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Chapter Six: Existential Therapy. Counseling Theories -- EPSY 6363 Dr. Scott Sparrow. Basic Principles of Existentialism. We are free because we can choose: I am what I choose We are responsible for our choices Life, and becoming, is a project of creating who we want to be

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Chapter Six: Existential Therapy


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    1. Chapter Six: Existential Therapy • Counseling Theories -- EPSY 6363 • Dr. Scott Sparrow

    2. Basic Principles of Existentialism • We are free because we can choose: I am what I choose • We are responsible for our choices • Life, and becoming, is a project of creating who we want to be • The fact of our death serves as a source of meaning by standing behind every decision and action

    3. Key Figures in Existentialist Philosophy • Kierkegaard (religious) -- role of anxiety and uncertainty; leap of faith • Nietzsche (atheistic)-- will to power (creativity and originality) rather than group mentality • Heidegger -- phenomenology, study of subjective experience

    4. Key Figures in Existentialist Philosophy • Sartre -- power of choice in the present • Buber -- I-thou relationship; presence • Binswanger -- therapist, holistic model between self and environment • Boss -- therapist, being in the world, entering subjective world of client

    5. Main Figures in Existential Psychotherapy • Victor Frankl -- logotherapy, or therapy through meaning. Niezsche: “He who has a why to live can bear with most any how. • Rollo May -- the struggle is between security of dependence and the delights and pains of growth • James Bugental -- therapy as a journey into the client’s subjective world; very demanding of therapist • Irwin Yalom -- death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness; most comprehensive

    6. Precepts of Existentialism and Existentialist Psychotherapy • It is more of a philosophy than a method of doing therapy • Reaction against techniques • Emphasis on what it means to be human • Focus on aloneness and isolation

    7. Basic Dimensions of Existentialism • Self-awareness --the greater the awareness the greater the potential freedom; everthing is a choice; anxiety accompanies awareness of our finitude and the consequences of our choices. • Freedom and responsibility -- bad faith of not accepting responsibility -“There are no victims here.” • Creating oneself and relationships -- looking beyond the conventional guidance and what others expect of us; using our sense of aloneness to get in touch with what are truly our values and goals • choosing relatedness

    8. Basic Dimensions of Existentialism • Search for meaning -- questioning meaning; discarding old values; meaninglessness and existential guilt; meaning must be pursued obliquely, or as a byproduct of engagement • Anxiety as a condition of life -- Normal/existential anxiety is unavoidable; neurotic anxiety is not desirable; freedom brings anxiety as we move away from security and familiar ways of living. Tolerance of ambiguity. • Suffering can a source of meaning • Awareness of death as a springboard to meaningful choices.

    9. Key Concepts • Nothing is fixed, all is in movement • We are constantly discovering and making sense of our lives • The fundamental themes do not vary: Who am I? What can I know? What should I do? Where did I come from? Where am I going? • We can become self aware • We are free to choose, and can shape our destinies • If I am free, then I am responsible for my life, my actions, and for failure to take action.

    10. Key Concepts • Ultimately, we are alone and separate. • We strive to define ourselves as individuals and in relationship to others. • Relationship needs to support each individual, rather than serving to mitigate our fears and the inevitability of our aloneness and deaths.

    11. Key Concepts • The search for meaning involves: • challenging and discarding old values • dealing with a sense of meaninglessness that easily arises when observing the world, one’s powerlessness, one’s smallness • creating meaning by standing up to pain, despair, guilt and death

    12. Key Concepts • Anxiety is inescapable • neurotic anxiety, based on a fear of losing control • existential anxiety, unavoidable is one is honest • Death is a basic human condition that can give significance to our lives. • need to contemplate and discuss death • this awareness motivates us to do what is important

    13. Therapeutic Process • Fosters movement toward authenticity; no escape from freedom; no one else to blame. • Challenges narrowness of thinking that blocks a sense of freedom--there is no escape from freedom • Increases awareness of what a client is doing and how he/she can get out of victim role. • Here and now focus, not on history

    14. Therapeutic relationshipOne of the Main contributions to modern therapy • Central force in therapy • Direct, mutual and present • Therapist is a fully alive, open, and creative human companion. • Therapists model authentic behavior

    15. Therapeutic Techniques • No prescribed techniques • Therapist is free to draw on any techniques that will serve the goals of therapy. • Techniques need to be responsive to the uniqueness of the client.

    16. Strengths • We are all faced with the same human dilemma of confronting our aloneness, dealing with existential anxiety, and creating meaning through our own choices. • Regardless of context, clients can be encouraged to address these issues, and to make choices and take responsibility for those choices.

    17. Strengths • An existential perspective can provide the client with a spirit of optimism and hope, by shifting the emphasis away from limiting or oppressive conditions to one’s ability to create change and meaning through courageous choice.

    18. Weaknesses • By placing emphasis on individuality, existential therapy can overlook the importance of family and culture. • It can also fail to appreciate the extent to which many people are severely limited in the choices that they can make. There are true victims in the world, not just those who perceive themselves as victims.

    19. Three Phases of Existential Psychotherapy • Clarifying assumptions about the world • Examine source and authority of current value system • Taking new awareness and putting it into action