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Existential Therapy for Existential Times

The new relevance of existential therapy.

Key points

  • Existential therapy is increasingly relevant in our existentially challenged world.
  • Existential therapy can and needs to address both individual and collective crises.
  • Existential therapy helps people to cultivate presence, which is key to a vital and ethically sound life.

We’re in an Age of Existential Crisis. These last few years have held significant battles with life and death, climate change, global conflict, and hate crimes. But perhaps the more insidious crises are those that threaten our identity. We find ourselves asking, who am I without my tribe, political party, or religious affiliation? Without my cell phone and drugs? Without my selfies or social media following? Too often we’re left with the answer: nobody.

The truth is that we are politically polarized, religiously radicalized, and technologically mesmerized because we feel lost and insignificant without those extremes. And therefore, we find ourselves in a worldwide existential crisis.

Existential threats rattle us to our core. They leave us without solace in the storm, lessen our chances to cope, and diminish our ability to pursue gratifying lives. But fortunately, there’s an alternative.

Enter existential psychotherapy. This process is designed to reach us at our core. Existential therapy poses two basic questions: “How am I presently living?” and “How am I willing to live, given the state of my present experience?” These questions are sometimes asked explicitly, but more often they are implicit in the context of a caring, deeply present therapeutic relationship.

In an age where internet connections, social media followers, and transactional relationships are seemingly endless, existential therapy focuses on supportive, empathic relationships. These relationships are grounded on the here and now, prioritizing what matters most in people’s lives. Because of this, existential therapy allows clients to feel safe, held, and heard — a rare mix in today’s transient world.

Presence is key to existential therapy. It holds a mirror to our inner battle: the battle between the part of us that yearns to break free and find meaning, and the part that holds us back from that pursuit.

Both implicitly and sometimes explicitly, existential therapists hold a mirror up to their clients, enabling them to become more present to themselves and make more informed choices about how they are willing to live. This presence deepens over time, enabling clients to move beyond immediate goals and create a whole new way of living. This new way of living maximizes a sense of awe and wonder, rather than defaulting to terror and overwhelm. It embraces adventure over routine. And it increases the capacity to respond to rather than impulsively react to stressful circumstances.

I know this methodology works, not only because I’m a practicing existential therapist, but also because I’m a former client who struggled profoundly with anxiety. Through this work, I was able to transform my persistent reactivity into presence and curiosity. It changed how I experience and show up in my life.

Existential therapy goes beyond individual change and is precisely what we need going into 2024. We’re facing global conflict, climate crises, and a United States election steeped in divisive, dehumanizing political strategies. If we’re to move through this Age of Existential Crises, then we must think beyond individual remedies toward public mental health support.

For communities, this can look like facilitated one-on-one conversations aimed to humanize people of contrasting cultural and political backgrounds. Projects like the “Experiential Democracy Dialogue” are designed specifically to build empathy and reduce partisan stereotypes. This doesn’t mean that the two parties will reach a consensus, although that does happen periodically. But more importantly, perhaps, the two parties often walk away from the discussion with less hostility and more understanding of the other person.

On a national level, we must address the magnitude of social upheaval with accessible, organized initiatives. My proposal? A National Corps of Mental Health Providers. Similar to the Peace Corps, this private-sector or government-sponsored initiative would offer affordable, restorative relationships to buffer the emotionally impoverished dynamics that are tearing our society apart. In addition to the dialogue groups mentioned, this initiative could include longer-term in-depth therapy, life coaching, mentoring, and a host of other affordable, emotionally restorative offerings – particularly for underserved communities.

We are reaching a tipping point in our society. The good news is that we have the tools to heal – we just need to implement systems that support our collective mental health. While we work on this movement, there is still a way for you to address your own individual crisis of self. If you are tired of being “drugged and plugged,” stuck in an endless cycle of numbing through dopamine-fueled obsessions, I urge you to consider existential therapy. Our humanity – both literally and figuratively – depends on it.

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


Schneider, K. (2023). Life-enhancing Anxiety: Key to a Sane World. University Professors Press.

Schneider K. (2023). Corps of Depth Healers. YouTube Channel showing example of existential and depth approaches to social crises.

Schneider K. & Gamlen, T. (2023). Bridging the Gap: Depth Psychology for Social Healing.

van Deurzen, E. (2023). The Existential Movement. Website.

van Deurzen, E. Langle, A., Craig, E., Schneider, K., Tatum, D., & du Plock, S.. (2019). The Wiley World Handbook of Existential Therapy. Wiley.

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