The Existential Approach
My practice is based primarily upon the existential phenomenological approach. This means:
- Bringing what is hidden into awareness; looking at what we actually find rather than what we might wish to see
- Avoiding interpretation in favour of description and ever deeper exploration of the your ‘world view’
- Actively working with the client-therapist relationship to reveal helpful insights
- Being open to all possibilities, without per-determined expectations or agendas
- Using philosophical concepts to guide and inform our work
- Continuously striving to be with you in an authentic and non-judgemental way
Alongside this, I may also introduce other psychotherapeutic approaches, such as psychodynamic, humanistic and somatic methods, as may be required at different stages of our work.
The ‘driving force’ in existential analysis is the client’s anxiety that has become strong enough to bring them to therapy. Contrary to being seen as a problem that needs to be eradicated, anxiety in all its forms is welcomed as a precious guide in reaching and understanding the underlying difficulties you are experiencing in the way you are living your life. It can be helpful to examine ‘existence’ and more specifically, ‘your own existence’, from the viewpoint of the ‘four dimensions’, as summarised below. Each dimension contains a basic question, a dilemma and a paradox that all evoke anxiety, simply because they are unsolvable.
The Physical Dimension. The basic question here is “How can I live my life fully, whilst knowing I can die at any moment?” The unsolvable dilemma is that we are reminded of our mortality every time something comes to an end or we encounter ill health. We can either welcome it or deny it but it will not go away. The paradox of the physical world is that although physical death will kill me and the denial of death will destroy the time I have left, the idea of death will save me in the sense that it will prompt me to live my life more resourcefully and more fully.
The Social Dimension. This is where we relate to the public world, to culture in all its meanings. The basic question is: “What are other people there for?”. The unsolvable dilemma is that we have a need for individuality at the same time as having a need to be part of a whole. The paradox of the social world is that the awareness of my separateness can help me to understand and respect the other.
The Personal Dimension is about the relationship we have with ourselves, our past experiences and future possibilities. The basic question is: “How can I be me?” and we act as if there is an answer to this question and look for it in different places including going to therapists. The unsolvable dilemma is that even as we make our choices we still look for fixed answers. The paradox of the personal world is that when I accept my freedom and vulnerability, I discover my responsibility and personal power.
In the Spiritual Dimension, we create a vision of an ideal world and hence a personal value system that will help it come about. In the sense that life is about meaning creation, the spiritual, ethical, moral dimension is the central axis of existential therapy. The basic question is: “How should I live?”. People create their values in terms of something that matters enough to live or die for. Our values are about what we value. The unsolvable dilemma is that our need for ultimate meaning and purpose persists even as we come to accept the relativity of our existence. The paradox of the spiritual world is that when I realise there is no absolute value system, I engage more meaningfully with my own life by making my own value system.
When working with couples, the approach focuses on facilitating effective communication between two people, identifying and understanding areas of harmony as well as tension, in order to create resolution and arrive at the best outcome (whatever that may). I will create a safe and supportive setting to explore your issues, fears, hopes, regrets, grievances, pain, losses and vision of the future, both as individuals and as a couple. The existential approach offers a framework for couples to better understand each other’s world views in terms of the physical, personal, social and spirit dimensions. This paves the way for both partners to build a deeper and more compassionate appreciation of the situation and begin genuine dialogue, which is essential to creating a successful and happy life together.