An Existential ApproachGiven my training as an existential psychotherapist, I am strongly influenced in my approach to therapeutic work by existential philosophy and the perspective this provides on what it means to be human.
I regard the existential approach as a framework, a perspective that understands human behaviour as ultimately motivated by a desire to search for meaning and through that a sense of identity. It is a perspective that highlights our capacity to choose the way we live our lives, within the constraints we are given, and that this freedom to choose brings with it responsibilities, to ourselves and to others.
While this perspective guides my approach at all times , I recognise that many people come to therapy seeking more immediate change in their lives, solutions to current issues and problems. Consequently, while holding in mind these deeper existential issues, I may use a variety of techniques drawn from different therapeutic disciplines that help people meet their more immediate challenges. These might include cognitive or behavioural techniques, focusing and mindfulness, or the facilitation of self-awareness through creative activity.
I interpret the existential approach to therapy as an underlying view of human motivation and behaviour, rather than a set of techniques or a prescriptive way of working. It is an ever-present perspective that provides coherence to work that recognises and highlights the uniqueness of each individual and their experiences, a uniqueness that requires that each person coming to therapy is treated in a unique way.
It is a perspective that recognises that our search for meaning is primarily through our relationships with others. Of course the most significant relationships we may form, or attempt to form, are with our friends, partners, parents and children: through them we may search for intimacy, and through intimacy we seek to know ourselves, to have a sense of who we are and who we might be.
When we feel comfortable with this sense of ourselves, of our identity, we can be accepting of others, and feel accepted by others. But relationships are never certain, and all the pathways associated with this search are populated by uncertainty and potential difficulty, and this brings anxiety.
It is this existential anxiety associated with a constantly unmet search for a sense of identity that underpins, in my view, the symptoms of psychological discomfort that we all experience, to a greater or lesser extent, at some point in our lives.
To learn more about an existential approach you can visit the website of the Society for Existential Analysis. The Wikipedia page on Existential Therapy is also very informative.