The Existential Therapy: Meaning and Application

Existential therapy involves the analysis of a client’s existence in conjunction with the universe. The client assumes ultimate responsibility for his or her behaviors of free will (Steger, 2005). The therapy is based on the analysis of existential processes that enable clients from diverse backgrounds to interpret their social and individual associations. The theory relates the therapy process to clients being aware of what it means to be human. It encourages for respect of people, examines new aspects of human behavior (Steger, 2005). It addresses the client’s effort to reconcile important drives of human nature with encountered environmental limitations.

The theory concentrates more on the client’s struggles of existence, such as, death, isolation, freedom, and meaning (Goodwin, 2005). This understanding of existence makes this therapy to be applicable in a multicultural setting. This is because it examines behavior as influenced by society. Anxiety in clients emanates from their exposure to conflict in basic human conditions, for instance, client’s awareness of inevitable death. People can only experience life after understanding their basic struggles (Steger, 2006).

Process, Techniques, and Application of Existential Therapy

Existential theorists focus on relationships as the basic catalyst of change. This implies that the process of existential therapy and its basic techniques are concerned with the formation and development of relationships between the therapist and the client. Dialogue between the therapist and the client is the basic technique of existential therapy. In the dialogue process, clients get the chance to explore matters of life that affect them. The techniques in the dialogue process between the therapist and client include use of; silence, construction questions, and interpretation techniques (Steger, 2005).

In existential therapy, the mutual understanding about the process of counseling facilitates dialogue concerning therapist and client expectations within the counseling session (Goodwin, 2005). Periods of silence are normally allowed by existential therapists once the ground rules for counseling have been laid down. This period of silence is for the purpose of inviting the client to open up and work. Silence technique generally offers the client opportunity to explore (Steger, 2005).

Secondly, existential therapists use constructive questions to bring to light the underlying concerns of the client’s tale. This technique is not used by therapists as a basis of information gathering. These questions entail the therapist’s observation of the client’s patterns with a question mark at the end to show the tentative nature of the observations. This technique requires the therapist to listen between the lines of the client conversation and construct questions to make the content more explicit (Steger, 2005).

Thirdly, existential therapists also make use of interpretation method in counseling. Interpretation enables the counselor to connect the different bits of client dialogue in a manner that promotes progression. An existential therapist is obligated to interpret the elements of the conversation in ways that are meaningful to the client. They should not lace their interpretation with theoretical jargons that can be seen as an imposition of his framework onto the client. Therapists must respect the client’s perspective and language to facilitate constructive interpretations (Goodwin, 2005).

Silence, constructive questions, and interpretation techniques indicate in brief the existential methods for interacting with clients. Majority of clients who seek therapy are involved in critical situations such as: death; a critical decision; a problematic relationship; or feelings of meaninglessness of life. This provides the basis for the process of application of existential therapy (Steger, 2005). Existential therapists can explore the given of death because it influences both counseling relationships and client’s personal struggles. Through mutual dialogue between the counselor and the client, they will both understand how death associated anxiety affects the client (Goodwin, 2005).

Evaluation of Existential Approach

Limitations and contributions of Existential approach

Many existential concepts focus on the fears of existence, such as death freedom and isolation. This enables the client examine his or her behavior as influenced by society. The major limitation lies in expressing existing freedoms where contemporary society has deprived minorities many choices. Due to socio cultural and political situations, people in society may not feel the freedom of choice (Steger, 2005). The therapy exposes individuals to human situations that are inevitable. It ensures that their fears are dealt with resulting to individual awareness and gain of insight.

Existential approach does not suit every individual. It requires the client to be committed in the therapeutic process more than in required in other therapies. Individuals need to examine their fears, anxieties, and responsibilities. They can only hope to progress from this therapy if they are willing to accept the change in their world view (Goodwin, 2005).


The existential approach is best applicable in counseling adolescents in groups. Normally, adolescents face many existential challenges. According to Steger (2005), these challenges include; common violence among adolescents in school, thus requiring counselors to intervene and to design programs to remedy the problem. This violence often lead to tragedies to happen, these adolescents certainly realize the reality of death. Through existential therapy, adolescents get the choice to verbally express their shock, grief, anger and fear (Goodwin, 2005).

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