Existential psychotherapy: its characteristics and its philosophy

Going to a psychologist for treatment can be a daunting process, leading to fear of emotional nudity. And this is not an insignificant step: it means that we open up to another person who, from start to finish, is a total stranger.

Existential psychotherapy starts from a humanist basis, Who is sensitive to this insecurity and proposes an intervention which seeks to escape the labels and offers the ideal framework for the patient to conceive a life full of meaning.

In the following pages, we will explore this question in greater depth; detailing what the intervention consists of, what objectives are proposed and what methodology is designed to achieve them.

    What is existential psychotherapy?

    Existential psychotherapy is based on a homonymous current of Philosophy, the cardinal concern is oriented towards the way in which each human being constructs his way of being and of being in the world. It is believed that Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was the founder of this way of understanding suffering, although its theoretical roots also lie in the contributions of thinkers such as Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, Simone de Beavor and Jean -Paul Sartre.

    While “conventional” psychology has devoted its greatest efforts to understanding thought and behavior, and often only in terms of psychopathological dimensions, this branch he was extensively interested in the meaning that existence has for everyone. Thus, he seeks an in-depth analysis of the great universal questions: death, freedom, guilt, time and meaning.

    The founding fathers of the discipline were psychiatrists generally disappointed by traditional biomedical models, such as Medard Boss or Ludwig Binswanger, who sought in phenomenological or constructivist currents the epistemological space with which to express the way in which they approached their work. In this way, he transcended the pain and the negative, to fully immerse himself in identification of potential and positive aspects that contribute to a happy life.

    1. Human nature

    From an existentialist point of view, every human being is a project in construction and therefore can never be understood as finished or concluded. It is also a flexible and open-to-experience reality, which holds within itself the potential to experience and feel a virtually endless range of emotions and ideas. Neither is he an isolated being, but it takes on its meaning by immersing itself in a web of social relations in which he can trace the brushstrokes that outline his subjectivity.

    Existentialism does not focus its attention solely on the human being as a biopsychosocial reality, but on contemplate at the intersection of the following dimensions: Umwelt (involving the body and its basic needs), mitwelt (connections with others intertwined within the framework of culture and society), eigenwelt (self-identity in the relationship that is built with the self and with the affections or thoughts that give it its form) and überwelt (spiritual / transcendent beliefs about life and its purpose).

    These four dimensions are the basis on which the client is scanned (this is the middle term for which the person asking for help is described from the point of view of humanist currents), so that it will ensure the balance of its entirety. Disruption of one (or more) will become an important therapeutic goal, as part of a program that can extend for as long as the person wants or needs.

      2. Health and illness

      From an existential point of view, health and illness are seen as the ends of a continuum in which any person can place themselves, depending on the specific way in which they relate to themselves and to others. Another important criterion is adherence to one’s own values ​​and principles as guides for life. It is therefore not a conservative view, but rather he shies away from simple survival and seeks an existence through which to find ultimate meaning.

      From this point of view, health (good functioning) would be understood as the result of an authentic life, guided by our authentic will and open to both the positive and the negative that it could offer. In such a way of existing would be implicit the tendency to know oneself, in order to discriminate our virtues or our limits and to exercise an attitude of full consciousness when we have to make important decisions. Finally, suppose also the daring pursuit of wisdom.

      Illness, on the other hand, is mostly about the opposite of health. From freedom, one would pass to questioning one’s own will and distrust of taking the reins of one’s own destiny. She would lead a life devoid of authenticity, far removed from reality as it stands, in which others would be the ones who would decide the paths by which she should run. As we can see, health transcends the limits of what is bodily and reaches the spiritual and social spheres.

      Intervention of this type of therapy

      Then, we describe what are the goals pursued by this form of psychotherapy, and the phases of which it is composed (the goal is to satisfy these fundamental goals). This section will end by showing commonly used techniques, which makes it these are philosophical positions on his own life.

      1. Objectives

      Existential therapy pursues three basic goals, namely: to restore confidence in those who may have lost it, to expand the way a person views their own life or the world around them, and to determine a goal that is personally meaningful.

      It’s about finding a place in life and a direction to take, A kind of map and compass that stimulates the ability to explore the limits of one’s own way of being and being. In short, determine what makes us authentic.

      2. Steps

      The intervention process, aimed at mobilizing changes according to the outlined objectives, is also three in number: the initial contact, the work phase and the realization. We describe each of them.

      The first contact with the client aims to forge the relationship, that is to say the therapeutic loop on which the intervention will be built from now on. This alliance must be based on active listening and acceptance of the extraterrestrial experience as well as on the search for a consensus on the evolution of the sessions (Frequency, significant objectives, etc.). It is assumed that the answer is within the client, so that the therapist will be limited to the accompaniment-investigation of questions anchored to him by a horizontal and symmetrical relationship.

      In the work phase, he begins to delve deeper into the client’s story, in everything that worries him or pinches him. The exploration is carried out by following the four spheres of the human, and which define the complexity of his reality (on which it was already studied in a previous section). This is when the main objectives of the model are discussed: detection of strengths and weaknesses, definition of values, Examination of the link that unites us to the most important people, reinforcement of autonomy and construction of a life project.

      The last part of the treatment illustrates one of the tasks that the client will have to accept in their own life: that everything that is undertaken has a beginning and a conclusion. This point will be reached after a variable time of working together, which will largely depend on the evolution of the person’s internal experience. However, the goal is to return to everyday life, but assuming a new vision of the role that is played in the daily scenario.

      3. Techniques

      The therapeutic techniques used in the context of existentialist therapy are based on their original philosophical roots, which are based on phenomenology and constructivism to diametrically oppose the traditional way of understanding the process of health and disease. That is why avoids anything related to diagnoses or stereotypes, As they would attack the essential objective of finding a proper meaning of life and identity. Here are the three main methods.

      The first of these is the epoch, a concept stemming from existential philosophy and in which is summed up one of the foundations of therapy: approaching all moments of life as if they were new, Assuming a learner attitude capable of marveling at the unfolding present. In addition, it pursues the inhibition of judgment and the dilution of expectations, a naked look at the risk and fortune that fate holds within it, which facilitates decision-making and the ability to risk being what. you want to be.

      Description is the second of the techniques. In this case, it is a question of carrying out an exploratory analysis, and not explanatory, which makes it possible to know things without falling into categorization. This is intended to stimulate curiosity about oneself and social relationships, as both constitute the essence of who one really is from an existentialist point of view. That is why the therapist is not based on stationary goals at the start of the interventionBut these change and adapt to the customer over time.

      The third and last procedure is based on a horizontalization, through which one avoids reproducing the hierarchy of power that the psychiatrist held at the doctor-patient day of the historical moment in which the intervention proposal was born.

      Relationships based on this position (peer to peer) allow the client to quickly identify with the figure and role of the clinician, encouraging him to express his truth in a context of therapy that voluntarily escapes the test and the test. critical.

      Thus, through a psychologist-patient relationship which emphasizes honesty and the need to be open to communicating how you feel and the problem for which it is consulted, existential therapy has the subjectivity of the individual as an aspect on which the therapeutic process must affect.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Mendelowitz, E. and Schneider, KJ (2007). Current psychotherapies. Brooks / Cole (Pub.) I Corsini, RJ and Wedding, D., 295-327.
      • Richard Sharf (January 1, 2015). Psychotherapy and counseling theories: concepts and cases. Learning Cengage. pages 171 to 172.
      • Spinelli, E. (2006). Existential psychotherapy: an introductory overview. Psychological analysis, 3 (24): pages 311 – 321.
      • Iacovou, S. (2015). Existential therapy: 100 key points and techniques. London: Dual First.
      • Thomas, JC and Segal, DL (2005). Comprehensive manual of personality and psychopathology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
      • Vos, J .; Craig, M .; Cooper, M. (2015). Existential therapies: meta-analysis of their effects on psychological outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 83 (1): pages 115 to 128.

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