Existential Therapy is a type of talking therapy that can be used in the treatment of some mental health conditions. It offers a rather unique approach to mental health.
Existential Therapy puts its focus on the individual as a whole, rather than on their symptoms. When a person questions their identity, Existential Therapy can help them.
How Does Existential Therapy Work?
Existential Therapy is born out of the philosophy of Existentialism. This is a field of study that several philosophers worked on. Existentialism revolves around emphasizing the existence of each person as an individual with their own responsibility for their actions.
Existential Therapy offers a logical approach towards mental health. It follows the idea that human capacities, goals and aims are positive, whilst acknowledging that as humans, we have limitations.
It looks into the suggestion that as humans, we inevitably have internal conflict due to our interactions with some life-changing events or intense feelings. For example, these include death, isolation, feelings of meaninglessness and freedom.
Existential Therapy suggests that when a person has an interaction with any of the above, it results in “existential anxiety”. Subsequently, this can impact us in terms of psychological and spiritual problems.
Existential Therapy teaches striking a balance between awareness and being overwhelmed. So instead of the internal conflict resulting in a person becoming overwhelmed, they can have a more calm response.
Existential Therapy teaches the patient to accept their fears and overcome them using a few different techniques. The focus is on the present day.
When is Existential Therapy Useful?
Existential Therapy is best-suited to Anxiety-based conditions. This is due to its intention of helping a person to focus on themselves as a whole, and overcome their fears.
Those who suffer from conditions which involve self-esteem or identity issues could also benefit from Existential Therapy. For example, Depression and Personality Disorders could both benefit.
Moreover, overcoming substance-based addictions is possible with Existential Therapy. Therefore, Substance Use Disorders could potentially be treated with Existential Therapy.
Advantages of Existential Therapy
There are a few advantages to Existential Therapy:
- Existential Therapy can be very effective for anxiety. It can help a person overcome their fears and process their anxieties in more positive ways.
- Existential Therapy can help a person to become more responsible for their own behaviour. When a person has autonomy and care for themselves more and ignore outside events more – they typically respond better to issues and have the self-esteem to cope with problems.
- One of the things that many people like about Existential Therapy is that it is typically capable of generating rather quick results. While the patient won’t get better overnight, after a few sessions, they might see an improvement in their symptoms and approach to life.
Disadvantages of Existential Therapy
There are a few disadvantages to Existential Therapy:
- Existential Therapy has a strong focus on the present day. While this is useful for some, if someone has past events that they believe are holding them back, then Existential Therapy may not be best-suited to them.
- It has been argued that Existential Therapy is very difficult to understand. This has the implication that a lay person with little interest in Existentialism will struggle to get on board with what this therapy. After all, they are there for therapy sessions, not to learn a new philosophical school of thought.
- Existential Therapy has also been criticised for taking a very negative view of life. While some may counter this by saying it offers realism rather than pessimism, it does have the potential to worsen existing problems if a patient struggles to find it effective.
How effective is Existential Therapy?
Studies and research into Existential Therapy is rather limited. Out of the research that does exist, conclusions are rather mixed.
In a finding that will probably increase in relevance in the upcoming years, one analysis found that Existential Therapy could help in preventing “social media-driven” anxiety . Existential Therapy is best associated with treating anxiety.
However, in another report, the overall research picture of Existential Therapy was researched. This research found that existing results were very mixed, with some signs of Existential Therapy not being clinically effective .
It is important to remember that there isn’t a single type of therapy that will result in improvements for every patient. Everyone reacts in different ways to different approaches. There are a range of other types of therapy if needed.
How to find a therapist?
It is recommended that you contact your GP and inform them of your problems. They will refer you to the relevant mental health team.
If you are aiming to use the private sector, you could ask your GP or someone you know for a recommendation. You can also look online – the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have a therapist directory on their site.
- List of Therapy Types
- Therapy Home
- Everything You Need To Know About Talking Therapy
- Talking Therapy or Medication: Which is Better for Mental Health Problems?
- FAQ’s About Talking Therapy
- What To Do When Therapy Isn’t Working: Alternatives to Talking Therapy
If talking therapy alone hasn’t worked, then your Doctor may suggest adding a medication.
There are many other types of therapy, you can see an exhaustive list of them here.
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 Tarsha, A. A. (2016). The role of existential therapy in the prevention of social media-driven anxiety. Society for Existential Analysis. 27 (2): p382.
 Corbett, L., & Milton, M. (2011). Existential Therapy: A Useful Approach to Trauma?. Counselling Psychology Review. 26 (1): p62-74.