Therapy

New Work on Existential Therapy

An update on existential-humanistic and existential-integrative therapy.

Posted Oct 25, 2019

The following is a draft excerpt from the recently published section of the Wiley World Handbook of Existential Therapy (2019)* titled "Existential-Humanistic (EH) and Existential-Integrative (EI) Therapy."  As the author of this section and a co-editor of the Handbook, I am very excited about the extension of EH and EI therapy as well as that of the existential therapy movement as a whole to world-wide centers of practice.  The Handbook represents a trailblazing effort to capture the latest developments in existential therapy across a wide range of cultures and theoretical perspectives.

These perspectives include developments in Latin America, China, the U.K., Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Greece, Scandinavia, and the United States. Here then is a draft excerpt of my introduction to the section on Existential-Humanistic and Existential-Integrative therapy (note that this draft may not reflect the exact wording in the final, published section):

Deriving primarily from the works of Rollo May (1958; 1981), James Bugental (1976, 1987), and Irvin Yalom (1980), the chief aim of existential-humanistic (EH) therapy is to set clients free.  This freedom is contextualized within the natural and self-imposed (e.g., cultural) limits of living, and phenomenologically can be experienced along a “constrictive-expansive” continuum (Schneider, 2008).  The chief means by which this approach is facilitated is via whole-bodied presence—or the holding and illuminating of that which is palpably significant between therapist and client and within the client.  Akin to a mirror, presence helps guide the EH therapist (in collaboration with the client) toward two--often implicit--questions:  “How is the client presently living?”  and “How is the client willing to live”? at every point of the encounter.   

In contemporary EH therapy, these guiding questions lead to an essentially integrative (or “existential-integrative”[EI]) approach to clients’ struggles (Schneider, 2008; Schneider & Krug, 2010; Shahar & Schiller, 2016; Wolfe, 2016).[i]  Given that clients exist at a variety of “liberation levels” or levels within which they are presently and potentially willing to live, the EH therapist is prepared to work with the client in accord with that client’s desire and capacity for change.  This means that the contemporary EH therapist attempts to be acutely present to the need, at any given moment, for a range of bona fide therapeutic engagements.  These engagements range from supportive/advisory to psychophysiological to cognitive-behavioral and psychoanalytic as appropriate;  however, the foundation of the approach (given clients’ desires and capacities) is the availability to the “being” or experiential level of contact.  

By experiential level of contact, we mean an emphasis on the immediate, the affective, the kinesthetic, and the profound (or cosmically significant).  This level of contact is characterized by four basic stances--which serve as active and passive mirrors for clients.  These mirrors support clients to “see” close up, how they’ve constructed their personal and interpersonal worlds, and the degree to which they are willing to transform (that is, enlarge) those worlds. The stances are: presence, which is the method and ultimate aim of the EH/EI approach; invoking the actual, which is discerningly and creatively inviting clients into fuller presence (generally by helping them to attend to experiential processes, forms of embodiment, demeanor, affect, as much if not more than verbal content); vivifying and (judiciously) confronting self-protection  (or blocks to embodied presence); and rediscovering meaning and awe (or the overcoming of blocks to embodied presence such that not only new projects, goals, and aspirations can be attained, but fresh ways of experiencing life as a whole. This overarching attitude is often linked to a sense of the humility and wonder--or adventure--of being human.  I call this sense of adventure an experience of awe [Schneider, 2004, 2008, 2009]). Put another way, optimal EH/EI therapy provides a staging ground for the rediscovery of meaning and awe.  

References

Adapted from the new landmark text The Wiley World Handbook of Existential Therapy.

[i]Although “existential-humanistic” therapy is still the dominant perspective in U.S. considerations of existential therapy, “existential-integrative” therapy is gaining rapid acknowledgment (particularly in mainstream psychotherapy circles) as a bona fide offspring of the former (Schneider & Krug, 2017;  Shahar & Schiller, 2016: Wampold, 2008). Therefore, to recognize the transitional nature of this development,  we the contributors to this section, have titled it “Existential-Humanistic and Existential-Integrative Therapy.” 

*van Deurzen, E., Craig, E., Langle, A., Schneider, K., Tantum, D., du Plock, S. (2019).  The wiley world handbook of existential therapy. Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley.

References

Bugental, J. F. T. (1976). The search for existential identity: Patient-therapist dialogues in humanistic psychotherapy.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bugental, J. F. T. (1987). The art of the psychotherapist. New York: Norton.

May, R. (1958a). The origins and significance of the existential movement in psychol­ogy. In R. May, E. Angel, 8c H. Ellenberger (Eds.), Existence (pp. 3-36). New York: Basic Books.

May, R. (1981). Freedom and destiny. New York: Norton.

Shahar, G., & Schiller, M. (2016).  A conqueror by stealth:  Introduction to the special issue on humanism, existentialism, and psychotherapy integration.  Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 26, 1-4.

Schneider, K. J. (2004). Rediscovery of awe: Splendor, mystery, and the fluid center of life. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Schneider, K. J. (2008). Existential-integrative psychotherapy: Guideposts to the core of practice. New York: Routledge.

Schneider, K. J. (2009). Awakening to awe: Personal stories of profound transformation. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson.

Wampold, B. (2008, February 6). Existential-integrative psychotherapy comes of age. [Review of the book Existential-integrative psychotherapy: Guideposts to the core of practice]. PsycCritiques 53, Release 6, Article 1.

Wolfe, B.E. (2016). Existential-humanistic therapy and psychotherapy integration:  A commentary. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 26, 56-60.

Yalom, I. (1980).  Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books