Existential Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior

2 February 2017

Existential therapy aims to help individuals find purpose, have better defined goals, and live life to the fullest. Existential therapy takes into account cultural, social and political values of the client. It attempts to help the client live more deliberately, while accepting life’s unpredictable challenges and contradictions.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is complementary to existential therapy by providing techniques to help clients make changes once their awareness is increased through existential discovery. Existential therapy and REBT integrated approach to counseling can provide successful results by combining individual meaning with reasonable thinking. This empowers clients to take control of their lives. The first step in the therapy process is to help the client become aware of what changes need to be made in order to live a more fulfilling and satisfying life.

Existential Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Essay Example

This is achieved by examining one or more existential themes. In his book Existential Psychotherapy, Irwin Yalom describes four major themes that permeate existential psychotherapy: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. In the first theme, death, here are two major ideas that play key factors in therapy (Yalom, 1980). First of all, death and life coexist. Even though physically they are clearly separated, psychologically they exist simultaneously. Death is a natural part of the cycle of life, and as one dies, another is given an opportunity to experience life (Kaufmann, 1975).

Death is a realistic threat and a part of our daily lives. Every day we are alive, we are closer to death. Frankl (2006) believes that “if there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete” (p. 67). Nothing in this world lasts forever. It is only natural for humans to see death as a part of life that is unavoidable. The awareness of death has a significant impact on life and “Although the physicality of death destroys man, the idea of death saves him.

Awareness of death allows individuals to live life more fully, authentically, and appreciate how truly precious life is. Authenticity is one of the main concepts of existentialism and is defined as being genuine, true to one’s feelings and beliefs, aware of self and surroundings, and ability to successfully deal with issues related to existence (Sharf, 2008). People come to appreciate life more, exist mindfully and purposefully. Nietzsche wrote: “He that consummates his life dies his death victoriously” (Kaufmann, 1975, p. 129).

Those who live a complete and happy life are less likely to be afraid of death because they have experienced life to the fullest. A potential threat of life be taken away makes it more likely for people to appreciate and enjoy life. Without suffering how does one know pleasure? For example, someone with cancer who previously has taken life for granted may have a greater appreciation for life after beating the illness. In such cases, people feel the urgency to take pleasure in life’s every unique moment and relish the simple joys while they still can.

Very often people do not value things until they are taken away or are threatened to be taken away. The second idea is that death anxiety constantly affects the way people experience their life. In addition, most anxiety comes from issues related to death and decreasing anxiety is one the major goals of psychotherapy. Anxiety can stem from many issues, such as control or fear. Fear of death is one of the significant motivators in our society. We constantly come up with new ways to avoid death by building safer vehicles, wearing protective gear, inventing new medical treatments and procedures.

Self preservation is a natural instinct and anxiety related to the end of our life is an unavoidable reality. There are many reasons why individuals are afraid of death: inability to take care of dependents, pain and sadness that loved ones will feel, or fear of the afterlife. But one of the most common reasons is the fear of nothingness and loss of self (Yalom, 1980). Death anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways (Yalom, 1980). One’s feeling of missing exciting events or the desire to control the surrounding world, demonstrate this manifestation.

These unhealthy thoughts help individuals ease fear of death by dealing not with the real and terrifying source of anxiety, but indirectly, through more socially acceptable actions. Many people protect themselves from death anxiety by denying it. Yalom (1980) discussed two ways that accomplish this goal: the ultimate rescuer and personal specialness. Both ideas lead people to feel that they will not be affected by misfortune like others might be. The ultimate rescuer is a type of defense mechanism leading people to believe that someone will come into their life and save them from their problems.

An example of this would be a person with severe financial problems needing money to take care of health problems believing that someone or something will bring the needed money and the situation will work itself out. Personal specialness involves the belief that one is in a way different from others and therefore immune from the hardships of life. Personal specialness can be seen all around us: a healthy woman thinking cancer will never happen to her, couples believing there is no way they can have an autistic child, or a teenager driving recklessly believing that there is no way he will get in an accident and die.

The awareness of finiteness enables people to appreciate the surrounding world at a much deeper level and find what it is they are meant to contribute to the world. The second theme of existential psychotherapy is freedom. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Individuals who are responsible are conscious of the fact that the world is not working against them. They come to realize that their experiences are the outcomes of their own decisions. Some people may feel that their environment, their unconscious mind, or genetic make up is working against them.

Existential theory takes into consideration that these sometimes uncontrollable factors have an effect on events, but do not completely determine them. Frankl (2006) wrote regarding his experiences in a concentration camp: Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstances, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate (p. 6).

In extreme situations as this, freedom represents psychological separation from a difficult situation. In this case, a person has inner freedom to choose how he feels and what he thinks. His physical freedom and material possessions can be taken away, but his thoughts, feelings, his self, cannot. People have the freedom to make any decision they choose, are responsible for these decisions and have to be able to face the outcomes. Yalom (1980) wrote that “To be aware of responsibility is to e aware of creating one’s own self, destiny, life predicament, feelings, and if such be the case, one’s own suffering” (p. 218).

Having the freedom to control one’s own destiny and “own the insight that you and only you construct your own life design” can be a heavy burden to bear, but once individuals become aware of their power and accept the challenge, they can make significant improvements and live more authentically (Yalom, 1989, p. 38). Simple awareness may not be enough for change to take place.

One must be willing and committed to address the negative aspects of life and become responsible for adopting new behaviors. People must accept responsibility for their lives and decisions they have made; otherwise, growth and positive change cannot take place. The third theme of existential therapy is isolation. Yalom (1980) discusses three types of isolation: interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential. Interpersonal isolation involves separation of self from others. Many factors can contribute to such isolation, such as personality, culture, or physical location.

In this case the person does not have a social support network, is not involved in healthy relationships and may feel cut off from other people. Intrapersonal isolation takes place when a person represses certain events, separates part/parts of the psyche or no longer has pronounced personal opinions and beliefs. Yalom (1980) sums up intrapersonal isolation by saying that it “results whenever one stifles one’s own feelings or desires, accepts “oughts” or “shoulds” as one’s own wishes, distrusts one’s own judgment, or buries one’s own potential”.

Lastly, existential isolation refers to the feeling of being alone in the world. Regardless of how many friends or family members one has and how closely they are involved together, the person is still isolated and has distinctive experiences of the surrounding world. This may be considered a pessimistic view of life, but it is hard to deny that each person is one of a kind, whose true feeling and experience only they can know. Isolation can be seen as a representation of individuals’ uniqueness. Even though isolation is a part of life, intimate relationships are vital to a fulfilling life.

Frankl (2006) wrote “…love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire…The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may find bliss…in the contemplation of his beloved” (p. 37). Genuine and loving relationships, where both individuals are actively involved, provide means to deal with existential isolation and help people find a sense of self. The final theme of existential therapy is meaninglessness. Many people struggle with the idea of what the meaning of their life is.

People need a reason to wake up every day, go to work, do their chores, and repeat the cycle over and over again. Lack of goals, hope and purpose, can lead to stress, depression, and even suicide. It is a natural human desire to search for order, patterns, and explanations in the world. This need for organization raises the ultimate question of why and for what one lives. The quest for the meaning of life is divided into two groups of thought: man creates meaning and man is in search of meaning. The first idea is non spiritual and is based on the fact that there is no prearranged meaning and people create their own reason to live.

The second way of thought regarding meaning of life is spiritual. It states that meaning is predetermined by a higher power and is something that a person needs to find. Frankl (2006) wrote “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it” (p. 109). Regardless of the origin of meaning, it helps people truly live and keep going.

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