Monday, August 22, 2011



 I wrote this post for students and practitioners of psychology/therapy; however, I believe it contains much interesting information for the layperson, especially those interested in psychology and/or philosophy.

The existentialistic-humanistic counseling model has a wide application. This model combines aspects of existentialism and humanism, but is often referred to as one model of counseling.  It focuses on free will and basic concepts of what it means to be a human in the world.  This can apply to most anyone by addressing the common threads that all humans experience in life, including multi-cultural clients. Despite its popularity, however, this type of therapy has its advantages and disadvantages. The humanistic aspect of this model is more suited to general client populations, but existentialism has certain limitations that are best used judiciously, as with any other model of counseling.


Adding existential-humanist theory to the repertoire of counseling approaches certainly addresses human issues long neglected by psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Today it seems surprising that concepts such as spirituality, death, dying, free will, morality, and basic issues regarding being-in-the-world have not been directly addressed as a matter of course in counseling before this philosophic approach. On the surface, it appears obvious that, by incorporating this philosophy in therapy, the prospects of therapeutic success for clients will not only be enhanced but assured. It is imperative, however, when considering incorporating this counseling approach, to examine also the possible drawbacks of existentialism-humanism in therapy with clients to improve the chances of therapeutic effectiveness.


Because of its attention to basic human values and issues, the existentialistic-humanistic approach is used in a variety of settings with many different types of clients. Its efficacy has been tested and found to be very supportive and positive when treating clients. This philosophy of therapy emphasizes the positive aspects of being human and is optimistic in emphasizing the possibilities that exist to help clients overcome “…life’s hardship and despair.” Because of the emphasis on free will, human nobility and strength, and self-fulfillment, existentialism-humanism is very appealing to most therapists and clients.

Including concepts of life issues in connection with humans can be very helpful when guiding clients to self-understanding and acceptance. It can help build a stronger foundation of clarity and insight when discussing the meaning of human existence and the issues that are part of it. From this vantage point, clients’ personal issues can be put into a more workable and prioritized context. Because this type of therapy encourages and implements discussions of death and dying, anxiety and despair, and other difficult aspects of living, clients facing life-threatening issues can be especially helped.

Another example of its positive effect is in treating clients with issues of anxiety over school failure. In this case, clients could more clearly see what the prospect of failure means to them when taken in the context of what is important to them in life. Some questions therapists could ask in this case are, “What will happen to you if you do fail in school?”; “What is the most important aspect to your life?”; “Where does school fall within your priorities?”; “What alternatives await you if you fail?”; “Where do you find your meaning in life?”; “What does life mean to you?” Existential questions can help clients to grapple with the severity of their issues in relation to their lives and their relationships, thereby helping them prioritize and see them with healthier perspectives.

The existentialistic-humanistic approach can open many doors to successful outcomes in therapy by its accepting, empathic, warm and genuine approach. If therapists cultivate real concern and caring for their clients, the possibility of establishing trust and openness with the client increases, fostering a successful therapist-client relationship. In doing so, the flow of communication between them increases, providing more information for the therapist to use in helping clients.

It is interesting that, although most people acknowledge the importance of love in their relationships, most other therapeutic approaches do not address this emotion as an important aspect of personality. Humanism, however, focuses directly on the concept of love. Therefore, clients with a religious background or an interest in love relationships could especially benefit by this type of therapeutic approach.

The humanistic-existentialistic style of counseling works especially well with clients who are not interested in fast, goal-oriented approaches. Because this style of counseling invites discussions on ambiguous, philosophical, and theoretic concepts of life and death, clients who are highly educated and have good communication skills are more likely to benefit from it.

Myers, who coined the term “American paradox”, described a morally bankrupt society, drowning in materialism, depression and social recession (Friedman, 2003). In terms of culture and the application of existentialism, it appears likely that Americans would especially benefit from a change in priorities from capitalistic values to “…altruism, fidelity, family, community and spirituality.” Natalie Rogers, who brought the humanistic model to many countries, claims that the Rogerian approach transcends all cultural barriers. Therefore, it seems that humanism can benefit not only Americans but clients from other cultures as well.

Vontress asserts that, “Existential counseling is a rich and profound approach to helping clients of all cultures face meaning and harmony in their lives.” In addressing multi-cultural concerns, it is difficult to say, however, whether existentialism is clearly a common denominator in terms of therapeutic styles. On one hand, because this model focuses on very basic aspects and concerns of most humans, it can move past cultural, racial, and ethnic differences between people. This is also helpful to the therapist practicing existentialism because it then becomes less necessary and important to be educated in various cultural styles. (In fact, logically, it would be extremely difficult to know enough information to be equipped to address the individual issues of each separate culture!)


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