Existential Therapy: A Guide to Embracing Life’s Challenges

Written by:

Updated on:

Fact Checked


Note: we may receive compensation if you become a paying customer of a therapy service we link to.

Looking for a therapist?

Existential therapy, a form of psychotherapy, draws from the philosophies of existentialism to address and explore the meaning of human existence.

Rooted in existential philosophy, this therapeutic approach emphasizes the exploration of an individual’s life experienceschoices, and values.

By adopting a neutral yet knowledgeable perspective, existential therapy supports individuals in their journey to confront and understand life’s inherent challenges, uncertainties, and paradoxes.

Fundamental Concepts of Existential Therapy

Existential Therapy

Central to existential therapy is the belief that an individual’s self-awareness forms the foundation for personal growth and development.

As a result, this therapeutic approach encourages individuals to examine their thoughts, emotions, and actions critically and authentically.

Existential therapy aims to help individuals embark on a journey toward greater self-understanding, ultimately leading to a more genuine, fulfilling life.

Although existential psychotherapy may initially appear complex, its fundamental principles focus on client autonomy, personal responsibility, and the establishment of authentic connections with others.

Freedom and Responsibility

Existential therapy focuses on the notion of freedom and responsibility.

It emphasizes that individuals have the freedom to make choices in their lives and, coupled with the concept of authenticity, people must take responsibility for their actions, choices, and decisions.

This concept encourages individuals to be aware of their potential to shape their lives and assume responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Search for Meaning

key aspect of existential therapy is the search for meaning in one’s life.

The therapy process aims to help individuals explore their values and beliefs, challenging them to recognize the importance of finding purpose and creating a meaningful existence.

Through the therapeutic relationship, clients can examine their life choices and gain a deeper understanding of themselves while developing meaning through their experiences.

Existential Givens

Existential Theory Counseling

Existential givens are the inherent conditions of human existence which all individuals face regardless of their circumstances.

Some of the existential givens include:

  • The inevitability of death
  • The experience of freedom and responsibility
  • The search for meaning
  • The inherent loneliness of human existence

Existential therapy addresses these givens, assisting clients in recognizing and accepting them while using them as a platform for growth and self-discovery.

Existential Anxiety

Existential anxiety refers to the inner tension that arises from realizing one’s freedom and responsibility.

This form of anxiety is different from other types of anxiety, as it is a natural consequence of human existence and the awareness of one’s own mortality.

Facing existential anxiety in therapy allows clients to confront the dilemmas that emerge from their inherent freedom and responsibility, thereby fostering personal growth and the development of an authentic sense of self.

Existential Therapy Process

The existential therapy process revolves around assisting individuals in discovering meaning and purpose in life by exploring their personal experiences and self-awareness.

This form of therapy emphasizes the importance of the individual’s experience in creating a meaningful and authentic existence.

Role of the Therapist

In existential therapy, the role of the therapist is to facilitate self-exploration by cultivating a deep sense of presence and fostering a safe and accepting environment.

Instead of imposing predefined solutions or techniques, the therapist empowers the individuals to delve into their feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

The therapist aims to help individuals understand their choices, values, and beliefs in order to come to terms with their existence and make substantial life changes.

Therapy Interventions

Existential Therapy Techniques

Existential therapy interventions focus on promoting self-awareness, exploration of personal values, and identification of life meaning.

Some key elements of these interventions include:

ReflectionEncouraging individuals to deeply examine their experiences, feelings, and thoughts in order to better comprehend their sense of self and their place in the world.
AuthenticityAssisting individuals in discovering their most genuine selves, unearthing hidden aspects of their personality, and embracing their true nature.
ResponsibilityEmphasizing the importance of taking responsibility for one’s beliefs, values, and actions in the pursuit of a fulfilling life.
ConnectionExploring the importance of relationships and connections with others while also recognizing individual needs for solitude and personal space.
Existential ChallengesAddressing fundamental life concerns, such as death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness, and assisting individuals in confronting and working through these existential issues.

Ultimately, interventions in existential therapy seek to enhance the individual’s understanding of their own life path and choices, backed by the belief that personal growth emerges from a deeper exploration of oneself and the world.

Applications of Existential Therapy

Existential therapy, rooted in the profound philosophies of existentialism, is a therapeutic approach that explores the depths of human existence, meaning, and freedom.

Unlike traditional therapies, it doesn’t focus solely on symptom alleviation but delves into the core of what it means to be human.

As a result, its applications extend far beyond addressing mental health disorders; they encompass a wide spectrum of human experiences and challenges.

Relationships and Love

Existential Therapy

Existential therapy can help individuals navigate the complexities of relationships and love.

It encourages clients to examine their choices, understand their freedom, and accept responsibility for their actions.

This therapeutic approach can empower individuals to develop authentic connections with others by embracing vulnerability and embracing their capacity for love.

Isolation and Alienation

Facing feelings of isolation and alienation is an integral part of the existential therapy process.

Clients are encouraged to explore their feelings of loneliness and discover the meaning and purpose in their lives despite these feelings.

Through this understanding, individuals can work to overcome alienation and build meaningful connections with others.

Depression and Anxiety

Existential therapy can be beneficial for individuals struggling with depression and anxiety.

By exploring the root causes of these mental health challenges, the therapy focuses on helping clients find meaning in their lives and confront the uncertainties of existence.

Ultimately, this can lead to a reduction in symptoms and improved overall well-being.

Addiction and Recovery

In addiction and recovery, existential therapy can play a crucial role by addressing the underlying existential issues that may have contributed to the development of addiction.

Clients are encouraged to explore the choices they have made, accept responsibility for their actions, and seek meaning and purpose in their lives.

This process can empower individuals to take control of their recovery and make positive changes to overcome addiction.

Challenges and Criticism of Existential Therapy

Existential Therapy Techniques

Existential therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the human condition as a whole.

This therapeutic approach explores individuals’ experiences and emotions, such as anxiety, fear, guilt, violence, anger, and despair, in order to understand their life’s meaning and purpose.

Despite the potential benefits offered by existential therapy, it is not without its challenges and criticisms.

Complex Emotions

One challenge in applying existential therapy is interpreting and working with complex emotions.

Individuals often experience deep-rooted feelings of anxiety and fear, which may stem from the realization of their mortality or the search for meaning in their lives.

Therapists must be skilled in addressing these emotions and guiding clients through the process of self-discovery without imposing their own values and beliefs on the client.

Lack of Empirical Evidence

Another criticism of existential therapy is the focus on individual experiences and subjective realities.

This can lead to a lack of empirical evidence supporting the efficacy of the therapy.

Due to its emphasis on self-exploration and introspection, existential therapy is sometimes criticized for being too abstract and difficult to apply in a structured clinical setting.

Critics argue that other therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, may be more practical and effective in addressing specific mental health issues.


Some individuals may also find the existential themes explored in therapy to be distressing, leading to increased feelings of guilt, anger, or despair. 

These negative emotions can be counterproductive to the therapeutic process, making it challenging for clients to fully engage with and benefit from the therapy.

balance must be struck between raising existential concerns while not overwhelming clients emotionally.

Final Thoughts

In summary, existential therapy focuses on helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives.

As a therapeutic approach, it aims to address personal challenges and existential concerns by exploring the individual’s relational world, values, and beliefs.

By doing so, existential therapy can offer a unique and effective treatment for various psychological issues.

Incorporating this therapeutic approach in mental health care offers the opportunity for individuals to confront their existential issues and transition towards a more meaningful, authentic life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key principles of existential therapy?

Existential therapy is based on the belief that human beings have the capacity for self-awareness and the freedom to make choices, even amidst challenging life circumstances.

This type of therapy focuses on helping individuals examine their lives, explore their values, and come to terms with their emotions to find meaning and purpose.

Key principles of existential therapy include authenticity, autonomy, personal responsibility, and the search for meaning in life.

While this therapeutic approach acknowledges the inevitability of suffering, it encourages clients to find ways to live a more fulfilling life.

How do existential therapists apply techniques in sessions?

Existential therapists work with their clients in a collaborative and non-directive manner, engaging them in a process of self-exploration and discovery.

They often use techniques such as Socratic questioning, which encourages clients to examine their beliefs and values.

Through these conversations, the therapist helps clients identify patterns of thought and behavior that may limit their growth and personal fulfillment.

Other techniques may include journaling, self-reflection exercises, and experiential activities designed to promote self-awareness and meaning-making.

How is existential therapy different from humanistic therapy?

Although existential therapy and humanistic therapy share some similarities, such as a focus on personal growth and the importance of the therapeutic relationship, they differ in their underlying philosophical perspectives.

Existential therapy emphasizes the human condition, with its struggles, anxieties, and the search for meaning in life.

On the other hand, humanistic therapy emphasizes the individual’s inherent tendency towards growth, self-actualization, and the pursuit of positive psychological experiences.

How can I find an existential therapist near me?

Finding an existential therapist near you may involve conducting some research.

Start by searching online directories such as Find-a-TherapistGoodTherapyPsychology Today, or contact your local mental health community for referrals.

Additionally, you can ask for recommendations or read online reviews to help you find a therapist who can meet your unique therapeutic needs.

What kind of training do existential therapists undergo?

Existential therapists typically undergo extensive training in psychology, counseling, or other mental health disciplines, often at the graduate level.

They may have a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling, psychology, or social work.

Additionally, specialized training in existential therapy is required, which may involve attending workshops, participating in mentorship relationships, and engaging in continuous personal and professional development.

This training covers the theoretical foundations, therapy techniques, and ethical considerations unique to existential therapy.

Additional Resources

Prioritizing our mental well-being is paramount in today’s fast-paced world. The digital age has redefined therapy and psychiatric care, making support more accessible than ever. To guide you towards a healthier state of mind, we’ve partnered with pioneering names in mental health.
Note: We collaborate with top-tier mental health companies and receive compensation for marketing efforts on behalf of BetterHelp and ReGain.

Online Therapy

Discover a path to emotional well-being with BetterHelp – your partner in convenient and affordable online therapy. With a vast network of 30,000+ licensed therapists, they’re committed to helping you find the one to support your needs. Take advantage of their Free Online Assessment, and connect with a therapist who truly understands you. Begin your journey today.

Relationship Counceling

Whether you’re facing communication challenges, trust issues, or simply seeking to strengthen your connection, ReGain’s experienced therapists are here to guide you and your partner toward a healthier, happier connection from the comfort of your own space. Get started.

Therapist Directory

Discover the perfect therapist who aligns with your goals and preferences, allowing you to take charge of your mental health. Whether you’re searching for a specialist based on your unique needs, experience level, insurance coverage, budget, or location, our user-friendly platform has you covered. Search here.

About the author

Eliana Galindo
Eliana is a dedicated psychologist from Colombia who has gained extensive experience and made significant contributions in child development, clinical psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. Her work as a rehabilitation psychologist with disabled children has been transformative and compassionate. In the child development field, she creates nurturing environments through assessments, interventions, and collaboration with families. In clinical psychology, she supports individuals overcoming mental health challenges with empathy and evidence-based approaches. Inspired by her experiences, Eliana is motivated to write about mental health, aiming to raise awareness and advocate for a compassionate and inclusive approach to well-being.

You might also be interested in


In some articles, we include products we think are useful for our readers. When you buy through these links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

Information on our website is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a mental healthcare professional.