Existential therapy as a way of psychologists’ helping patients to overcome their life difficulties has resulted from a philosophical trend named existentialism. This sect appeared in the middle of the XIX century. Its founder was a young Danish philosopher, writer, and psychologist Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (Barnett, 2016). The man was born in Copenhagen on May 5, 1813, to a noble family (Barnett, 2016). He graduated from the theological faculty of Copenhagen University in 1840 (Barnett, 2016). Kierkegaard received his master’s degree in 1841; his thesis was dedicated to the concepts of irony among ancient Greek authors and romantics (Shakespeare, 2017). After breaking off the engagement, the philosopher devoted the majority of his time to writing.
The works of the researcher are distinguished by their exceptional psychological precision and depth (Barnett, 2016). Creativity rooted in intimate and personal experiences and reflection of self-observation is inextricably linked with the author’s personal life. Its most essential moments include a severe Christian upbringing which took place under the defining influence of his father, a break with the bride and the passionate polemic about true Christianity with the church. Thus, it might be stated that existentialism and the therapy principle that has resulted from it explore the depth of one’s personality.
The Content of Existential Therapy
Today, existential psychotherapy is a method that helps people relieve suffering (both mental and physical) through understanding their own life, values, and true purpose. If at the time of its creation the trend was only an offshoot of the philosophy of existentialism, now it is an independent, sufficiently popular trend. During over 100 years of being practiced, existential therapy has shown excellent results and proven its effectiveness and consistency (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). The main concepts include the idea that each case is considered as unique, not like all the others (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). Accordingly, the line of treatment cannot be typical or schematic. Each time, the methods of therapy are selected anew and built in a completely different logical system to help a specific person. Thus, the role of a counselor is one of a guide that assists one in understanding the depth of their soul. A client’s role consists in following the counselor’s recommendations; the final therapeutic goals are identifying the customer’s true life purpose and they’re getting rid of problems.
Existential therapy includes a range of different theories and practices, in part due to the development of a variety of concepts and methodologies. For example, some existential therapists do not regard this approach as a separate “school” of counseling or psychotherapy but rather as an attitude, understanding, or position in therapy in general. However, in recent years, existential therapy has been increasingly seen as a definite and distinct approach (Bazzano, 2020). It can be said that, although difficult to describe, existential therapy is a deeply philosophical approach, in practice characterized by an emphasis on connectedness, spontaneity, flexibility, and freedom. Because of these key qualities, for many existential therapists, trying to reinforce the definition of existential therapy seems to be controversial.
Speaking about the efficacy of the theory, a large body of rigorous research indicates that some forms of existential therapy for some groups lead to improved well-being and a sense of meaning. The most significant works include Existential Psychotherapy by Craig, Vos, Cooper, and Correia. The corpus of materials is constantly growing, and new research materials demonstrate that forms of existential therapy can lead to improvements as well as other therapeutic approaches. This viewpoint is supported in several works, for example, in the paper by Rayner and Vitali named Short-Term Existential Psychotherapy In Primary Care: A Quantitative Report. The effectiveness of existential therapy is shown in numerous scientific works. It is important to press the point that the core values of the method analyzed to lead to positive therapy outcomes. Norcross and Lambert prove that a warm relationship between the client and the therapist is beneficial. Wampold states that the central interest of existential therapy in finding or receiving meaning is an important component of effective treatment (Wampold, 2019). Hence, existential therapy has been proven to be effective and useful.
What can be Cured with the Theory
The opportunities of using existential therapy are limited not by specific diagnoses but by the abilities of patients, clients’ degree of self-knowledge, and the experience of practicing therapists. Existential therapy can be effective for clients facing a variety of difficulties in life, caught in crisis and borderline life situations. The implementation of the theory practically has no restrictions; nevertheless, little data has been published on the use of this therapy with younger children. At the same time, there are examples of the positive influence of the method on teenagers. Thus, existential therapy might be employed while working with patients having various problems and disorders.
Why the Theory fits the Client
William Palmer suffers from depression, loss of close people, and uncontrolled anger. These conditions implement existential therapy the perfect option for this client. This approach will help Palmer to reduce anger and pain as well as to put up with the circumstances he cannot change. The choice of the theory analyzed for the above problems is supported by the article named Exploring Existential Ideas with an Older Adult Experiencing Severe Depression (Watkins & Howells, 2016). Thus, it might be concluded that existential therapy is the best choice for treating William Palmer.
The above problems of the customer are connected to death and meaninglessness that belong to the givens of existence. This term is used for the conditions of human lives that cause a certain conflict in a person (Watkins & Howells, 2016). Due to them, one experiences anxiety which is normal and is regarded as a stage in their personal development. However, some people try to avoid feeling the normal anxiety; William Palmer, the person under analysis, has chosen this way. He has participated in illegal activities and behaved rudely; another problem of the client is the uncontrolled anger towards his fate. These defense mechanisms led to Palmer’s experiencing neurotic guilt and having the desire to analyze his life.
As for the ethical aspects that might arise while employing the method described with the client, they do not differ from standard ones. According to ACA codes, the principles of specialists’ work include avoiding discrimination based on age, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. It is important to show the client that the specialist would not judge him regardless of what he is.
The multicultural issues that might arise due to cultural differences would probably include race problems. William Palmer could have faced discrimination in his life, thus, it will be hard for him to trust a psychologist to the extent required for conducting the therapy. This problem could be solved by doing some exercises for increasing trust before interventions. Hence, the number and the sequence of techniques will be modified for this patient. To make the theoretical intervention appropriate for diverse cultures, it will be necessary to combine it with trust-increasing procedures (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). Their nature will depend on a specific culture because each nation has its peculiarities (Wampold, 2019). Therefore, a psychotherapist needs to implement an individual approach and consider clients’ cultural characteristics.
Using the Theory in Crisis Situations
As for crises, existential therapy can be used for them. Like other approaches, existential therapy is primarily applied to people who are suffering or experiencing a crisis (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). Some existential therapists intervene in ways that alleviate or reduce, where possible, suffering and help individuals deal with the inevitable challenges of life in a more constructive, meaningful, natural, and authentic way (Wampold, 2019). Hence, the therapy will help clients who have had a crisis to put up with the fact that this has happened to them.
The Patient’s Problems
Speaking about the problems of William Palmer, he is suffering from depression, the loss of his close people, and the inability to manage his emotions. The man has had numerous life challenges and now, strives for the analysis of his past for Palmer might be blaming himself for some of the problems. At the same time, the patient is angry with destiny, God, or other higher forces the man believes in and cannot put up with what has happened.
The acceptance technique is aimed at letting patients know that their life is not ideal and they are allowed to make mistakes. This can be done by showing an interest in self-disclosure by patients in the field, and by encouraging it (Branch, 2020). Moreover, while working with William Palmer, self-blaming behavior should not be approved. On the contrary, it is necessary to actively contribute to keeping the client positive. To do this, the therapist himself must be resistant to his anxiety associated with self-blaming.
Working with Defense Mechanisms
The technique of working with defense mechanisms consists in identifying inadequate patterns of defending and their negative consequences. According to Petraglia, Bhatia, and Drapeau (2017), psychotherapists try to help patients admit that sometimes, they react improperly and cannot manage their emotions. To help William Palmer identify and change his aggressive and depression-like behavior, tact, patience, and timing are required. Moreover, it is important to make the patient put up with the destiny and stop nursing grievances.
Working with Dreams
The technique of working with dreams means existential psychotherapists encourage patients to talk about their dreams. Since in dreams (especially nightmares) subconscious themes can appear in an unsuppressed and unedited form, one’s fears are often present in them (Pendaroski & Nikolovska, 2017). Therefore, with William Palmer, the discussion and analysis of dreams should be carried out taking into account his current existential. However, Palmer might be not ready to deal with the material presented in his dreams; thus, some preparatory procedures that will convince the client in discussing the topic will be required.
From a spiritual point of view, William Palmer is currently experiencing anger and depression which means he murmurs about God’s will. If the person wanted to receive Christian Counseling, it would be necessary to softly convince him in stopping complaining. Despite all the difficulties, a person should accept everything that happens to them. The existential theory is compatible with Christianity’s ideas in three aspects: the necessity of putting up with life challenges, reaching peace, and making effort to become happy (Jones & Butman, 2018). However, it is not compatible in a deep analysis of one’s personality, reflecting on eternal issues, and working with dreams (Jones & Butman, 2018). From a religious viewpoint, a person should just live their life, not get busy with such aspects.
To sum up, it is important to press the point that the above strategy for curing mental problems and conditions is useful. In the case of William Palmer who suffers from depression and anger and cannot put up with the loss of his wife and a close friend, this approach is the best option (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). It will help to identify hidden problems and work on them as well as to analyze the events of his past (Wampold, 2019). As a result, the person will solve all of his psychological problems.
Barnett, C. B. (2016). Kierkegaard, pietism and holiness. Routledge.
Bazzano, M. (2020). Re-Visioning Existential Therapy: Counter-traditional Perspectives.
Branch, K. (2020). Comparison of the effect of mindful self-acceptance therapy and positive psychotherapy on affective capital of female students with depression. Feyz, Journal of Kashan University of Medical Sciences, 24(2), 198-208.
Craig, M., Vos, J., Cooper, M., & Correia, E. A. (2016). Existential psychotherapies.
Jones, S., & Butman, R. (2018). Modern psychotherapies: A comprehensive Christian Appraisal. Routledge.
Pendaroski, M. K., & Nikolovska, K. (2017). The line of the least resistance method in working with dreams. International Journal of Dream Research, 191-194.
Petraglia, J., Bhatia, M., & Drapeau, M. (2017). Ten principles to guide psychodynamic technique with defense mechanisms: An examination of theory, research, and clinical implications. Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy, 7(1), 2161-0487.
Rayner, M., & Vitali, D. (2016). Short-term existential psychotherapy in primary care: A quantitative report. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 56(4), 357-372.
Shakespeare, S. (2017). Kierkegaard, language and the reality of God. Routledge.
Van Deurzen, E., & Arnold-Baker, C. (2018). Existential therapy: Distinctive features. Routledge.
Wampold, B. E. (2019). The basics of psychotherapy: An introduction to theory and practice. American Psychological Association.
Watkins, M., & Howells, A. (2016). Exploring existential ideas with an older adult experiencing severe depression. Mental Health Practice, 20(3).