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Existential  Psychotherapy: Key ideas

The first general principle that defines and identifies existential phenomenology is that of relatedness or inter-relation.  This principle alerts us that all human reflections and investigations of and upon any aspect of existence, as well as all conclusions derived from such, originate from a foundational  inter-relational grounding. In taking this view, existential theory rejects Western culture's tendency to impose a duality or a "split" between "subject" and "object"  or "self" and "other".  From an existential perspective, individual person is inevitably "grounded in" and an expression of  relatedness.  Indeed, each person's uniqueness emerges from this shared relatedness.

The second principle argues that this grounding of relatedness places all human reflections upon our existence within an invitable context of uncertainty. Why should this be so?  Because, a consequence of  relatedness is that all reflections upon existence, be it in general or  having to do with "my own" existence,  can no longer totally be held solely by me or exist in some way “within” me. Rather,  I can never fully know with complete and final certainty what and how the world will be, or others will be, or even "I" will be, in any given set of circumstances. At any moment, all prior knowledge, values, assumptions and beliefs regarding self, others and the world in general may be "opened" to challenge, reconsideration, or dissolution.   Relatively common statements such as "I never thought I would act like that", or "She seemed to turn into someone I didn't know", or "Recent world events convince me that I just can't make sense of things any longer" point us to positions that at least temporarily acknowledge the uncertainties of being.

The third principle follows on from the implications of the first two. It proposes that our experience of relational uncertainty is inevitably one of anxiety.  The dilemma of existential anxiety is not so much that it is, but rather how each of us "lives with" it.  Existential anxiety can be seen to be the source point or instigator of  all attempts to embrace, to deny, or claims to have resolved, the uncertainties of an existence grounded in relatedness. Viewed in this way, existential anxiety is present in any particular response to the conditions of existence.  As such,  anxiety as understood by existential theory is not solely or necessarilya debilitating, disruptive or  problematic presence that must be reduced or removed.  While anxiety may, and often does, provoke feelings of despair, confusion and bewilderment,  it is equally the case that the experience of anxiety can also be stimulating, can re-awaken or enhance our connectedness to being alive, and serves as that arousing source to creativity.  Nonetheless, whatever stance we take towards it, anxiety remains at the heart of the human  experience of existence. Even when I embrace anxiety, anxiety remains. Equally, my attempts to deny it provoke further expressions of anxiety.  There is "no way out" of anxiety.


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