What is Existential Therapy
Irwin Yalom defines existential therapy as “a dynamic approach to therapy that focuses on issues arising from one’s existence”.
There are two different views in existentialism as to whether people are fundamentally good or bad.
Carl Rogers argues that human nature is inherently good, and when certain conditions are met, they always choose to realize themselves. Evil and destructive behavior are not consistent with the human purpose of self-actualization. The main factor supporting evil is cultural influences. Although the essence of man is essentially constructive, he loses this feature due to his experiences.
Rollo May says that evil is a part of the human being and that good and evil create a balance. He argues that since culture consists of people, we should not attribute the evil in the world to culture. People should know that they have the capacity to choose between their good and bad actions. According to May, the contrast between negative and positivity adds depth to human life. Anyone can turn the lever for good or bad.
Viktor Frankl, another founder of existential therapy, argues that life is meaningful in all circumstances, even when it is most unbearable. We say “yes” to life thanks to our potential to extract the best from any situation, despite the inherent fears of pain, guilt, and death. So every person can creatively transform the negativity in their life into something positive or constructive.
The basic philosophy of existential psychotherapy is that people are free, they have the capacity to realize themselves, they are problematic with their own lives, and their lives stem from their own choices. The ultimate goal that man will reach at the end is love, and man’s salvation passes through loving and being loved.
In existentialism, everyone is considered to have anxiety. At the core of anxiety is the need to survive, survive and add meaning to our existence. Existential anxiety stems from the awareness that the person is mortal despite all these goals. This situation will be a critical point for us to be at peace with our life in a healthy psychological structure. When the person exaggerates their situation, neurotic anxiety occurs. This situation is destructive and paralyzing, tends to be suppressed by the person and will disturb the spiritual balance.
Death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness are four basic existential themes. These themes are covered in detail in existential therapy.
The ultimate theme is death. The consciousness that death is always on our top is the greatest fear of man, and our psychological structure is based on avoiding real confrontation with our destiny. If this anxiety takes over consciousness, psychological functions will fall apart. Being aware of death must be evaluated to give meaning to our lives.
The second theme is freedom, making one’s life entirely their own responsibility. We are fully responsible for our life, choices and actions. While freedom gives a choice, the possibility of terrifying consequences breeds a sense of “existential guilt.” Every choice we make affects the other choice, the person sometimes gets stuck in the point of making choices or bearing the consequences of their choices, and the spiritual balance is disrupted.
Another theme, meaninglessness, is a sensitive situation in the deterioration of the psychological structure. Those who cannot find the meaning of their life will suffer during the search process, and perhaps they will find the meaning of life through an inevitable pain.
Being mortal, accepting freedom and responsibility reveals the concept of isolation. Individuals are ultimately alone and must accept the fact that they are isolated. People struggle with loneliness. Here, the psychopathology point is to unite with someone as a single entity and to lose one’s own self or stop connecting with people while ensuring their safety.
In order not to recognize death from existential concerns, we use two basic defenses. Feeling special and believing that you are the ultimate savior are these two defenses. If we are private, death will not approach us, it will go to others. The ultimate savior will save us from nonexistence.
In existential psychotherapy, mental health is explained as authenticity. The willingness to face the anxiety of non-existence with courage and determination is authenticity.
While feeling special is linked to paranoia and narcissism, the ultimate savior belief drives the person into dysfunction. It is about losing oneself or living a limited life while waiting for an ultimate savior. These people are very susceptible to vulnerability in the event of an illness or a specific threat.
Today’s lifestyle focused on individual success easily finds its place in existential therapy. The self-mindedness in popular culture dulls the search for purpose and meaning, dropping individuals into emptiness and encouraging narcissism. Since the need to define ourselves according to the eyes of others, the need to have more things, the efforts to create a more special atmosphere compared to others, the desire not to fall back from today’s trends like fashion destroys the centering of healthy people’s own existence, many people experience great dissatisfaction and cannot be happy. .
When a person feels meaningless, three types of actions are defined as vegetative, nihilism and adventurism. In the vegetative state, life has no meaning left and is the most serious. In my nihilism, where feelings of anger and disgust prevail, the individual argues paradoxically that life has no meaning. Adventurism is the least harmful situation, and it is tried to add meaning to life through actions such as gambling, drug addiction, dealing with dangerous sports, driving fast cars. This is also the case for many people who show entrepreneurial spirit by taking financial risks and sign professional gains.
In existential therapy, one deals with the “present” rather than the past. The client and therapist focus on instant subjective experiences.
The goal of existential therapy is to clarify, reflect on, and understand life. The problems experienced will be faced and borders will be discovered.
A client is never treated as a sick or incompetent person. It is assumed that they are tired of life or have no knowledge of life. In the therapy process, everything is temporary and the subjectiveity of the present life is emphasized, and the past and the future are viewed from the present “moment”. Dream analysis also finds a place in existential therapy.
A wide range of clients can benefit from existential therapy, which is a flexible approach. The freedom and individual responsibility issues it brings can disturb societies under pressure.