Existential therapy was adapted from the philosophical idea “Existentialism” which concerns the importance of human existence. The therapy was introduced by Rollo May and Victor Frankl and allows people to deal issues on the meaning of life. The existentialist approach to this therapy comprises of basic dimensions of our condition. These dimensions include: creation of our identity, awareness of non-being & death, establishment of meaningful lifetime relationships, tension between responsibility & independence and capacity for self-awareness.
The purpose of existential therapy is to encourage people to reflect on their existence, recognize alternatives then decide among them. This is to make people realize their ways of accepting circumstances and to consciously begin making a difference in their lives by searching for options in creating an evocative human existence.
The central tasks of existential therapy are as follows:
- To allow clients recognizing others’ decisions for them
- Encourage clients to take crucial steps towards independence
Existentialists believe that our existence is made up of four main dimensions – physical, psychological, social and spiritual. With these dimensions people are able to shape their behavior using experiences. Their perception of the world defines the reality surrounding them.
- Physical Dimension: People can easily relate to the environment they belong. This includes their response to the concrete surroundings such as weather, objects and other material possessions. Physical dimension also has to do with responding to their bodily needs and own mortality.
Psychological Dimension: People can relate to themselves using their own thinking. Psychological dimension often includes past & present experiences and personal views of character.
Social Dimension: People relate to others by interacting with them. Social dimensions include their responses to a race, class or culture they belong. It is commonly associated with attitudes like love, hate, cooperation and even competition.
Spiritual Dimension: People relate to a mysterious world and create a sense of identity in it. Spiritual dimension has a way for an individual to find meaning in life by putting all pieces of the puzzle together for himself. For some people, spiritual dimension is adhering to a prescriptive view of the world.
Existential therapy starts with a belief that although we are basically alone in this world, we live long by connecting with others. People are always in search for meaning in their lives, but they should realize that one cannot depend on others for validation. In other words, our validation as humans should come from within ourselves and not from others.
Existential Therapy in Britain
UK served as a “fertile ground” in the development of existential therapy. Since the 1960s, the country has already established its own therapeutic community for people having issues on dealing with others and themselves. The first therapeutic community was built in Kingsley Hall (located at the East of London) by David Cooper and R.D Laing. This paved way for the establishment of the Philadelphia Association which continues to recognize the works of philosophers such as Foucalt, Levinas, Derrida, Wittgenstein and renowned French psychotherapist Lacan.