Existential Counseling is aimed at answering questions such as, what is my purpose in life and what is the meaning of existence and humankind’s place within it? Existential issues often arise when we have a crisis in faith and when our fundamental beliefs about the world shatter, typically as a response to a significant difficult life experiences. Examples might be returning from active duty, trauma or the death of a loved one.
Existential counseling soberly confronts existential issues and facts of life such as death, finitude, fate, freedom, responsibility, loneliness, loss, suffering, meaninglessness, and evil. Existential counseling is concerned with more deeply comprehending and alleviating, as much as possible (without naïvely denying reality and the human condition) pervasive symptoms such as excessive anxiety, apathy, alienation, nihilism (existence is meaningless), avoidance, shame, addiction, despair, depression, guilt, anger, rage, resentment, embitterment, purposelessness, madness (psychosis) and violence as well as promoting the meaningful, life-enhancing experiences of relationship, love, caring, commitment, courage, creativity, power, will, presence, spirituality, individuation, self-actualization, authenticity, acceptance, transcendence and awe.
The focus of existential counseling is on the present, here-and-now, current circumstance, rather than exclusively on early formative influences. While the power of the past and of unconsciousness– those aspects of ourselves of which we are unable or unwilling to become aware– to influence the present detrimentally is recognized and addressed as it arises in treatment, the person’s subjective experience of self (“I am”) and of the therapeutic encounter is of primary importance. Choice, personal and social responsibility, integrity of the personality, courage, and authentically facing rather than escaping existential anxiety, anger and guilt are central features of existential counseling. In existential counseling, the human relationship between client and counselor takes precedence over technical tricks, as the relationship is the fundamental healing factor in counseling. Coming to terms with reality, and one’s own inner demons, without denying, avoiding, distorting or sugar-coating it is key to existential counseling. This compassionate, shared, professional yet profoundly personal human relationship provides both the structured, supportive container and potent existential catalyst for transformation.