Existential Psychotherapy

Existential Psychotherapy: Death, Freedom, Isolation, Meaninglessness


According to Existential Psychotherapy, some psychological disorders are the result of individual's inability to reconcile themselves with certain characteristics of the human condition.

Best treatment for this is

  • self reflection
  • philosophical exploration
  • expansion of awareness
  • acceptance of the human condition

Existential Psychotherapy has roots in...

  • Phenomenology: Individual's immediate experience and personal grasp of reality is primary and the appropriate subject of concern.
  • Humanistic Psychology: Individual has the capacity to change and direct their life and fulfill the innate human desire to live fully and realize one's highest potentials.
  • Existentialism: Life's Ultimate Concerns are...


The ultimate boundary that limits and structures our existence. The fear of death greatly influences our internal experience. Lurking beneath our every waking moment is a death anxiety which subconsciously influences our behavior, and structures our worldview.

We all have Death Anxiety. We try to alleviate this thru symbolic immortality...

  1. Biologically - living thru ones children
  2. Theologically - belief in an afterlife / reincarnation.
  3. Creatively - living thru one's works.

"A denial of death at any level is a denial of one’s basic nature and begets an increasingly pervasive restriction of awareness and experience. The integration of the idea of death saves us; rather than sentence us to existences of terror or bleak pessimism, it acts as a catalyst to plunge us into more authentic life modes, and it enhances our pleasure in the living of life." (Existential Psychotherapy, Irvin Yalom)


It is assumed that freedom is intrinsically desirable, but quite frequently individuals are apprehensive about freedom, and can even develop a “fear of freedom”.

Free means responsible for one's own life.

“One who fails to live as fully as one can, experiences a deep, powerful feeling “existential guilt.” That is a positive constructive force, a guide calling oneself back to oneself.” (Existential Psychotherapy, Irvin Yalom)


Existential isolation, referring “to an unbridgeable gulf between oneself and any other being”. The fact that becoming an individual entails isolation explains why many people cower from the task of becoming an individual, preferring instead to alleviate their feelings of loneliness via conformity and immersion in the masses.

The path to becoming an individual requires that one not flee this isolation, but embrace it, suffer it, and develop the ability to "actively face the feeling of being alone and abandoned by the world."

Meaning of life

"Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything."

Many existentialists have stressed that the ultimate meaning of human existence is unattainable. this does not preclude one from finding personal meaning, or meaning to one’s own existence.

One way to create a meaning for our-self is Self Actualization. Aristotle asserted that the proper end, or aim, of each thing is the realization of its own being, or the actualization of its latent potentialities. individual’s proper end is to actualize the latent capacities within “Become who you are”. This is a difficult and arduous task requiring self-knowledge, commitment and courage – and is thus a purpose or meaning worthy and sturdy enough to support one’s life.

In every human being there is an active will toward health, an impulse toward growth, or toward the actualization of human potentialities. But at once we are confronted with the saddening realization that so few people make it. Only a small proportion of the human population gets to the point of identity, or of self-hood, full humanness, self-actualization.”(Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Abraham Maslow)

“...the greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble... They can never be solved, but only outgrown. What on a lower level had led to the wildest conflicts and to emotions full of panic, viewed from the higher - level of the personality now seemed like a storm in a valley seen from a high mountain top. This does not mean that the thunderstorm is robbed of its reality; it means that, instead of being in it, one is now above it.” (Carl Jung)