Viktorfrankl / rolloma y imagno/Victor Frankl Institute

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Contributions of the Existential Approach

The existential approach has helped bring the person back into central focus. It concentrates on the central facts of human existence: self-consciousness and our consequent freedom. To the existentialist goes the credit for providing a new view of death as a positive force, not a morbid prospect to fear, for death gives life meaning. Existentialists have contributed a new dimension to the un- derstanding of anxiety, guilt, frustration, loneliness, and alienation.

I particularly appreciate the way van Deurzen (2002a) views the existential practitioner as a mentor and fellow traveler who encourages people to reflect upon the problems they encounter in living. What clients need is “some assis- tance in surveying the terrain and in deciding on the right route so that they can again find their way” (p. 18). According to van Deurzen, the existential ap- proach encourages people to live life by their own standards and values. “The aim of existential work is to assist people in developing their talents in their own personal way, helping them in being true to what they value” (p. 21).

One of the major contributions of the existential approach is its emphasis on the human quality of the therapeutic relationship. This aspect lessens the chances of dehumanizing psychotherapy by making it a mechanical process. Existential counselors reject the notions of therapeutic objectivity and profes- sional distance, viewing them as being unhelpful. This is put quite nicely by Vontress and colleagues (1999): “Being an existential counselor would seem to mean having the courage to be a caring human being in an insensitive world” (p. 44).

I very much value the existential emphasis on freedom and responsibility and the person’s capacity to redesign his or her life by choosing with aware- ness. This perspective provides a sound philosophical base on which to build a personal and unique therapeutic style because it addresses itself to the core struggles of the contemporary person.


my perspective, the key concepts of the existential approach can be integrated into most therapeutic schools. Regardless of a therapist’s orientation, the foun- dation for practice can be based on existential themes. Although Bugental and Bracke (1992) are interested in the infusion of existential notions into other ther- apy approaches, they have some concerns. They call for a careful examination

of areas of confluence and of divergence among the theoretical perspectives. They offer these postulates for maintaining the integrity of the existential per- spective as efforts toward integration proceed:

  • The subjectivity of the client is a key focus in understanding significant life changes.

  • A full presence and commitment of both therapist and client are essential to life-changing therapy.

  • The main aim of therapy is to help clients recognize the ways in which they are constricting their awareness and action.

  • A key focus of therapy is on how clients actually use the opportunities in therapy for examining and changing their lives.

  • As clients become more aware of the ways in which they define them- selves and their world, they can also see new alternatives for choice and action.

  • In situations involving transference and countertransference, therapists have an opportunity to model taking responsibility for themselves while inviting their clients to do the same.

Bugental and Bracke (1992) see the possibility of a creative integration of the conceptual propositions of existential therapy with many other therapeutic ori- entations. One example of such a creative integration is provided by Dattilio (2002), who integrates cognitive behavioral techniques with the themes of an existential approach. As a cognitive behavior therapist and author, Dattilio maintains that he directs much of his efforts to “helping clients make a deep existential shift—to a new understanding of the world” (p. 75). He uses tech- niques such as restructuring of belief systems, relaxation methods, and a va- riety of cognitive and behavioral strategies, but he does so within an existen- tial framework that can begin the process of real-life transformation. Many of his clients suffer from panic attacks or depression. Dattilio often explores with these people existential themes of meaning, guilt, hopelessness, anxiety—and at the same time he provides them with cognitive behavioral tools to cope with the problems of daily living. In short, he grounds symptomatic treatment in an existential approach.

Limitations and Criticisms of the Existential Approach

A major criticism often aimed at this approach is that it lacks a systematic state- ment of the principles and practices of psychotherapy. Some practitioners have trouble with what they perceive as its mystical language and concepts. Some therapists who claim adherence to an existential orientation describe their therapeutic style in vague and global terms such as self-actualization, dialogic encounter, authenticity, and being in the world. This lack of precision causes con- fusion at times and makes it difficult to conduct research on the process or outcomes of existential therapy.

Both beginning and advanced practitioners who are not of a philosophical turn of mind tend to find many of the existential concepts lofty and elusive. And those counselors who do find themselves close to this philosophy are of- ten at a loss when they attempt to apply it to practice. As we have seen, this

approach places primary emphasis on a subjective understanding of the world of clients. It is assumed that techniques follow understanding. The fact that few techniques are generated by this approach makes it essential for practitioners to develop their own innovative procedures or to borrow from other schools of therapy. For counselors who doubt that they can counsel effectively without a specific set of techniques, this approach has limitations (Vontress, 2008).

Practitioners who prefer a counseling practice based on research contend that the concepts should be empirically sound, that definitions should be op- erational, that the hypotheses should be testable, and that therapeutic practice should be based on the results of research into both the process and outcomes of counseling. Certainly, the notion of manualized therapy is not part of the ex- istential perspective because every psychotherapy experience is unique (Walsh & McElwain, 2002). From the perspective of evidence-based practices, existen- tial therapy is subject to criticism. According to Cooper (2003), existential prac- titioners generally reject the idea that the therapeutic process can be measured and evaluated in quantitative and empirical ways. There is a distinct lack of studies that directly evaluate and examine the existential approach. To a large extent, existential therapy makes use of techniques from other theories, which makes it difficult to apply research to this approach to study its effectiveness (Sharf, 2008).

According to van Deurzen (2002b), the main limitation of this approach is that of the level of maturity, life experience, and intensive training that is required of practitioners. Existential therapists need to be wise and capable of profound and wide-ranging understanding of what it means to be human. Authenticity is a cardinal characteristic of a competent existential practitioner, which is certainly more involved than mastering a body of knowledge and ac- quiring technical skills. Russell (2007) puts this notion nicely: “Authenticity means being able to sign your own name on your work and your life. It means you will want to take responsibility for creating your own way of being a thera- pist” (p.123).
Where to Go From Here

Refer to the CD-ROM for Integrative Counseling, Session 11 (“Understanding How the Past Influences the Present”) for a demonstration of ways I utilize existen- tial notions in counseling Ruth. We engage in a role play where Ruth becomes the voice of her church and I take on a new role as Ruth—one in which I have been willing to challenge certain beliefs from church. This segment illustrates how I assist Ruth in finding new values. In Session 12 (“Working Toward Deci- sions and Behavioral Changes”) I challenge Ruth to make new decisions, which is also an existential concept.

Society for Existential Analysis

Website: Additional Information:

The Society for Existential Analysis is a professional organization devoted to exploring issues pertaining to an existential/phenomenological approach to

counseling and therapy. Membership is open to anyone interested in this ap- proach and includes students, trainees, psychotherapists, philosophers, psy- chiatrists, counselors, and psychologists. Members receive a regular newslet- ter and an annual copy of the Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis. The society provides a list of existentially oriented psychotherapists for referral purposes. The School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent’s College in London offers an advanced diploma in existential psychotherapy as well as short courses in the field.

International Society for Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling


The International Society for Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling was created in London in July 2006. This brings together the existing national soci- eties as well as providing a forum for the development and accreditation of the approach.
Psychotherapy Training on the Net: SEPTIMUS


Additional Information:
SEPTIMUS is an Internet-based course taught in Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Italy, Portugal, Austria, and the United Kingdom.
New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling

Royal Waterloo House 51-55 Waterloo Road

London, England SE1 8TX Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7928 43 44 E-mail: Website:
The New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC) is set up especially for training existential therapists. It offers an MA in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling that is validated by the University of Sheffield, and an MSC in Existential Counselling Psychology that is validated by Middlesex University. NSPC offers intensive courses for distance learners (worldwide student body) including e-learning.


Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice (van Deurzen, 2002a) is highly recommended as an excellent overview of the basic assumptions, goals, and key

concepts of the existential approach. The author puts into clear perspective topics such as anxiety, authentic living, clarifying one’s worldview, determining

values, discovering meaning, and com- ing to terms with life. This book provides a framework for practicing counseling from an existential perspective.

Existential Therapies (Cooper, 2003) provides a useful and clear introduction to the existential therapies. There are sepa- rate chapters on logotherapy, the British school of existential analysis, the Ameri- can existential-humanistic approach, di- mensions of existential therapeutic prac- tice, and brief existential therapies.

Existential Psychotherapy (Yalom, 1980) is a superb treatment of the ultimate hu- man concerns of death, freedom, iso- lation, and meaninglessness as these issues relate to therapy. This book has depth and clarity, and it is rich with clinical examples that illustrate exis- tential themes.

The Art of the Psychotherapist (Bugental, 1987) is an outstanding book that bridges the art and science of psychotherapy, mak-

ing places for both. The author is an insightful and sensitive clinician who writes about the psychotherapist–client journey in depth from an existential perspective.

I Never Knew I Had a Choice (Corey & Corey, 2006) is written from an existential per- spective. Topics include our struggle to achieve autonomy; the meaning of loneli- ness, death, and loss; and how we choose our values and philosophy of life.

Cross-Cultural Counseling: A Casebook (Von- tress, Johnson, & Epp, 1999) contains case studies of culturally diverse clients. These cases are explored within three frameworks: from a conceptual perspec- tive, from an existential perspective, and from the vantage point of the DSM-IV diagnostic model. There is a marvelous chapter on the existential foundations of cross-cultural counseling.


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tial time-limited therapy: The wheel of existence.

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(2005). Existential perspectives on human issues: A handbook for practice. London: Palgrave, Macmillan.

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tionary of existential psychotherapy and counsel- ling. London: Sage.

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Tulisan diatas diambil dari pemikiran Gerald Corey

Corey, Gerald. 2009. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotheraphy (8th ed). USA: Brooks/Cole.
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