Aims of Existential Psychotherapy
Existential psychotherapy is perhaps best described as a predominantly descriptively-focused investigative enterprise rather than a primarily curative one. Further, this enterprise centres upon the elucidation of the client's experience of 'what and how it is for me to exist' via the inter-relational enterprise of the therapeutic encounter itself. And further still, it addresses this investigation of the unique and specific way of being of the client within the wider context or universal givens of the 'way of being' of all human beings. This last aspect of the investigation highlights the presence and role of the therapist as an implicated constituent of the investigation rather than assume the therapist's presence and role to be in some way or other detached or distanced from both the act and the consequent meanings derived from the investigation.
Existential psychotherapy challenges a persistent assumption held not only by most of psychotherapy but, just as significantly, by our culture in general. This is the view that the person is a self-contained unit, understandable within his or her own set of subjectively-derived meanings and behaviours. Instead, following the principle of relatedness, existential psychotherapy argues that the problems and concerns presented by clients can no longer be seen as being solely their own, in any exclusively individualistic sense.
While the primary focus of existential therapy obviously concerns itself with the presenting issues, travails and disturbances experienced by the client, nonetheless its way of exploring these emphasises their relational grounding. The client's concerns arise as tensions within and expressions of the various relations in the client's worldview.
The worldview expresses the way that each of us constructs all facets of our reflectively lived and embodied way of being. Equally, the worldview seeks to provide and maintain for each of us a groundedness in a time, location and narrative so as to make the continued experience of being at least a more tolerable option than that of non-being. The worldview contains and expresses the sum total of all the beliefs,values, views, attitudes, meanings, assumptions and conclusions together withtheir associated behaviours, feelings and emotions maintained by a person regarding
a) him or her self (the self-construct);
b) others - be it any particular or specific "other" or "others" in general (the other-construct);
c) "the world", be it in terms of its living and non-living components and/or its physical, environmental, biological, social, cultural, ethical, moral and spiritual dimensions (the world-construct);
The investigation of the client's worldview exposes those parts of it that are flexible and open to alteration as well as those parts of the worldview that remain fixed or sedimented. Existential therapy aims to highlight the flexibilities and sedimentations in the client's worldview so that their impact upon and relation to the conflicts being presented by the client as requiring change can be clarified.