5 Existential therapy techniques

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In this blog we will explore what are the various techniques used in Existential therapy as well as discuss that existential therapy is. 

We will also briefly discuss the process of existential therapy and the applications of existential therapy. 

What are the techniques used in Existential therapy?

There are not defined existential therapy techniques that are used exclusively. Existential therapists tend to use varied techniques that are borrowed from various other theories of psychotherapy. 

While there is no predominantly defined existential therapy, existential therapists tend to base their session on the phenomenological method of understanding their clients experiences and understanding of the client’s processes and progress in sessions. 

The reason why existential therapists do not use a defined technique is because theft beliefs that such methods might diminish the integrity of the client;s experience and the therapeutic process itself.

The phenomenological approach to understanding the client refers to a process of investigation into the lived experiences of the client.

This inquiry is done via various techniques such as:

  • Active listing to fully be present and engage in sessions without the expectations and preconceptions.
  • Probing to understand and elicit client’s emotions.
  • Scoratic questioning borrowed from the Cognitive Behavioral therapy to clarify meanings that client has made from their experiences. 

This method or technique is also used to elicit emotion as well as to gradually create insight.

  • Exploration into dreams borrowed from the psychoanalytic theory of psychotherapy and counselling

Existential therapists often disregard techniques because they stress the importance of authenticity within the sessions and believe that interventions should be moulded and brought forward within the here and now of the sessions and the client’s needs and therapist’s personal style. 

Rather than taking on techniques and methods, this form of therapy takes on an attitude approach towards the issues of living such as death, anxiety, meaninglessness, and authenticity etc. 

What is Existential therapy?

Existential therapy is a psychotherapeutic process that employs the major concepts of existential philosophy and rejects the deterministic views of human nature stressed on by psychoanalytic views.

Instead it postis the view that human beings are not victims of circumstances but a result of our choices.

In existential therapy, this particular understanding is brought onto the client by the process of engaging in therapy and the here and now of their situation and predicament while also exploring the aspect of taking responsibility and creating meaning out of the absurdity of their lives. 

Existential therapy focuses on exploring the issues of human existence such as meaninglessness, freedom, duing, responsibility, and meaninglessness. It works to develop individual’s awareness regarding the various attitudes they hold with respect to these issues of human existence. 

There is also effort made to help client’s deal with their distress by encouraging them to look beyond their problems and instead develop an intimate relationship with the issues of human existence, to live authentically to their values and attitudes, and create meaning and purpose in their lives. 

What is the process of existential therapy?

The process of existential therapy involves the following phases:

Initial Phase

During the initial process of existential therapy, the clients explore their assumptions of their life and the world with the therapist using techniques like socratic questioning, listening, reflection of meaning. 

In these phases they define how they make sense of their experiences- including the problems they bring into therapy to determine how valid the problem is. 

The effort made here is to help them examine their role in the existence of the problem which can be quite challenging because most clients are unable to see that their choices often sustain the problem. 

Middle phase

During this middle hased, after the client has developed some insight into the choices- behaviours, thoughts, and feelings,- they make that sustain the problem, efforts are made to explore their value systems that sustain these choices. 

This is done to encourage insight into the dysfunctional values they have and restructure them so as they can identify what kind of life they want to live- preferably one that is authentic to their own internal value systems that are not defined nor imposed on them by other people. 

Final phase

During the final phase of existential therapy, the clients are encouraged to take what they have learned about themselves in therapy and apply it to the real world. 

This is based on the understanding that what happens in therapy is simply a small part of a person’s engagement with their life based on renewed values and direction towards a meaningful and authentic life. 

This means that what the client has learned, they must apply by implementing their authentic values in creative ways into their work, their relationships,and their relationship with themselves. 

As the client progresses and discovers more straights, the sessions are terminated with the client finding ways to live a purposeful life. 

What are the goals of existential therapy?

When we consider the process of esite ntial therapy it can be best understood as the process by which we invite the client to develop an insight into the choices that they are making which is causing them to live inauthentic lives. 

This inauthenticity is what is causing them to struggle and face distress. 

The main overarching goal of existential therapy is to help the client move towards authentic luvig and learn to recognise the patterns of behaviour, thoughts, and feeling that is hampering their progress. 

The goals existential therapy include the following:

  • To help the clients develop insight into the choices that they are making that is causing them to live inauthentic lives
  • To help clients listen to what they already know and attend to these truths. 
  • To help the client be in the present and the here and now of the counselling process
  • Support the client to face their anxieties related to the various existential issues surrounding nothingness, emandinglessness, death, and freedom.
  • To help the client define their world based on the values that are authentic and original based on their own inner attitudes. 
  • To help clients develop action plans to live according to these authentic values out in the real world.

What role does the therapist play in existential therapy?

When it comes to the role of the therapist, unlike other forms of therapy it is not directive. The therapist does not take initiative to educate and dictate the client’s course of action.

Rather the therapist is almost like a silent observer and guide into an exploration of the client’s own beliefs and values. They help the client to understand their own subjective experiences. 

The therapist also encourages self-confrontation for clients who feel stuck in life because of their inauthentic living and tend to nudge the client to confront their own lack of responsibilities. 

The therapist also works to help the client accept responsibility of their choices in ways that are self-compassionate and constructive rather than blaming by asking them how they contributed to their own problems.

The therapist applies mostly socratic questioning rather than using a specific method or technique.

Rather they play the role of a guide as they help the client explore their own experiences while also helping the client develop ways they can apply their new and authentic beliefs into the real world. 

What are the applications of existential therapy?

An existential approach to psychotherapy is helpful in various settings and for various populations:

It can be applied in helping clients deal with a wide range of problems, challenges, and symptoms in adults, as well as children. 

This form of therapy can also be used effectively in one to one settings as well as in group settings, in counselling, as well as in clinical care- including psychological distress related to physical illnesses. ‘

A meta analysis of 1046 unique studies of Existential therapy application was done in an effort to understand the impact existential therapy interventions have on psychological outcomes. 

The study found that existential therapy was most effective for clients who sought out meaning in group settings. In instances where clients found greater sense of purpose and meaning, their psychological symptoms seemed to decrease to a moderate extent while their self-efficacy improved. 

These study results indicate that existential therapy seems to be very promising in terms of dealing with meaning and existential concerns even in people with serious problems including physical illness. 

Emmy van Deurzen also suggests that Existential therapy can be applied for clients who want to work on the various problems of living, especially for people who feel alienated from society due to societal expectations such as in the case of people who are part of the LGBTQA+ community. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have explored what are the various techniques used in Existential therapy as well as discuss what existential therapy is. 

We have also briefly discussed the process of existential therapy and the applications of existential therapy. 

FAQ related to Existential therapy techniques

What is an example of existential therapy?

One example of the application of existential therapy would be applying it in the context of someone who is struggling with depression due to their dissatisfaction with the direction of their career.

Exploration is made to help the client understand what they value and work towards living authentically but pursuing their values and the meaning it gives to their life. 

What are existential therapy interventions?

Existential therapy interventions involve the process of exploring the individuals perceptions and beliefs about their life and their problems. 

It also focuses on helping clients see that their hocies maintain the problems and focuses on helping clients accept responsibility and make changes in their values in order to live authentically based on their values that are original to their context.

One aspect of intervention is also to live authentically based on these values and also seek out meaning and purpose in their lives. 

What is the difference between Gestalt therapy and existential therapy?

The major difference between gestalt and existential therapy is the goals that they work towards.

In gestalt therapy the emphasis is on the importance of being mindful or present with the here and now while also accepting responsibility. 

In existential therapy the focus is on concepts like free-will, authenticity, and also the search for meaning and purpose.

What is existential group therapy?

Existential group therapy is a group therapy that applies the theory and process of existential psychotherapy theory in an attempt to work through the various challenges that come with existence such as death, freedom, meaninglessness etc. 


References

Iacovou, S., & Weixel-Dixon, K. (2015). Existential therapy: 100 key points and techniques. Routledge.

Vos, J., Craig, M., & Cooper, M. (2015). Existential therapies: A meta-analysis of their effects on psychological outcomes. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 83(1), 115.

Van Deurzen. E. Existential Therapy. Dryden’s Handbook of Individual Therapy (Sage 2006) Retrieved on 13th December 2021. Retrieved from online source:

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