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Existential Psychotherapy BY: Aoun Ali WADHO
Introduction Existential therapy is grounded on the assumption that we are free and therefore responsible for our choices and actions. We are the authors of our lives, and we design the pathways we follow.Existential therapy can best be described as a philosophical approach that influences a counselors therapeutic practiceExistential therapy is more a way of thinking than any particular style of practicing psychotherapy (Russell, 2007). It is neither an independent nor separate school of therapy, nor is it a neatly defined model with specific techniques
Some Philosophers Sren KierkegaardHe advocated learning from anxiety (Angst) and despair and he valued subjective truth over given truth. He believed all have to learn to live aesthetically first, then ethically, but that in order to learn to think for ourselves we need to dare to doubt, until we are able to make a leap of faith to find our own personal sense of and relationship to God.Friedrich Nietzsche He is famous for stating that God is dead. He said that each person must relentlessly question in order to aspire to a sense of truth and reality which goes beyond established values. We have to re-evaluate right and wrong and aspire to become what he called the bermensch: the autonomous superhuman who creates his or her own values and morality, and lives a life of passion and personal affirmative power. Edmund Husserl He emphasized that human existence was fundamentally relational. He proposed a distinction between IThou and IIt modes of relating, with the latter being more like our everyday relating to objects which is characterized by distance, partiality and exploitation. The former was based on a full and open appraisal and contact with the totality of the other. He described the importance of the space in between two people as it is co-created by them and so changes the quality of their interaction.
Karl Jaspers He emphasized the permanent dilemma of the need for a worldview in order not to despair at its absence, and the redemptive power of communication. He argued that it is in the unavoidable limit situations like death, guilt, condemnation, doubt and failure that we are reminded of our existence.Paul TillichHe emphasized the basic mystery of existence, and the importance of openness to others, as well as the belief that to live properly requires one to have faith in the harmony for which human existence strives.Martin HeideggerHis work emphasized the human capacity for resolute awareness, through engagement with the anxiety that is prompted by our awareness of our inevitable death. He also placed emphasis on what he called the ground of being and argued that human beings had to be the guardians, or shepherds of being.
Jean-Paul Sartre He is the person who coined the term existentialism . He emphasized the nothingness at the core of existence that gives us freedom. He argued that most people try to escape this freedom and live in bad faith. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He highlighted the notion of inter-subjectivity, which is the idea that there is no real separation between the self and the other. Albert Camus He emphasized that what makes life worthwhile is the struggle against what he called the absurdity, the basic meaninglessness of human existence. He argued that it is this engaged struggle itself that creates meaning.
The four dimensions of existence
Existential ApproachDeveloped as a reaction against Psychoanalysis BehaviorismGoes against use of techniques;Instead focus is on understanding what it means to behuman
Key ConceptsHuman is a constant state of transition: Emerging, evolving and becomingWe pose questions: Who Am I What can I know Where Am I Going What ought I do What can I hope for
BASIC DIMENSIONS OF THE HUMAN
(6 Propositions) Capacity for self-awareness Tension between freedom & responsibility Creating ones identity & establishing meaningful relationships Search for meaning, purpose, values, & goals Accepting anxiety as a condition of living Awareness of death and nonbeing
Born April 21, 1909, in Ada, Ohio. (died in 1994)
Childhood was not particularly pleasantHis parents didnt get along and eventually divorcedHis sister had a psychotic breakdown
Went to Michigan State (asked to leave because of involvement with a radical student magazine). Received B.A. from Oberlin College in Ohio.
After graduation, went to GreeceTaught English at Anatolia College for three yearsWorked as an itinerant artistStudied briefly with Alfred Adler
Returned to U.S. and entered Seminary (received B.D. in 1938)Suffered from tuberculosis (spent three years in a sanatorium). Facing the possibility of death was probably the turning point of his life Studied psychoanalysis at White Institute. Met Harry Stack Sullivan, Erich Fromm.Went to Columbia University in New York, where in 1949 he received the first PhD in clinical psychology that institution ever awarded. Taught at a variety of top schools. In 1958, he edited the book Existence, which introduced existential psychology to the U.S.
Existential Principles (Rollo May)
Wish: To be in touch with what one really wantsIndecisiveness (lack of firmness of character or purpose)Impulsivity? (without forethought)Will: To organize oneself in order to achieve ones goals (roughly ego) or the ability to make wishes come true. Neo-puritan: All will, but no love. Amazing self-discipline, can make things happen... but no wishes to act upon. So they become anal and perfectionistic, but empty and dried-up. (archetype?)Infantile: All wishes but no will. Filled with dreams and desires, lack self-discipline to make anything of their dreams and desires, and so become dependent and conformist. They love, but their love means little. (archetype?) Creative: A balance of these two: Mans task is to unite love and will.
The impact of anxiety and fear
How are our lives safer because of fear?Fear and anxiety are signals of problemsThey help us recognize the problem They motivate us to cope with the problemNormal anxiety is good
How are our lives poorer because of fear?Avoid responsibility for our actsAvoid recognizing we have choicesAvoid anxiety and play it safeAvoid real intimacyStay busy so we dont become aware of our fundamental alonenessStay busy so we dont become aware of the finiteness of life
Anxiety and fear (continued)
Neurotic anxiety is not good.Choices are opportunities, not problems
Sometimes life happens Deaths, accidents and traumas can: Force us to become aware of a problemForce us to reconsider how we live lifeCause us to accept responsibility for the direction of our life
Existential anxietyMakes us aware of the big issues. Helps us steer an effective path through lifeHelps us become aware of separations from: Self Others World Cannot be lived with constantly but should be revisited time to time
The gift of death
Death: It kills us but without it we would not know we were aliveAs death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence. Wolfgang Amadeus MozartTHE PROBLEM:BUFFY (opening scene of Intervention, 5-18): I mean, I can beat up the demons, until the cows come home. And then, I can beat up the cows. But I'm not sure I like what it's doing to me. Maybe being the perfect Slayer means being too hard to love at all. I already feel like I can hardly say the words. THE INTERVENTIONFIRST SLAYER: Death is your gift. BUFFY: Death . . . FIRST SLAYER: Is your gift. BUFFY: Okay, no. Death is not a gift. My mother just died. I know this. If I have to kill demons because it makes the world a better place, then I kill demons, but it's not a gift to anybody (Intervention). FIRST SLAYER: Your question has been answered [disappears]
Mays stages of development(age-salient, not age-dependent)
Innocence -- the pre-egoic, pre-self-conscious stage of the infant. The innocent is pre-moral (i.e., is neither bad nor good). Like a wild animal that kills to eat, the innocent is only doing what he or she must. But innocents do have a degree of will in the form of a drive to fulfill their needs! Rebellion -- the childhood and adolescent stage of ego development or self-consciousness. It is characterized primarily through contrast with adults, from the no of the two year old to the no way of the teenager. The rebellious person wants freedom, but does not yet understand the responsibility that goes with it. The teenager may want to spend her allowance in any way she chooses -- yet still expect the parents to provide the money, and complain about unfairness if she doesn't get it! Ordinary -- the normal adult ego: conventional and a little boring. This person has learned responsibility, but finds it too demanding, and so seeks refuge in conformity and traditional values. Creative -- the authentic adult, the existential stage, beyond ego and self-actualizing. This is the person who, accepting destiny, faces anxiety with courage!
Advantages of Existential TherapyContemporary developments have made it more flexible and easier to useIt has been adapted to briefer systems of interventionIt provides a theoretical framework from which to be eclecticIt is conducive to collaboration with the client to find a unique way of working togetherIt is emotionally powerful and fulfilling for client
Disadvantages of Existential TherapyIt is dense, complex and difficult to master.There is very little guidance for the practitioner.You can be an existentialist but you cannot do it. It is not about technique but your own personal stance.