How an Existential Approach to the Question of What It Means to Be a Human Being Hinders or Promotes Concern for Humanity
For example, in a recent survey, over 1,300 existential therapists were asked to name the practitioner who had most influenced them.
The humanistic therapist focuses on helping people free themselves from disabling assumptions and attitudes so they can live fuller lives. The therapist emphasizes growth and self-actualization rather than curing diseases or alleviating disorders.
Because existential therapy recognizes that we always exist in an interrelational context with the world, it can be especially useful for working with clients from diverse demographic and cultural backgrounds. While existential therapy is particularly well-suited to people who are seeking to explore their own philosophical stance toward life, it may, in some cases, be a less appropriate choice for patients in need of rapid remediation of painful, life-threatening or debilitating psychiatric symptoms. However, precisely due to its fundamental focus on a person’s entire existence rather than solely on psychopathology and symptoms, existential therapy can nonetheless potentially be an effective approach in addressing even the most severe reactions to devastating psychological, spiritual or existential disruptions or upheavals in their lives, whether in combination with psychiatric medication when needed or on its own. A range of well-controlled studies indicates that certain forms of existential therapy, for certain client groups, can lead to increased well-being and sense of meaning (Vos, Craig & Cooper, 2014). This body of evidence is growing, with new studies showing that existential therapies can produce as much improvement as other therapeutic approaches (e.g., Rayner & Vitali, in press). This finding is consistent with decades of scientific research which shows that, overall, all forms of psychotherapy are effective, and that, on average, most therapies are more or less equally helpful (Seligman, 1995; Wampold & Imel, 2015), with specific client characteristics and preferences determining the best therapeutic approach for any given individual. There is also a good deal of evidence indicating that one of the core qualities associated with existential therapy – a warm, valuing and empathic client or patient-therapist relationship — is predictive of positive therapeutic outcomes (Norcross & Lambert, 2011). Additionally, existential therapy's central emphasis on finding or making meaning has been shown in general to be a significant factor in effective treatment (Wampold & Imel, 2015).
He closes by reasserting that “existentialism is optimistic” and his critics act in bad faith, “confusing their own despair with ours.” Sartre closes his responses to his objectors by emphasizing that, if there is no God, subjective value is the realest value there is: life is full of the meanings people create through their choices. In fact, this means that people’s active investment in their relationships, accomplishments, and goals is precisely what makes their lives meaningful.
Norcross, J. C., & Lambert, M. J. (2011). Evidence-based therapy relationships. In J. C. Norcross (Ed.), Psychotherapy relationships that work: Evidence-based responsiveness (2nd ed., pp. 3-21). New York: Oxford University.
Rayner, M., & Vitali, D. (in press). Short-term existential psychotherapy in primary care: A quantitative report. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. [Spanish translation published as Rayner, M. y Vitali, D. (2015). Psicoterapia existencial de corto plazo en atención primaria: Un reporte cuantitativo. Revista electrónica Latinoamericana de Psicologia Existencial "Un enfoque comprensivo del ser". N° 11. Octubre.]
Vos, J., Craig, M., & Cooper, M. (2014). Existential therapies: A meta-analysis of their effects on psychological outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83(1), 115-128. doi: 10.1037/a0037167
Wampold, B. E., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). The Great Psychotherapy Debate: The Evidence for What Makes Psychotherapy Work (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.