What Is Existential Therapy and How Can It Benefit Me? Your Complete Guide

Last Update on October 15, 2020 : Published on October 15, 2020
Existential Therapy

Have you ever wondered if there was a therapy that combines psychological principles and a philosophical approach, to provide you with holistic healing?

There does exist a therapy that is a blend of both psychological and philosophical approach, it is known as existential therapy. This therapeutic approach will help you find meaning in life in a way you never thought existed. So, if you are looking to dive deeper into life and resolve the issues at the broader level, existential therapy is for you.

But, before you book your appointment for existential therapy let us first understand what existential therapy is.

An Overview of Existential Therapy

Existential psychotherapy focuses on issues such as finding a purpose or meaning in life and experiencing one’s existence to the fullest. It focuses on the free will, the search for meaning, and self-determination that centers more around you than the symptom. The aim of this therapy is to make you realize your capacity to make rational choices and develop to your maximum potential.

It stands apart from the other therapies on three major grounds:

  • Rather than attending the DSM 5 diagnostic categories and specific behavioral complaints, existentialists attend to the existential themes. They listen to issues related to responsibility, isolation, mortality, and meaningless.
  • Although it does make use of assessment (occasionally) its primary focus is on the therapeutic relationship. It is the relationship between you and the therapist that leads to an assessment of the existential tasks and themes, in this therapy.
  • Unlike other therapies, there is no distinction between existential counselors and psychotherapists in existential therapy. Just the time duration differs between the two while counseling is for the briefer duration, therapy duration is longer.

what is existential therapy

Looking at the History of Existential Therapy

Existential therapy developed out of the philosophies of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. It was Otto Rank who first actively pursued the discipline. In the mid-20th century Paul Tillich and Rollo May further brought it to mainstream with their writings and teaching. Later Irvin Yalom popularized this therapy among the masses.

Goals of Existential Therapy That You Will Achieve

While you are in existential therapy you will be working towards and achieving the following goals:

1. You will learn to expand your self-awareness, accept the responsibility for your choices, and increase the potential of your choices.

2. You will learn how your life is not fully authentic yet and what can be done to experience authentic existence.

3. You will be able to find a purpose in your life (that will be in line with your existence) and further pursue it.

4. You will understand your beliefs and values, have confidence in them, and further make choices based on them that will lead to new directions in your life.

5. Most importantly, you get a sense of aliveness through existential therapy as you will be able to see your life with hope, joy, creativity, interest, and imagination rather than hate boredom, dread, bigotry, and dread.

The Key Concepts of Existential Therapy

Four main concepts are at the heart of existential therapy. These concepts are generally referred to as “Existential Themes.” The therapist will help you identify these themes for you so that you can work on them and resolve the current issue.

  • Living and dying.
  • Freedom, responsibility, and choice.
  • Isolation and loving.
  • Meaning and meaningless.

The Process of Existential Therapy

The process of existential therapy is very smooth and focused on your relationship with the therapist. Herein, your therapist will be considered as a “fellow traveler” (Yalom). The therapist will make use of empathy, support, and initial assessment to elicit insight and choices in your life. The emphasis here will be on the present while the past will be used as a tool to promote freedom. By working on your present and existential themes you become more open to take the ownership of your lives to find meaning and live fully in the present.

The Assessments in Existential Therapy

To identify your existential themes following assessments are likely to be considered by the existential therapist:

Initial assessment: The therapist will listen to you for the initial assessment of broader issues. Along with actively listening to you, they will also test your authenticity on the ground of how aware you are of your problems and take the responsibility for the same. Through this, the therapist aims to engage you fully in the treatment process.

Dreams as assessment: You are likely to find dream assessment really engaging and intriguing. According to existential therapist events connected with your dreams are special to you and it’s your experience of the dream that is more important than the therapist’s interpretations. By assessing your dreams and listening to them the therapist will understand the deeper existential themes.

Use of objective and projective tests: Ideally, the key tool of assessment in existential therapy is interaction and communication between you and the therapist, some therapists do make use of other tools. These tools could be objective or projective in nature.

The Therapeutic Relationship in Existential Therapy

The main focus area of existential therapy as discussed above is the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist. The encounter between you and your therapist in existential therapy will be authentic and will be based on the present. The four pillars of this therapeutic relationship in existential therapy are:

Therapeutic Love: Yalom describes the relationship between you and your therapist as a “loving friendship” (1980). The therapist will be authentic and open to himself and to you as well (complete transparency). Irrespective of your issue or concern the therapist will accept you and show true care. The therapist will offer a true and open relationship to you, which will be open to sharing your concerns (without judgments or biases).

Resistance: You as a client are likely to show resistance in the therapy through complaining, whining, or talking. But, the therapist will choose to be supportive and will discuss the issue with you.

Transference: As the therapy will process further you might react some of your resistances in the therapy and on the client which is an important part of therapy. Their therapist will further attend to the issue at hand and look for a resolution.

Therapeutic Process: Each therapist processes differently depending on the issue that is being resolved. However, the aim behind the process remains indicative, that is, identifying your existential themes with full authenticity.

Popular FAQs on Existential Therapy

Q1.Is Existential Therapy Effective?

Yes, existential therapy is indeed effective. Many studies and research have found that existential therapy (both individual and group) are effective in the attitude of life, regaining a sense of purpose, and self-flourishing. So, you can definitely trust it to bring positive outcomes in your life.

Q2.What mental health conditions can be treated through existential therapy?

There is a long loss of mental health issues that can be healed, cured, and treated through existential therapy. Some of the major psychological problems that are resolved through existential therapy are:

Excessive anxiety, Apathy, Alienation, Avoidance, Shame, Nihilism, Addiction, Guilt, Depression, Shame, Resentment, Embitterment, Rage, Resentment, Psychosis, Violence, Purposelessness, And more.

Q3.What are the existential questions?

Existentialism questions are the ones that help you create self-awareness and establish an authentic relationship with yourself. Some of these existentialism questions are:

What is the meaning of life?

What is the meaning of existence?

What is my greater purpose?

Q4.What are the limitations of existential therapy?

Although existential therapy has a pool of perks to offer it has its own limitations. This includes:

  • The focus of existential therapy is on the deeper existential themes and on the broader issues, someone who is likely looking for quick fixes might find it as a lengthy process.
  • It is a dense and complex form of therapy that actively involves the client, which might not suit all.
  • The approach is also considered as an intellectual one (as it often touches upon the darker areas of life), it is believed to be beneficial for the ones who have a high level of intellect.

Q5.What are the benefits of existential therapy for me?

There is a pool of benefits that you can enjoy through existential therapy. Below is the list of the most moving benefits of existential therapy:

  • Through existential therapy, you will be able to shift your focus on life-enhancing experiences like, creativity, self-actualization, authenticity, transcendence, awe, acceptance, will, presence, courage, commitment, spirituality, and more.
  • It improves your capacity for self-awareness.
  • It helps you realize your unique identity.
  • It pushes you to continuously recreate and bring constant and meaningful changes in your life.
  • Unlike other therapies, it focuses on the present.
  • Also, it will not only resolve the issue on the layer but also work on resolving the inner and deeper existential themes.

Thus, it offers holistic healing by taking into regards both the psychological and philosophical aspects of your existence.

So, if you are looking forward to experiencing your existence as the real you, there is no better way to begin with your journey than starting with existential therapy.

More power to you!!!

About The Author

Anjali Singh
Anjali Singh

Anjali Singh is a content curator in the field of Mental Health. She is currently done Ph.D. in Psychology. Her aim is to light up the world with positive vibes through her words, her idea of life is ‘Grow through what you go through’. Apart from this, she is a big-time pet lover.


  1. Rashmi Kandhil
    Rashmi Kandhil

    Informative blog. Existential therapy is something not everyone is aware of.

  2. Amara Smith
    Amara Smith

    Can existential therapy be used in crisis situations?

  3. CHTN

    A complete guide to the Existential therapy... from concept to examples, everything can be found here. very nice blog guys

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