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How to Engage Life's Deeper Questions

Uniting existential and humanistic philosophies

How is an existential philosophy compatible with a humanistic philosophy? A few days ago, a colleague of mine posed this question to me. I think it’s worth exploring because I believe the two philosophies make an integrated whole.

The existential philosophy explores what it means to exist and how we make meaning of our existence. The humanistic philosophy explores what it means to be human and values the uniqueness of each individual human journey. To me, this is a perfect blend to help us live an authentic life.

The existential philosophy emphasizes the limits of the human being and the need for agency. Some of the questions we grapple with are:

  1. We all face the reality we are going to die. How do I want to live?
  2. We all face the reality that we exist in a world that has no inherent meaning. How do I find meaning?
  3. We all face the reality that we have the freedom to make choices. What do I choose?
  4. We all face the reality that we are in relationship and alone. How do I navigate this?

The humanistic philosophy emphasizes the potential and possibilities of being human. We naturally move towards health and wholeness if we work through our protections and wounds. Some of the questions we grapple with are:

  1. What is the life I want to live?
  2. How do I discover what this life is?
  3. What keeps me from realizing my potential?
  4. How do I actualize myself?

In existential-humanistic depth psychotherapy, the client works through their wounds by staying present with their inner exploration and their connection with the therapist. This moves them toward health and wholeness. This is a humanistic value. The existential value is that in every moment they have the choice to continue their search.

The two perspectives work together while we seek and discover the answers to these questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Who am I becoming?
  3. How am I living?
  4. How am I willing to live?

The existential philosophy focuses on human limits and how best to respond to them. The humanistic philosophy focuses on potential, possibility, and actualization. This takes in the fullness of human existence by embracing our human limits and embracing our human potential.

For further reading on these philosophies, check out:

The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology; edited by Schneider, Pierson, and Bugental and The Wiley World Handbook of Existential Therapy; Emmy van Deurzen, editor in chief.

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