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Therapy

Inside an Existential-Humanistic Therapy Session

An overview and intentions for the client and the therapist.

Key points

  • An existential-humanistic perspective is a therapeutic modality, a value orientation, and a way of being.
  • Change takes place when the client accesses, expresses, and processes their present concerns.
  • Existential themes, context, and connection need to be explored to see how they enrich and inhibit your life.

An existential-humanistic (E-H) perspective is a therapeutic modality, a value orientation, and a way of being.

Existential-humanistic is a mouthful. However, it can be broken down into two basic concepts: Existential refers to the idea that the only universal meaning that connects everyone is that we all share the human experience. Humanistic refers to the idea that each of us makes meaning of our existence in our own unique way.

When a client seeks out an E-H therapist or an E-H therapist works with a client, there are a few fundamental concepts that can be beneficial. Knowing these concepts allows them to gain the maximum benefit in each session and through therapy.

I explore these core concepts in this post as an aid to clients working with an E-H therapist to understand the process. I am also writing this post as an aid to E-H therapists so they can optimally work with clients. I also believe that these concepts support living a rich life.

An Overview of Existential-Humanistic Therapy

  1. As human beings, we have all identified who we are and what our world is. While it may seem static, set, and given, in truth, it is fluid and open to change.
  2. Change occurs when the client accesses, expresses, and processes their present concerns. In that exploration, they discover that who they are in the present is different in some ways from how they have previously identified who they are and what their world is. They then have the opportunity to redefine themselves to what is more authentic to who they are now.
  3. In E-H therapy, being present in the session is key. Being present means being accessible and expressive through the course of therapy. A fuller presence facilitates deeper authenticity. Existentially, we have more agency and choice in discovering new aspects of who we are. Humanistically, we naturally evolve in positive ways because the deeper nature of human beings is good and trustworthy.

The Client’s Intention in Existential-Humanistic Therapy

  1. What is the client’s connection to self? What are your wounds? How are you protecting yourself from experiencing and working through your wounds? How can you peel back your protections to work through your wounds? This is a lens to discover what needs the most attention in your therapy.
  2. What is the client’s connection with their therapist? How do you develop trust in your therapist? When are you self-disclosing to your therapist, and when do you hold back? This is a lens to discover where you are getting stuck in working with your therapist.
  3. What are the client’s existential themes? Existential themes are major ways the client has identified and defined who they are. You need to explore existential themes need to see how they enrich and inhibit your life. This is a lens to discover what content you want to share.
  4. What is the client’s context for relating to themselves, the therapist, and their existential themes? Context relates to the underlying circumstances, present and past, for you. This is a lens to discover the roots of your concerns and issues.

The Therapist’s Intention in Existential-Humanistic Therapy

  1. What is the therapist’s connection to themselves? What are your wounds? How are you protecting yourself from experiencing working through your wounds? This is a lens to discover what you must work on to be the most effective therapist you can be for your client.
  2. What is the therapist’s connection with the client? What is the level of trust between you and your client? Where do you hold back in intervening or challenging the client? This is a lens to see how you are more or less present with the client.
  3. What are the therapist’s existential themes? You must explore your existential themes to see how they enrich and inhibit your life. This is a lens to discover how your existential themes inform your work with your client.
  4. What is the therapist’s context for how they relate to themselves, the client, and their existential themes? This is a lens to discover where you get stuck working with your client.

I wish you the best in your journey as an E-H client or therapist. I believe knowing these fundamental concepts will be of value no matter which position you are in.

I hope your journey brings you as much engagement, connection, meaning, challenge, and joy as it has me, both as a client and as a therapist.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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