Existential therapy is a multitude of perspectives, but I will try to summarize my approach to it here.
My approach would technically be called “existential-phenomenological.” It’s a complicated title for a simple thing. ‘Phenomenological’ means that I try to understand as best I can how you relate to the world. Your subjective experience is more important than any framework or system of classification. Much of the work in this approach is done simply through clarification of what your experience is, because knowing more clearly what we think and feel can make our choices more obvious as well as more manageable. Sometimes life can feel like an overwhelming and endless series of obligations and difficulty. Sometimes a particular event or situation can leave you feeling empty or stuck. The aim of my approach is to help you move towards what is important to you, even within the confines of your history and current circumstance.
Existential philosophy is generally concerned with the big ‘existential’ dilemmas of life. Irvin Yalom famously said that these usually fall into four areas; death, meaning, freedom/responsibility, and isolation. They are not necessarily seen as problems, but rather as inevitable struggles that any life lived consciously will have to navigate. Because of this, I hope to honour your concerns instead of pathologizing them. Both our positive and negative emotions can be a guide to what is meaningful to us.
The emphasis on subjective experience can be frightening because it requires an ability to be honest and straight forward about what you think and feel. I aim to offer a space where this can be achieved without judgement or comparison.
Overall, Existential therapy is about a fearless looking at your unique experience in a non-judgemental way. It is about exploring who you are without insisting that it fits into a pre-established framework or hierarchy. By treating the “good” and the “bad” the same, we try to use your whole experience to understand more clearly who you are, and what is important to you. The poem below, by Rumi, is a good basis for such a journey;
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.