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Existential Psychotherapy's View of Change

Depending upon the particular model subscribed to by the psychotherapist, beneficial change is assumed to have occurred when clients are assessed as being more rational, more 'reality-focused'. more 'centred', more 'ego-reinforced',  and so forth. For the great majority of psychotherapists, the foundational aim of psychotherapy is to provide appropriate means whereby beneficial and lasting change in some aspect of the the client's behaviour or worldview can be achieved.  Such change is seen to be directive in that it is viewed as coming about largely as a result of the psychotherapist's skills-based interventions and specialist expertise.

In contrast, existential psychotherapy's stance toward change deviates significantly from this generally accepted  stance. Existential psychotherapy is far less concerned with change-focused outcomes in general and is wary of any attempts on the part of the therapist to direct change upon the client through the use of change-focused techniques and interventions. Indeed, it is explicit in arguing that its primary task is not one of seeking to impose a directive change in the worldview of the client. Rather, existential psychotherapy's principal  concerns lie with its attempts to descriptively clarify that worldview so that its explicit, implicit, and sedimented components can be re-examined and reconsidered inter-relationally.  But here, as well, it is not the existential psychotherapist's task to initiate a programme of directive change, even if these are exposed as being problematic, undesirable or debilitating for the client. 

This is not to suggest that existential psychotherapists remain naive as to the change-provoking effects  that their mere presence, much less any verbal statements they might make, might well have upon the client.  Nor should it be read that existential psychotherapists are antagonistic to change in general and beneficial change in particular as experienced by the client or as might be subsequently analysed.  Rather, their attempt is to refocus their understanding and practice of psychotherapy away from the emphasis upon 'who the client might become' and instead concentrate upon the investigation upon  the client who is present rather than to an imagined client who might be as a result of directive change. 

This cautious stance toward directed change arises from the existential understanding that because the worldview is made up of a matrix of interweaving and inter-related components, change in any one aspect or expression of the worldview will alter the whole of it. As such, any tampering with the presenting conflict without sufficiently understanding its relation to the worldview, might well provoke unexpected and unwanted shifts in anxiety such that the "resolution" of the presenting conflict is far more anxiety provoking in its intolerability than was the maintenance of presenting problem.

In terms of our current understanding,  it remains uncertain as to how subtle or radical,  beneficial or detrimental, the impact of any given directed manipulation may be upon a particular client's worldview. Paradoxically, existential psychotherapy argues that it may be that via the very process of assisting clients to “stay still” so that they can clarify and challenge the presenting problems' relatedness to their currently maintained worldview that the potential benefits of "therapeutic change" are more likely to occur.


Contact information - email esa@plexworld.com / telephone 0207 771 0123 / Fax 0207 771 0123