Existential therapy is a strategy employed by some psychologists and counselors to help people come to terms with their fears, stresses, mental illnesses, or disabilities. The key tenet of existential therapy is the philosophical notion that individuals are entirely responsible for their own lives; the choices they make determine what happens to them. Existential therapists usually facilitate intensive psychotherapy sessions and behavior modification techniques to help people become more truthful with themselves and come to the ultimate realization that their own free will can bring about positive change in their lives.
The principles of existential therapy are drawn from the teachings of the influential 19th and 20th century existentialist philosophers and writers, including Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Gabriel Marcel. These men as well as many other philosophers felt that the ideas of meaningful existence, fate, and predetermined destiny are not realistic; rather, humans must accept that they are essentially alone in the course of life and fully responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and consequences. Existential therapists build upon these ideas to help people understand that they can choose to behave and feel in any manner they see fit, at any time, regardless of what is going on in the world around them.
Licensed psychologists and counselors who practice existential therapy often meet with clients who experience all different types of personal struggles, mental illnesses, and even physical ailments. Trained psychologists can apply existential principles to overcoming addictions, marital problems, general stress, schizophrenia, or any number of other negative circumstances. They reject the idea that genetics or environmental conditions can hinder a person from recovery. Instead, any stresses or ailments are considered to have been put in place by the patient himself, and he is free to enact his own will to overcome problems and make improvements in his life.
Existential therapy relies heavily on psychotherapy techniques, in which the psychologist speaks very personally with his or her client to better understand her fears, concerns, problems, and outlooks. While many psychotherapists delve deeply into patients' pasts, an existential therapist tends to place much more emphasis on the patient's present state and her future goals. The therapist helps the patient accept that she brought her current condition upon herself and understand that she has the freedom and the power to make significant changes. In time, the patient learns to take responsibility for her decisions and discover her own truths about existence.