What is Existential Psychology?
The field of existential psychology addresses the individual’s sensory experiences and subjective interpretation of the human experience. While most areas of psychology deal with dysfunction, existential psychology focuses on the inner conflicts that result from a person’s awareness of his or her existence in the world. The principles of existential psychology suggest that people can remain unhappy and discontent even in the absence of addiction, mental illness, relationship or other problems.
Existential psychologists help people deal with philosophical questions concerning what it means to be human, and they help clients uncover the purpose and meaning in their lives. Existential psychology helps people cope with issues such as freedom and responsibility, feelings of isolation, confrontation with questions about the meaning of life, and the acceptance of death as inevitable. Therapy centers around tensions that come up around the individual’s existence in the social, physical, personal and physical realms.
What Does an Existential Psychologist Do?
Psychologists conduct scientific studies of human behavior and brain function, gather information through interviews and observations, and identify emotional and behavioral patterns to predict future behavior. Existential psychologists help their patients follow a path in life that will lead to fulfillment in the face of family expectations and attitudes, cultural ideologies and conventions of society. According to existential psychology, adherence to the standards upheld by others can result in an individual’s feeling of discontent, a loss of control and the erosion of a sense of self.
Existential psychologists help people deal with the struggles of existence and confront painful realizations – that people are inherently isolated in their life experience, that there is no intrinsic meaning to life, and that people eventually die and cease to exist. The role of the existential psychologist is to assist people in coming to the realization that they are ultimately responsible for how they live their lives and encourage them to examine ways to live a life filled with experiences and accomplishments that will bring contentment and fulfillment.
The goal of the existential psychotherapist is to encourage people to use their personal freedom, sometimes referred to as “free will,” to express original ideas and achieve a life well lived. Taking advantage of personal freedom comes with the responsibility to be held accountable for life decisions. In their discussions with patients, existential psychologists point out patterns of behavior. They use cognitive-behavioral therapy, and they attempt to change the patient’s thought patterns that influence behavior. They use interventions as in the case of substance abuse, and they apply their knowledge of family systems to help patients.
What is the Difference Between Existential and Humanistic Psychology?
While both existential and humanistic psychology both subscribe to the belief that people can make their own choices in life, there are some basic differences in these two approaches. An existential psychologist helps clients act authentically and take responsibility for their actions in the face of problems facing all humans – feelings of loneliness, isolation and despair, and the inevitability of death. The existential view is that the angst or anxiety that people feel when contemplating these issues that propels them into becoming more fulfilled.
Humanistic psychology views human nature as fundamentally good, and people have a natural tendency to grow in a healthy way. The approach of humanistic psychology is to encourage people to become their best true self by making positive life choices and developing meaningful relationships.
Humanistic psychology is supportive of the patient, while existential psychology encourages patients to grow and be true to themselves as they confront difficult philosophical questions concerning human existence.
What Occupations are Similar to Existential Psychology?
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists
Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists listen to their clients ask them questions to enable them to examine their problems. They help people overcome or manage mental and emotional problems, and family and relationship problems by supporting them in strategizing ways to live a more fulfilled life. A master’s degree is required.
School and Career Counselors
School counselors assist students on academic achievement and developing the social skills they need to succeed in school and in the workplace. Career counselors help people choose a career path based on their skills, interests and abilities. A master’s degree is required.
Social workers help people find strategies to solve or manage problems they face in their daily lives. Clinical social workers diagnose behavioral, mental and emotional disorders and help people overcome these problems. Educational and licensing requirements vary.
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people with behavioral problems such as substance abuse and eating disorders. They assist people as they recover from addiction and encourage them to modify their behavior. A high school diploma is required for entry level jobs.