“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”
Viktor E. Frankl
Existential therapists believe that change is possible, if individuals are willing to take responsibility for their actions. Change happens when individuals are able to make connections on a deep and personal level. Helping individuals gain awareness, enabling them to make responsible choices that create meaning, fulfillment and change in their lives. Existentialists believe that life is all about making choices. Choosing to think and act authentically and responsibly is the foundation from which change can occur. Key components such as creativity, love, authenticity, and free will are recognized as potential avenues toward transformation, enabling people to live meaningful lives in the face of uncertainty and suffering.
For change to occur, existentialists believe that one must increase self-awareness, focusing on potential inner resources, including self-respect and self-motivation in order to facilitate change. Emotional processing is key to development and growth in order to facilitate change. For clients in extreme distress and experiencing anxiety, existentialism brings normality and commonality to the client. Moreover, it focuses on the importance of each person’s experiences by acknowledging the importance of people’s thoughts, values, and ability to think creatively.
Another important concept is centered around and focuses on actualization. This concept refers to each person having an essential nature, partially universal and part that is unique to the individual. Frankl explains “Self-actualization is a good thing; however, I maintain that man can only actualize himself to the extent to which he fulfills meaning”(p.8). The therapist must be willing and able to engage the client in a genuine and authentic fashion in order to help the client make meaningful change. Sensitivity to “teachable” or “therapeutic” moments is essential. Those who are able to accomplish this are considered to be living “authentic lives, in which they are aware of their self-in-world construct, strive to make wise choices, and take responsibility for their decisions” (Seligman, 2010, p.175). Although this is seen as a collaborative process, ultimately it is the responsibility of the client to facilitate change in their lives.
For many, accepting responsibility can be a very difficult process. Those that feel they are not in control of their own destiny and their lives may find this process challenging. Many aspects of the existential approach include empathy, encouragement of affect, reflective listening, and acceptance of the client’s subjective experience.
Creating a therapeutic alliance is a very important component of this model, establishing rapport provides grounds for meaningful engagement within all aspects of the treatment process. This type of therapy relies heavily on developing a strong relationship between client and clinician. A great amount of honesty and trust is detrimental to facilitating growth and change.
Frankl,V. (1967). Psychotherapy and Existentialism Selected Papers n Logotherapy. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Reichenberg, L. & Seligman, L. (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy/ Systems, Strategies, and Skills.Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.