Existential Therapy What Is It?

Behind the existential movement are such philosophers as Heidegger, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre and others. Existential psychologists evaluate an individual’s experience in four dimensions of existence: the physical, social, psychological and spiritual. They believe that conflict stems from confrontations with the “givens” or “ultimate concerns” of existence. These include:

  • The inevitability of death
  • Freedom and the responsibilities associated with it
  • Existential isolation
  • Meaninglessness

Existential therapy focuses on each person as a unique individual as well as the choices that shape their life. The therapist empowers the patient to take responsibility for their decisions and create the present and future they desire. Depending on the therapist, techniques may pull from cognitive behavioral, Freudian, Jungian, Gestalt or other therapeutic approaches.


Like other forms of psychotherapy, existential therapy can help alleviate anxiety, shame, guilt and other difficult emotions through honest self-evaluation. At the same time, this approach candidly confronts the realities of life such as death, meaninglessness, loss and suffering and works to promote positive experiences, relationships and emotions.

More specifically, existential therapy encourages patients to:

  • Evaluate their values, beliefs and situation
  • Acknowledge their limitations as well as the possibilities for their lives
  • Find meaning and purpose in their lives
  • Develop more effective ways of communicating


Existential therapy can be highly effective for youth and adults who are struggling to make healthy life choices and accept the consequences of these choices. This may include individuals struggling with addiction, anxiety, depression, and a wide range of psychological and behavioral issues.

As with most forms of therapy, existential therapy is most beneficial for an individual who is willing to engage in honest self-evaluation. Individuals who are reluctant to search for meaning or who would prefer to receive immediate relief from the symptoms of their problems may not be appropriate for existential therapy.