Existential and Transpersonal Group Psychotherapies
“Life must be understood backward; however,
it must be lived forward.”
— Soren Kierkegaard
Existential psychotherapy focuses on universal concerns that
are deeply rooted in the very nature of human existence. According
to existential philosophy, the four ultimate concerns we all face
include death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness.
Psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., explains that the ultimate
existential concern is the inevitability of death. “We exist
now, but one day we shall cease to be. Death will come, and there
is no escape from it. It is a terrible truth, and we respond to
it with mortal terror.” This realization creates a core existential
conflict between our awareness of the inevitability of death and
our desire to continue to be.
Our second concern is freedom, or the absence of structure. In
an existential sense, freedom means that there is no ground beneath
us. There is nothing — only a void, an abyss. As human beings,
we are solely responsible for our thoughts, words and actions —
and for the resulting outcomes. In this sense, freedom has a terrifying
implication: We are the authors of our own destiny. We, and we
alone, determine the design of our lives.
The third existential concern is individual isolation, our awareness
that each of us enters life alone and must depart from it alone.
No matter how close we become to others, a final, unbridgeable
gap remains. The existential conflict arises from the tension between
our awareness of our absolute isolation and our desire to feel
connected to a larger whole.
Our last existential concern is meaninglessness. Dr. Yalom notes,
“If we must die, if we constitute our own world, if each
is ultimately alone in an indifferent universe, then what meaning
does life have? Why do we live? How shall we live?” As meaning-seeking
creatures, we are thrown into a universe that has no meaning, and
this dilemma creates our final existential conflict.
Existential psychotherapy will help us to overcome our anxiety,
to define our psychospiritual goals, to bridge the gap between
self and external reality, and to construct our own meanings in
Unlike the majority of psychological therapies that focus solely
on the emotions, existential psychotherapy involves reason, reflective
powers and rational determinations. We take an honest look at our
ideas and how they affect our lives; then we learn how changing
our ideas can change our lives.