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Living in the modern world, people face a number of difficulties they treat in accordance with their inner vision of the world, their understanding of life. Some people can cope with the problems themselves, others prefer to turn to professional assistance. Anyway, people use types of psychotherapies, either intentionally or not. Existential therapy is one of the psychological ways of treatment.
Nevertheless, it is better to speak about existential therapy as about a philosophical approach that assists the practices of therapists. Experiencing a way of thinking, existential therapy does not provide a practitioner the model or particular techniques it creates a background, explores challenges, and paradoxes of human existence. Existential therapy is based on such notions as “mortality, meaning, freedom, responsibility, anxiety, and aloneness” (Corey, 2012, p. 139) refereed to human struggle at the moment.
Paying attention to the entire idea of existential therapy, the exploring meaning and values of the issue will be considered referencing to the authenticity of the ideas, priorities, and values. The key counseling theoretical concepts of existential therapy, research support for this approach, clients which benefit from this therapy and the multicultural perspective is the focus of this paper.
The main idea of the existential therapy is to show that human behavior cannot be grouped by any particular model as people are free in their actions, decisions, and choices, and therefore, they are responsible for what they do (Corey, 2012). The desire to help people understand that they make choices is a main aspect in existential therapy practice. This therapy encourages patients to understand what they can do, what their values and priorities are and how they behave referring to the previously discussed issues. Moreover, people have to be responsible for their actions (Coon, 2005).
To be psychologically healthy from existential point of view means to overcome the life difficulties, and it is very important. People are to avoid disturbance based on wrong desire to meet values and expectations of other people. An effective psychological defense mechanism is a ground for self deception of these factors. People are not to be afraid of facing disturbance, vice versa, they are to be ready to overcome the problem with openness and full responsibility.
Explanation of the Counseling Theoretical Concepts
The key counseling theoretical concept of existential therapy is a basis for “an exploration of someone’s particular way of seeing life, the world and herself” (Spinelli, 2006, p. 312). Being aimed at assisting a person to understand what he or she needs, what seems important to him or her, and to make him or her feel in harmony with oneself, existential therapy may assist. This theory helps a person to “examine her own preconceptions and assumptions which stand in the way of her personal development” with the purpose to “rearrange his/her lifestyle in accordance with the priorities one has” (Spinelli, 2006, p. 312). People are to search for the truth of their lives through personal research and understanding.
Rollo May and Victor Frankl founded the theory. They have identified six key concepts such as “responsibility and freedom”, “self-awareness capacity”, “creation of an individual’s identity and establishment of significant relationships with other people”, “searching for meaning, values, goals, and purpose”, “awareness of nonbeing and death”, and “anxiety” as a status of living (Corey, 2009, p. 139). According to May (1961), “… self-consciousness, his capacity to transcend the immediate concrete situation and see his life in terms of ‘the possible,’ and that this capacity is one aspect of his experiencing himself as a being having a world” (p. 44).
It is possible to refer to it as to freedom as people can have control over events, and take the whole responsibility for made actions. A human desire to lead healthy life and meet all the necessary conditions in achieving this activity explains self-awareness capacity. Self-awareness helps people look back and having analyzed ones actions look ahead having made appropriate conclusions (Hannush, 1999).
One of the main conclusions people have to draw is that human life is meaningless in its initial form and people are responsible for making it meaningful. People themselves are to understand their values, create goals, and achieve purposes they set. The main motivational aspect for making these actions remains human mortality. Existential therapy is a basis for an idea that people die, therefore, all the actions they are to complete should be meaningful and useful. People should not waste their lives on something unimportant.
Researchers’ Opinion about the Use of Theoretical Concept
Ludwig Binswanger, Medard Boss, and Jean-Paul Sartre were the main contributors of the existential theory in the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th centuries. Ludwig Binswanger paid more attention to choice, freedom, and caring. Considering these points, the analyst tried to show the experience of the patients and direct them at the correct choices. Medard Boss also considered the issues of choice, freedom, and caring paying attention to being in the world concept.
He was sure that people have to reflect on life events making sure that their behavior in meaningful. Jean-Paul Sartre’s view on the approach was as follows, “at every moment, by our actions, we are choosing how we are being” (Corey, 2012, p. 142). Key figures in the contemporary existential psychotherapy are Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, James Bugental, Kirk Schneider, Orah Krug, David Elkins, Ken Bradford, and others.
They spread the philosophy of existential therapy having supported the ideas of their predecessor and adding new aspects. These researchers stressed on the meaningfulness of life, and this meaning is different for people, depending on their inner values and desires. Rollo May paid more attention on human choice. May was sure that people are the kind of personalities what their choices are. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the development of the existential therapy took place many years ago, and it extended without making changes to the basic approaches.
Population of Clients which Benefit from this Approach
Living in the modern world, going to work and performing sometimes the activities people do not have satisfaction from, many people begin to think about meaningless of their existence, about absence of life goals and other particular problems, which assist them. The application of the existential therapy to the clients is useful when people have lost faith and purposes, when they cannot understand what they are living for. Treatment practice should not use existential therapy. However, it is possible to use it as the first steps on the way to recovery for making people understand a big value of life, making those consider freedom as the means to find oneself and to consider death as the encouragement for fining aim in life.
Multicultural Perspective Strengths and Weaknesses
Diverse clients are the most applicable ones treated by means of existential therapy from the point of view of multicultural perspective. If people are unable to find harmony and life meaning, they are to examine their behavior from cultural and social perspective. Even though the theory is effective by all means, there are several limitations, which need consideration if to refer to them in the multicultural environment. First, the therapy is excessively individualistic.
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Some nations consider it a norm to speak about themselves and their problems, but others prefer to leave their inner intentions and desires without public attention. Moreover, there are no specific developed mechanisms, which would pay attention to social factors that cause human problems. Finally, turning to psychotherapists many clients expect personal treatment in accordance with some particular strategies. But if to use existential therapy, philosophical issues require discussion, which may frustrate some clients.
Therefore, I want to draw a conclusion that existential therapy is purely individual one. There are no particular schemes and models according to which the necessity to treat people appears. The main aspects of the approach considered while therapy are as follows, human mortality, the meaning of one’s life, personal freedom, responsibility for choices and actions, inner anxiety, and aloneness. Thus, when dealing with human problems, trying to understand their nature, therapists try to understand personal values and desires, inner fears, and reasons of behavior to direct a person to the new way of living. The existential therapy is more about philosophical issues than about strict mechanism of therapy.
Coon, D. (2005). Psychology: A Modular Approach To Mind and Behavior, Stamford: Cengage Learning.
Corey, G. (2012). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Stamford: Cengage Learning.
Hannush, M. J. (1999). The Development of the Self in the Light of the Existential-Humanistic Psychology of Rollo May. Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, 24, 75-76.
May, R. (1961). The Meaning of the Oedipus Myth. Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, 1, 44.
Spinelli, E. (2006). Existential psychotherapy: An introductory Overview. Analise Psicologica, 3( XXIV ), 311-321.