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Existential-Humanist Therapy

Written by Paul Cherry, MS, LPC, LCDC, NCC

Existential-Humanistic Therapy is a therapeutic modality which blends existential, person-centered, and gestalt theories.

Person-Centered therapy requires six conditions for therapy to be successful. First, the client and therapist must be in “psychological contact” which means they must establish a therapeutic relationship, rapport, and alliance. Second, the client must be incongruent, which means the client’s internal self does not match their external self, causing anxiety and fear. Third, the therapist must be congruent, meaning the therapist must always be aware of their own internal experiences and must continually work to becoming their true self. Fourth, the therapist has unconditional positive regard for the client, meaning the counselor appreciates and likes the client for who they are without the client having to behave in any specific way to please the counselor. Unconditional positive regard goes above and beyond a simple non-judgmental attitude toward the client, the therapist genuinely likes the client for who they are. Fifth, the therapist feels and seeks empathy with the client, meaning the therapist strives to understand the condition and experience from the client’s point of view. Sixth, the therapist must be skilled at communicating empathy to the client, so the client feels seen, heard, and understood.

Existential therapy deals with what are called the “givens” or truths of life. In existential therapy, anxiety comes from avoidance of four uncomfortable truths, or givens. The first truth is death. Everyone dies and everything changes. We will lose what we have and those we love. The second truth is freedom. We are ultimately free to do anything, only limited by biology and physics. And if we are free, then everyone else is free. We are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of those choices. The third truth is isolation. Even when we are together and connected to others, we ultimately experience life alone. No one experiences the same events and internal life as we do. The fourth truth is meaninglessness. Life does not have an inherent meaning, so we need to create our own meaning and purpose. We assign meaning to things which do not inherently have meaning.

Gestalt therapy refers to the whole body, present moment experiences of life. When using Gestalt therapy, the therapist may ask the client to evaluate or scan their body for areas of tension or discomfort currently present when describing present concerns, such as stressors or events which occurred throughout the week. The therapist creates an environment for the client to freely tell their story. The therapist helps the client identify areas of tension which may signal an unresolved issue, resentment, or unmet need. The therapist and client can explore this tension with curiosity rather than judgement to attempt to come to a resolution and move forward with life.

When working with clients, existential-humanist counselors blend these three philosophical ideas into the session. We help clients resolve anxieties related to the incongruence of self, avoidance of the givens of life, and living too deeply in the past or future while avoiding their present moment experiences. We believe that focusing our energy and attention to present moment, whole body experiences will help us resolve anxiety and suffering by helping our clients courageously face the discomfort of the givens of life and becoming more congruent with themselves.

If you want to explore your present moment suffering and anxieties further, please reach out to schedule an appointment!

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