What is existential therapy?

Existential psychotherapy is a type of psychotherapy that deals with existential issues such as death, responsibility, freedom, and the meaning of life. Rather than seeing problems such as depression, anxiety, alienation, and feelings of failure as symptoms of mental illness, existential therapy takes a broader view.

It looks at these issues as a normal part of a person’s experience of life, a process of development and maturation. In helping someone move through the process, existential therapy teaches the client to focus on finding meaning and purpose in their lives. It uses existential tools such as the meaning of life and death, personal responsibility, and freedom.

Existentialism started around the 1800s and can be traced back to the works of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre have all been credited as being greatly influential on existential therapy.

Existential therapy proposes that although humans are basically alone in the world, they long to be connected to each other. People want to have meaning in each other’s lives, but eventually, they must come to understand that they cannot depend on others for validation, and with that understanding, they finally realize that they are fundamentally alone.

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