Existential Therapy: What is it and is it a good fit for me?


Existential therapy takes an entirely different approach to counseling and is based on the premise that people are free and are responsible for their own actions and choices. There are no set techniques that are used in this type of therapy and the counselor’s role is to grasp from many different theories and use techniques as needed to fit each individual client. The main assumption behind this type of therapy is that people are free to make their own decisions and guide their own lives. The existential approach is based on the theory that life circumstances are what people make of them and that people are not simply “victims of circumstance,” but rather the authors of their own lives (Corey, 2009).

The main goal in Existential Therapy is to reflect on current situations and problems, realize different options to current problems or life situations, and to choose an alternative. Often, when someone is experiencing an issue or symptom it is because they have fallen into a rut and "accepted" their life for what it is without making any changes. Through therapy, the client can increase awareness of different alternatives to their life and realize that if they make different choices, they have the ability to not only change that issue/symptom, but also shape other areas in their life as well.

In the Existential approach, it is presumed that psychopathology, ineffective functioning, and problems arise from people surrendering control of their own lives and submissively accepting circumstances in their lives without accepting responsibility. A major theme of this form of therapy is freedom; that we are responsible for our own lives, actions and choices. When someone has evaded their commitment to choosing how to live their life, they develop existential guilt that arises from feelings of incompleteness and the fact they are not living their lives to the full capacity.

The client/therapist relationship is of utmost importance in this form of therapy. The therapist strives to be him or herself, and offers honesty and integrity to the counseling relationship. Through modeling authentic behavior, the therapist invites the client to grow and to not be guarded. In the initial phase of change, the therapist works with the client to identify the client’s assumptions about the world. In this beginning phase, clients are asked to question themselves and their life, which is often challenging for clients. In the middle phase of change, clients are asked to examine their value system. This is done with the hope of the client re-evaluating his or her life and re-structuring his or her values and life choices. The final stage of change is action. In this stage, clients are encouraged to take what they have learned about themselves and their reality and put it into practice to make their life what they want it to be (Corey, 2009).
Existential therapy can be used to treat a variety of presenting issues and can be utilized both brief and long-term therapy. If you are interested in learning more about Existential Therapy and believe you may benefit from it, please contact us to set up an appointment with a trained therapist.

Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (8th ed.). Belmont, CA:
Thomson and Brooks/Cole.

by Jamie Williams, M.A. LPC-Intern
Supervised by Beverly Newman, LPC-S, LSSP, RPT-S