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  • Writer's pictureJodie James

Exploring Existentialism in Therapy: Finding Meaning and Purpose in Life

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Existentialism in therapy is a powerful, philosophical approach that can transform our understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit. Through this prism, we explore life's most profound questions and paradoxes. This process unravels, enabling us to find meaning and purpose even amidst life's most challenging circumstances.

A Deep Dive into Existential Philosophy

Existential philosophy, or existentialism, is a school of thought that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anchored in the works of distinguished philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. It later found resonance in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Martin Heidegger, among others. This profound philosophy demands our attention as it emphasises the individual, the experience of existence, and the freedom of choice.

Existence Precedes Essence: The Core of Existential Thought

At the heart of existentialism lies the bold assertion: existence precedes essence. This adage means that we first exist, we first become, and then we spend a lifetime defining who we are. Unlike objects whose properties are fixed, we as human beings have the potential and responsibility to determine who we become through our actions, decisions, and experiences.

This principle champions the idea of freedom; it conveys that we are not bound by predetermined pathways or universal laws dictating our lives. Instead, we are the architects of our own existence, with the liberty and responsibility to shape it.

Embracing Authenticity

In existential philosophy, authenticity is of paramount importance. To live authentically is to act in alignment with one's true self, to acknowledge and accept our freedoms, limitations, desires, and fears. Authentic living involves embracing our individuality, refusing to conform blindly to societal norms or expectations that do not resonate with our personal truths.

Navigating Absurdity and Meaninglessness

Existential philosophy confronts the concept of the absurd — the notion that life is devoid of inherent meaning. It recognises the struggle that emerges from our innate desire for purpose and the seemingly indifferent, chaotic universe in which we exist. However, far from endorsing despair, existentialism uses this confrontation as a starting point to forge personal meaning. It advocates that in the face of the absurd, we can and must create our own significance and value.

Encountering Existential Anxiety

Existential anxiety arises from the awareness of our ultimate freedom, our confrontation with mortality, our perceived aloneness, and the challenge of creating meaning. Rather than something to be eliminated or avoided, existential philosophy views this anxiety as a fundamental aspect of human existence. This unsettling realisation can serve as a catalyst for personal growth, pushing us towards authenticity and the creation of a meaningful life.

Existential philosophy, in its essence, isn't a doctrine but a perspective on life and human existence. It throws light on the fundamental aspects of our being, enabling us to understand our place in the universe and guiding us towards living authentically and meaningfully.

The Intersection of Existentialism and Therapy

Existential therapy combines the principles of existential philosophy with therapeutic practice. It acknowledges the universality of certain existential anxieties, such as death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness, while recognising each individual's unique experience with these concerns.

The Four Givens of Existentialism

Existential therapy operates within the framework of four existential givens, each representing a different dimension of human existence.

1. Death: The certainty of mortality is a fundamental existential anxiety. Existential therapy encourages confronting and making sense of this inevitability.

2. Freedom: Existentialism espouses the belief that we are inherently free to make choices. Existential therapy helps us confront this freedom and the accompanying responsibility.

3. Isolation: As individuals, we are ultimately alone in our experiences. Existential therapy can help us confront this aloneness and build meaningful connections.

4. Meaninglessness: The struggle to find meaning in life is a central existential concern. Existential therapy supports us in our quest for purpose and meaning.

Applying Existential Principles in Therapy

Existential therapy isn't a prescribed set of techniques; instead, it offers a philosophical backdrop against which therapeutic conversations can unfold. It involves a genuine, empathetic connection between the therapist and client, where existential issues are explored and understood.

The Therapeutic Relationship

The therapeutic relationship in existential therapy is authentic and equal. Both client and therapist are viewed as fellow travellers on the journey of life, each with their unique experiences and perspectives.

Navigating Existential Concerns

Exploring existential concerns isn't about providing definitive answers. Instead, existential therapy invites us to live these questions, to wrestle with them, and to use them as catalysts for growth, change, and understanding.

Benefits of Existential Therapy

Existential therapy can have a profound impact on our wellbeing. As we uncover, confront, and make sense of existential concerns, we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. This process can ultimately foster resilience, personal growth, and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.

When choosing a therapeutic approach, one must consider the gravity of existential concerns and the desire to explore them in a safe, compassionate environment. Jodie James Counselling Services is committed to providing high-quality existential therapy services. With a deep understanding of existential philosophy and a commitment to empathetic and authentic therapeutic relationships, Jodie James Counselling Services can support you on your journey towards finding meaning and purpose in life.


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