Existential therapy has been plagued by so many misconceptions due to one simple fact: its theoretical framework itself is bewildering (Corey, 2005). Like all theories, problems arise when there are too many attempts for definition, one as complex, if not oversimplified, as the other (Corey, 2005). Nonetheless, the common thread that runs through them all is the unifying theme of understanding human existence. Why do we exist? How profound is our existence? What makes us exist?
However, most would agree that the fundamental constructs of humanity that encapsulates existential theory are freedom, relationship, death and responsibility (Cooper, 2003). Existentialism was born after the Second World War (Cooper, 2003). Many have linked the philosophy to Jean-Paul Sartre and his popular discussions of meaninglessness and angst in most of his works (Lehmann and Coady, 2001). Sartre’s melancholia was understandable at the time considering the amount of destruction and disillusionment caused by the damages of war.
People were desperate, loved ones were killed or missing in action, and life, it seemed, required a new sense of understanding (Lehmann and Coady, 2001). Society began to see an increased number of atheists, and Christianity was gradually attacked for being nothing more than “an opiate of the mass” as how the Marxists believed (Blackledge, 2006). Other key contributors to the theory include Soren Kierkegaard – known as the father of modern existentialism, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, and Albert Camus, to name a few.
Existential therapy looks into the freedom of making one’s choices. A therapist’s job is to guide the client into understanding his individual uniqueness which is shaped from infancy (Corey, 2005) and the life paths he chooses. That uniqueness is then utilized as a tool to enlighten the client to focus on his present and future. The therapist will also make him be clearly aware that he is free of his own destiny, and is responsible for the choices he makes under no constraints to pursue any possibilities he wants for his future.
Read also “The man of destiny analysis“
This technique of therapy teaches the client to be conscious of his life and his surrounding and to understand that no one other than himself is responsible for the decisions made for him (Corey, 2005). This is the complete opposite to psychoanalysis where the individual’s freedom is impinged, if not restrained, by his unconscious and primitive desires. In the early 1930s, a Swiss psychiatrist by the name of Ludwig Binswanger founded Daseinsanalytic, or phenomenological anthropology, to further develop existential thinking (Cooper, 2003).
The basic tenets of existential therapy are for the clients to understand the following: we are what we choose to be and once we know our range of alternatives, we can decide among them as we have the power to do so (Cooper, 2003). But this method of therapy is not designed to “cure” (Cooper, 2003). Therapists see the clients as people who are not neurotic or mentally ill. Instead, they are seen as people who are “sick” of their lives because they lack value, purpose and meaning. Once the clients can see beyond the passiveness, they will forget the pessimism and depression they were under.
However, this leads us to client limitation. Would this method be only suitable for clients with minimal social or personal issues? How does it cater to patients with deep psychological scars such as abuse victims and the clinically depressed? Does this mean existential therapy can only be for those of high intellect, who can intellectually rationalize their problems with their therapists? What about emotionally or behaviorally aggressive clients? (Corey, 2005). Personally, I can appreciate the existential form of therapy as it is strongly relevant to the modern lifestyle.
People today are more concerned about living in the present and being successful in the future, yet many fail to find the correct strategies to plan their lives toward that direction. A classic example: everyone wants to be rich, yet refuse to work hard; many want to be beautiful, yet refuse to look after their health. And as true as Rome was not built in one day, people today are still clueless to the fact that it requires a long journey of hard work, adversities and constant self-reflections from young to build strong, successful characters.
Instead, people want short-cuts. They want the easy way out, but no matter which way you choose, it is still your own decision that needs to be made, not by others, although it is always easier to put the blame on others when you fail. I strongly support the fact that therapy is meant to guide people into realizing that you are the master of your own destiny, and not many provide that especially psychoanalysis or even Adlerian therapy. I often feel that such techniques can lead you into thinking you are mentally ill when you are not.
Existential therapy’s limitations I personally feel, are that many think it is too complex – when it is not after you struggle pass its terminology, or it condemns religion, and pessimistic (Corey, 2005). I think the beauty of it is it makes you look at yourself and understand you for what you are worth and work from there, but I guess many are either too afraid to face their demons, or to acknowledge their weaknesses and fears, when as human beings, these are normal. It is when we think we are super beings or perfect that we have a major psychological disease working inside us.
Another problematic area is religion. Though I agree to the adage that a higher Being helps those who helps themselves, not everyone are atheists. And to collapse the entire notion of God is to deny another crucial component of human existence. Call it faith or religion, there are many still who believes in the concept of God being the maker and breaker of your fate and destiny such as Muslims, Catholicism, and Hinduism (Centore, 2004). But I must contend that as much as religion does play a role as a social construct, it is still within our consciousness to decide what to do with ourselves.
God may be there, but he does not tell us in a loud, booming voice, to look right and left and then cross the street. That is what we do for ourselves. References 1. Blackledge, P. (2006). Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History. Manchester Manchester University Press 2. Centore, F. F. (2004). Theism or Atheism The Eternal Debate. Burlington, Ashgate Publishing Company 3. Cooper, M. (2003). Existential Therapies. London. Sage Publications Inc 4. Corey, G. (2005). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. CA. Thompson, Brooks/ Cole 5. Lehmann, P. and Coady, N. (2001). Theoretical Perspectives for Direct Social Work Practice.
NY. Springer Publishing Person-Centered Therapy Person-centered therapy was developed by Carl Rogers in the 1930s and is often referred to as Rogerian therapy. Its technique removes the hierarchy between the therapist and client, treating them as equals, with the client determining the direction of the therapy (Gurman and Messer, 2003). Rogers was particular about using the word “patient” where the goal of the therapy is self-actualization and the role of the therapist is merely to facilitate the client’s process (Gurman and Messer, 2003) providing and “outside” perspective (Moustakas, 1990).
Theoretically, once the patient has reached self-actualization, he becomes pro-social: more concerned about others, positive and constructive (Moustakas, 1990). Known for being a Protestant, Rogers was like many other psychoanalysts who placed little emphasis on the constructs of God playing a determining role in one’s life (Gurman and Messer, 2003). Roger’s philosophy was grounded to the idea that the individual possesses the internal resources to cater toward his or her self-actualization. While some people are better equipped in handling life’s challenges, some are not.
Instead of responding pro-actively, they are overwhelmed by the situation and become temporarily dysfunctional (Moustakas, 1990). Unlike Freud, Rogers preferred to focus on the client’s conscious thoughts and understanding what they mean. The person-centered therapist has to abide by four principles (Prouty, 1994). The first is unconditional positive regard to the client’s problems. The therapist cannot project any judgmental reactions such as shock, dismay, disappointment or disapproval. Instead, he needs to create “an environment for growth” (Prouty, 1994).
The second is to provide empathy in order to see and understand the client’s problems by being in his shoes. The third rule is to be honest and genuine in his professionalism. Should the therapist pretend to be supportive, the client would lose the trust and have his “environment of growth” shattered. The fourth is for the therapist to not provide a solution for the client no matter how relevant he feels. He also cannot make assumptions or lead the client into building a false sense of self (Coon, 2005).
Though the client can construct an ideal self-image, he needs to be guided into acknowledging his real sense of self which is more crucial and above all, realistic (Coon, 2005). This technique may seem ideal and helpful in allowing the client to strengthen himself through positive growth. However, I disagree with the therapist’s role having very minimal say in questioning the client. It can be difficult for the client to conceptualize all the correct moves by himself without any constructive criticism from an outside perspective.
I see it similar to if a friend approaches me with a personal problem regarding an abusive boyfriend. She denies the fact as she is still in love with the person as how most victims are, although there are visible bruises on her. But for as long as she does not admit to the physicality, I cannot make assumptions on her victimization. But as a concerned friend and rational human being, would it not make any sense if I do not step in to intervene and perhaps, save her life? What would be the limit for her to finally admit her problem?
Most victims are plagued with denials before they can begin to seek help and thus, how can person-centered therapy even progress unless the patient himself makes that conscious effort to wake up and admit he has a problem. The timing for this wake up call can take a long time or perhaps never. Some people are too stubborn, too conceited, or too happy living within the comfort zones of their denial to want to seek help. I do not strongly recommend this approach unless the client is of a sound character to be able to self-guide herself with minimal advice and take strong hold of her situation and be determined to make the necessary changes.