How many times does the world outside you cross your mind? In some ways, we have isolated ourselves in our bubbles – especially with the situation right now. Humans have always tried to search for meaning and purpose in their lives.
Issues around us even amplify this existential crisis: global warming and pollution being some. In this world of seemingly never-ending problems, is life even worth living?
This is the question existential theory tries to answer. Existentialism points out that we humans indeed can grow and achieve a purpose. Anxieties of asking ourselves what we live for can give us a direction in life.
Pioneered by Rollo May in the later 20th century, this school of thought focuses on belief in human capabilities. Living through most of his childhood with tuberculosis, May has produced extensive studies on suffering, anxieties, and aspirations.
Existential therapy is grounded on existentialism that aims to acknowledge and work on these anxieties. Isolation, meaninglessness, and fear of our limited time are common.
By focusing on future actions and plans, existential therapy helps people find new ways to navigate life.
Living a greener life can also help us find this meaning we yearn for. Nature can help heal and restore our emotional as well as physical issues. Numerous studies found that even images of nature itself can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety and stress.
Immersing ourselves in nature and taking care of the environment is a step we can take. You don’t have to go all in. Simple ways that are doable for you are enough.
For our mental health, nature also grounds us. Acknowledging our part in the bigger scheme of things humbles us, humans. We may find purpose in becoming more mindful of our individual or even collective actions through being more involved in our environment.
What Did Rollo May Believe?
Rollo May, an influential American psychologist, helped establish existential psychology. Existentialism is based on humanistic psychology, which looks at man’s capacity for growth and achievement. May builds on these ideas and further explored life’s purpose through anxiety, freedom, love, and will.
May believes that anxieties are necessary to achieve growth and purpose. Freedom, being able to choose and direct one’s life, is the pinnacle of human existence.
May’s beliefs were developed through his hardships. His long recovery from tuberculosis and difficult childhood allowed him to observe his and others’ experience of anxiety, isolation, and death.
What Is The Existential Theory Of Personality?
Leading up to the 20th century, psychology embraced science above philosophy and tended to see human beings as a pattern of desires and tendencies. This led to the impression that people were a sum of their parts and just another object to be scrutinized.
The existential theory of personality acknowledges a person’s entire being. May emphasizes that human beings are constantly in the state of becoming and always existing. Thus, personality is a choice to become an authentic version of the self. This is based on a person’s understanding and philosophy of what a person is.
Who Is The Father Of Existential Psychology?
Rollo May, born in 1909, is considered to be the father of existential psychology in America. Introducing existentialism to psychology helped emphasize people’s aspirations and capacities while still acknowledging their limitations.
May has worked extensively as a scholar and therapist. His studies on anxieties and underlying mechanisms of human suffering led to the start of dialogue-based psychotherapy. His contributions include Man’s Search for Himself (1953), Love and Will (1969), The Meaning of Anxiety (1950), and The Courage to Create (1975).
Who Benefits From Existential Therapy?
Existential therapy helps people embrace and take charge of their actions and choices, planning for their future based on possibilities and not the past.
This kind of therapy may help people with symptoms of anxiety, dependency, depression, post-traumatic-stress-disorder, apathy, shame, resentment, rage, meaninglessness, and psychosis.
Studies have shown that existential therapy can help those incarcerated, chronically ill, living with advanced cancer, and older adults living in care homes.
What Is The Main Goal Of Existential Therapy?
The main goal of existential therapy is to expand a person’s awareness and understanding to find new ways and options to deal with life.
The therapy assumes that people live in a restricted existence, where there is limited awareness of the self and the nature of problems.
Expanding awareness requires a person to develop an awareness of their feeling and actions in the present, develop the courage to confront their anxiety, and develop authentic relationships with themselves and the world around them.
What Are The Key Concepts Of Existential Therapy?
Existential therapy is based on the belief that all human beings face internal conflicts due to inherent conditions. These existential conditions are death, isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom.
Confrontation with any of these conditions may lead to anxieties, but existential therapy focuses on finding the balance between acknowledging these conditions without being overwhelmed.
Other key concepts in existential therapy include:
- Our time is limited, so we must take the full opportunity of living our lives.
- We have the choice to act or not.
- We must seek meaning. Meaning does not come automatically.
- We are subject to meaninglessness, isolation, guilt, and loneliness.
What Are The Limitations Of Existential Therapy?
Existential therapy can be too dark for some since it teaches embracing painful conditions. This can be too harsh for people who cannot communicate well or have difficulty confronting painful issues.
Existential therapy has also been criticized for intellectualization. Some clients may not relate to the nature of deep self-reflection. There will be clients who prefer a more direct form of therapy.
Some also criticize existential therapy regarding religious faith. Questions in this therapy include why we exist – people may draw from their religious faith to answer these existential questions, but others may find these ostracizing their faith.
Is Existential Therapy Evidence-Based?
Existential therapy is not well researched since its nature is difficult to measure. However, there are extensive studies on the core practices that comprise existential therapy.
A study identifies the three pillars of existential therapy – relational focus, emphasis on working on emotions and experience, and meaning-centered approach. These core practices have strong empirical foundations and clinical competencies.
What Are Yalom’s Four Main Existential Concerns?
Irvin Yalom, another existential psychology pioneer, notes the existential concerns of death, isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom. These are summarized as follows:
- Death: we have an instinctive fear of death which can be aggravated by our inability to control it.
- Isolation: we have a deep need to belong. Isolation also emphasizes vulnerabilities.
- Meaninglessness: we may struggle to give meaning to daily actions. Meaning gives the motivation to act in certain ways that build our identity and choices.
- Freedom: we have the instinctive pull towards making our own choices. Fear may arise from a feeling of captivity and loss of control.
What Is Yalom’s Theory?
Yalom demonstrates the importance of existentialism in therapy through the four main existential concerns. Often, mental health problems arise due to struggles with existence. His work in group therapy led him to identify specific factors that produced certain dynamics to increase healing.
His publication, Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy outlines curative factors and how people can participate and benefit from group therapies. These factors also serve as a guide for group therapists to provide a cohesive culture, support, and integration.
What Are Existential Concerns?
Existential concerns are definite conditions that people must face. Yalom explains that people may have functional or dysfunctional reactions in facing these existential concerns.
These concerns may arise in major life transitions and change, often linked to loss of safety and security.
What Are The Three Theories Of Counselling?
The three major categories of counseling are psychodynamic, humanistic, and behavioral. These can be summarized as follows:
- Psychodynamic: this counseling evolved from the work of Sigmund Freud. Its main goal is to balance the three personality elements – the Id, the Ego, and the Superego.
- Humanistic: this counseling emphasizes personal uniqueness. It aims to help the client explore their thoughts and feelings to find solutions to their problems.
- Behavioural: this counseling is based on the assumption that the environment determines a person’s behavior. It aims to modify existing behavior or learn new ones.
What Are Curative Factors?
In his work, Yalom lists eleven curative factors that influence change and healing in group therapies:
The installation of hope creates optimism.
Universality to help members realize they are not alone in their problems.
Imparting information to educate and empower members.
Altruism helps to give members a sense of value and significance as they help others.
Corrective recapitulation resolves family or childhood events within a safe space.
Socializing techniques that support social development, tolerance, and empathy.
Imitative behavior helps people adapt and learn from others’ coping strategies and perspectives.
Interpersonal learning provides an opportunity for members to learn and develop relationships and intimacy.
Group cohesiveness gives members a sense of acceptance, belonging, and value.
Catharsis releases suppressed emotions and promote healing.
Existential factors teach members how to exist as part of something larger than themselves.
What Are Curative Counselling?
Curative counseling is short-term, focusing on addressing specific problems, such as addiction or stress management. A smaller range of issues emphasizes problem-solving and learning specific techniques for coping or avoiding issues.
In this context, the counselor offers support and guidance for the client as they figure out ways to manage and adjust to change and difficulties.
This is different from psychotherapy, where the goal is to uncover chronic physical and emotional problems in a longer time frame.
What Is Altruism In Group Therapy?
It was observed that people with psychiatric problems often believe that they have little to offer others due to needing help themselves, leading to inadequacy. Group therapies offer a unique opportunity in this regard – providing a platform for altruism.
Yalom identified altruism as a powerful curative factor in group therapies. He notes that altruism benefits both giver and receiver and can improve self-esteem, wellbeing, life satisfaction, health, and emotional healing from trauma.
In group therapies, altruism may take the form of idea exchanges, emotional support, interpersonal feedback, and confrontation of resistance.
Existentialism emphasizes our capacity for growth while recognizing our anxieties in life. For the longest time, humans have been continuously consuming. In our human world of consumption, we sometimes forget that we need this world to survive.
Aside from raw materials, nature has so much to offer us. Remembering our part in the Earth can help us live better lives with meaning and purpose.
Nature is a known healer. Being in green places for our surroundings does us so much good. Both physically and mentally. We can make small changes to make our lives a bit “greener.”
We don’t have to give up on meat or replace everything we own with eco-friendly products. Lessening the waste, we produce in grocery shopping by bringing our own bags or conserving water goes a long way.
Volunteering for environmental causes such as joining clean-up drives or workshops can open opportunities to find your calling. Aside from work itself, it can allow you to reconnect with people around you.
We can also find meaning in sustainable living. As mentioned, over-consumption has made way to pollution and other environmental problems we face today. Acknowledging that our actions affect our future environment is a big step.
Lastly, educating ourselves and spreading awareness may be a direction we want to take. In influencing others to do change as well, optimism for the future of our planet is possible. Self-awareness of the waste we produce gives perspective to our real impact in the world.
It’s been said a million times over, but the world isn’t only for humans. In pondering over questions about our human lives’ meaning, being directed towards the bigger picture might help.
You don’t have to be alone in this journey of trying to interpret these existential problems you have. Therapy and immersing yourself in nature are some ways that can help you.