The Meaning of Life Approach
Crisis situations, whether situational or developmental, bring about difficult questions. Is there meaning to life? What is the point of suffering? Does God exist? How do I choose my values?
And this is a good thing! Human existence and its puzzles haunt every person at some point in life. Left unanswered, these questions make life pointless and draining. The sooner we learn how to process these difficult questions, the sooner we get to live with purpose and serenity. This is where Existential Therapy can help.
Existential Therapy is an approach uninterested in making a diagnosis or prescribing a cure. Instead, it guides clients in navigating what we call existential concerns: the meaning of life and death; values, purpose, and mission; good and evil; freedom and responsibility; and one’s place in the grand scheme of things. And while at first these all sound like esoteric concerns, they’re actually very practical. We’ve all seen great achievements from people who respond to a higher calling. You probably even know of someone whose happiness is rooted in spirituality.
Key principles of Existential Therapy are borrowed from philosophers, but also from mental health professionals. You have concepts from its pillars like Viktor Frankl (“you can take every freedom from man, except the freedom to choose his own way”), Rollo May (“the good life comes from what we care about”), and Irvin Yalom (“choose how much truth you can stand”). If you want a therapist who subscribe to your faith or belief system, you can look for non-secular practitioners.
How does it work?
Therapists who practice existential therapy don’t focus on the client’s past, instead they work with the client to determine and explore the choices and options available to the client. Through retrospection, the client and therapist work to understand the meaning of past choices, and the beliefs that led to those choices, purely as a means to move towards the goal of creating better awareness of an insight into oneself.
Existential therapists help by providing clients an atmosphere where they can make honest evaluations of themselves and their life choices. Your therapist will guide you in exploring answers to existential issues relevant to your life stage or situation. From your answers, you can be guided in framing a choices and actions congruent with your authentic self.
Existential Therapists won’t impose their belief systems on you or lecture you about philosophers and great thinkers. There are, however, schools of thoughts considered helpful for everyone; you’re free to try them on for size. But in general, this therapy is phenomenological; that is, based on your unique experience and worldview.
What issues does it treat?
Existential therapy is suitable for anyone interested in life’s questions, as every one of us navigate existential questions on a regular basis. The sooner you explore the meaning of your life, the sooner you can anchor your life to a sense of purpose.
It is especially recommended for those who need to make important life choices, as discernment is best made in reference to one’s values, purpose, and meaning. Persons in crisis, such as those faced with serious illnesses, jarring life setbacks, or the consequences of bad choices can also benefit from Existential therapy.
Research has also found Existential therapy helpful for clinical depression, as life stressors that contribute to low mood can be reframed in light of one’s take on human questions.
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