiential reflection: The capacity for embodied, here-now awareness and the capacity to create meaning.
    • Responsibility: The capacity to respond, taking responsibility for one’s actions and to act on that for which one becomes aware.
    • Come to terms with our mortality.
    • Come to terms with our sense of loneliness, even in the midst of community.
  • Freedom to do is generally associated with external, physical decisions, whereas freedom to be is associated with internal, cognitive and emotional stances.
  • Within these values we have a great capacity to create meaning in our lives – to conceptualize, imagine, invent, communicate and physically and psychologically enlarge our worlds.
  • We also have the capacity to separate from others, to transcend our past and to become distinct, unique and heroic. Conversely, we can choose to restrain ourselves, to become passive and to conform to others.
  • Existential-integrative therapy is one way to understand and coordinate a variety of intervention modes – such as the pharmacological, the behavioral, the cognitive and the analytic – within an overarching ontological or experiential context. Experiential, in this context, puts an emphasis on four dimensions – the immediate, the affective, the kinesthetic and the profound or cosmic.
  • Existential therapy, therefore, is not merely a fly-by-night technique to rid the mind of struggle, but a rigorous, intensive forum for the fully lived life.
  • This course focuses on two contemporary trends within existential therapy: existential-humanistic therapy and existential-integrative therapy.
    • Existential-humanistic therapy derives from both the European emphasis on the tragic (yet poignant) limits of life, as well as the American emphasis on people’s capacities to (partially) transcend those limits and to achieve a centered, whole-bodied vitality.
    • Existential-integrative therapy is an effort to enlarge the conventional emphasis on experiential (i.e., embodied) change in existential-humanistic therapy to include the diversity of modes (e.g, physiological, cognitive-behavioral, psychosexual) through which change may be facilitated.
    • Existential-integrative therapy is thus a practical, interdisciplinary approach, which can address practitioners and clients of many orientations.