For me, Existentialism simply means having the power and knowledge to live in the moment. To be present. To exist in each moment exercising free will authentically. Two basic enemies of being existential are the feelings of depression and anxiety. The person who is depressed will often talk about the past, attaching negative feelings to past events. So with depression one might say he is living in the past. A person who is anxious will often express fear attaching it to something “ bad” that is going to happen. We might say he is emotionally living in the future. Therefore, anxiety and depression prevents us from living in the moment, from living one day at a time.
Some dysfunctional and common approaches that are made to deal with these difficult emotional conditions are, repression and avoidance and even taking “geographical cures”. Remember, WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE.
Existential Psychotherapy is a powerful approach in the therapeutic environment.
It is a therapy that will focus on the present human condition.
It is an optimistic therapy that embraces the human potential while being realistic of it’s recognition of each individuals human limitation.
This way of being in therapy does have the depth of traditional psychotherapies while also being aware of the client therapist relationship.
The origins of American Existential Psychotherapy are generally considered to be Rollo May. This therapy can be seen to be heavily influenced by philosophers such as Kienkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger.
One of today’s greatly respected therapists that practice Existential psychotherapy is considered to be Irvin Yalom.
He approaches his therapy with four basic areas in mind which include the idea of Freedom, responsibility, choice and meaning.
As in all therapeutic approaches there is no single “cookie cutter” approach to existential psychotherapy, particularly whilst treating a person in the recovery process.
Every client is a unique individual with their own experiences of life.
What you will find in the Existential therapy experience is many shared values and themes while focusing on the individual’s existence in the world.
As an existential therapist myself, I provide a very optimistic view focusing on the potential for good and growth that is inherent in the human condition.
To realize this potential, we must clean up any unresolved issues from the past and be willing to let you go of our old beliefs.
This means that the alcoholic/addict, for instance, must be free of actively
trying to control his drinking.
This does not mean that one should not be in therapy while drinking; it does however mean that the individual will be unable to realize his full potential.
It should be noted here that one of the questions in existential therapy is
“What is the meaning of life, what is the purpose?”
One of the reasons that Existential therapy “fits” so well with a twelve step
recovery program is that it can and does have a spiritual approach in its application.
That is, in a person’s journey in recovery, he may have utilized other psychological concepts to resolve issues of guilt and depression.
Its concepts may have included analytical, cognitive and behavioral therapy.
One major theme in recovery that is common is Anxiety. This anxiety can be deeply rooted in this idea of meaningless. A fear of lack of purpose and emptiness.
If a person has a belief in a higher power, this can be easily utilized within the constructs of existential psychotherapy.
It should be noted that it is not however necessary and I do not imply that a spiritual
based existential therapy is religious. Spirituality in fact may never be discussed.
Therapy is not, nor should it be, a one size fits all experience.
So if the recovering alcoholic has changed some beliefs, made amends and began a program of living one day at a time, Existential therapy is a good fit.
You will find that the majority of therapists are respectful and supportive of their client’s spiritual- religious or non spiritual belief systems.
In an effort to simplify the complicated therapeutic experience, I will attempt to describe the stages of existential psychotherapy.
First, it is imperative that the therapist join you in establishing a genuine and authentic relationship. This relationship is a primary aspect of the healing and growth that will take place. It is the therapist’s responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries while guiding deeper understanding of relationships and the way the client relates to and affects others.
You will be respected, cared for and related to in an open and authentic manner. During this process you will gain deeper awareness of yourself.
The therapy will then focus on the development of this new knowledge. The therapist will offer reflections and interpretations of the way you are in the therapy relationship. Learning about yourself is not easy and you will experience pain along the way.
You will resist the growth and awareness. This makes for good therapeutic fodder.
It is in fact, rather unhealthy if this does not occur.
This leads to increased moments of joy in life with meaning and satisfaction.
This process may take for some people anywhere from six months to a lifetime.
As in recovery therapy is a journey.
Remember, recovery ROCKS!! Enjoy the journey!!
So again, Existential Therapy focuses on:
Potential and limitations
Freedom and Responsibility of choice
Meaning and Meaningless
Flexibility, being open minded and honesty are paramount in existential therapy.
No two therapies are alike.
Life is painful; you can not be alive without experiencing pain.
It is the addict’s nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Existential therapy offers you tools to experience life in a truly healthy manner.
If we have spiritual beliefs, we create a sense of an ideal world. It includes views about ourselves, our past experiences and future possibilities. We are not divided into types or labeled; we are all on a continuum of human existence, physical, social, psychological and spiritual. Stretched between what we fear and what we aspire to be.
We humans are mortal, as we deny our mortality, we develop more Anxiety.
The acceptance of this fact can be both freeing and soothing.
Life, death- two things that give us meaning. We are responsible for our choices.
Being alone with the freedom of choice means that we cannot blame someone else for our problems. We make choices and therefore are responsible for the outcome.
It seems to me that existential thought encourages people not be part of a herd,
but challenges them to be authentic.
The thoughts of freedom, choice, responsibility, accountability and courage are a superb adjustment to the 12 steps.
We can discover what is directly available to us through intuition.
Where we are now and the understanding of that power can free us of the analysis of where we have been.
So instead of analyzing life, we learn to be present and understand oneself.
The application of knowledge rather than knowledge itself is valuable. So into action!!