Existential counseling is an approach based on existential psychology. Theorists such as Rollo May, James Bugental, Viktor Frankl and Irvin Yalom have contributed to modern psychological existential theory, which centers on how the individual lives in his environment and how he can best lead an "authentic" life. As a form of counseling, the existential perspective has been met with both praise and criticism.
Pro: Meaning of Life
One of the main goals of existential counseling is to help the client make meaning out of her life and experiences. Existential counseling focuses on some of the major existential questions that people face in life. Clients are asked to ponder questions such as why they exist, why they suffer, what is the point of their lives, and whether they are alone or part of a larger whole. The advantage of focusing on these types of questions is that it empowers the individual to make choices and take responsibility for her actions.
Existential counseling has been criticized as being overly “intellectual.” Some argue that those seeking therapy who cannot relate to deep self-reflection and self-examination may not be able to connect to the process of existential work. People seeking a more direct, time-limited approach may benefit more from cognitive-behavioral, rather than existential, forms of therapy.
Existential counseling is considered a person-centered therapy. This means that the counselor treats the client with unconditional positive regard, and accepts the individual’s ability to make his own choices in life. Existential approaches are humanistic in nature, in that they emphasize the individual’s inherent worth and dignity. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, existential therapies are non-directive, and the counselor avoids making broad interpretations or analyzing the client. Rather, the counselor works to be present and authentic in her work with the client, trying to understand the individual’s moment-by-moment experiences.
Con: Religious Conflict
There has been criticism that existential counseling is in essence atheistic, ostracizing people of religious faith. This criticism may in part stem from the atheistic beliefs of some of the theorists who have contributed to existential thought and theory. It may also stem from the fact that existential counseling asks the individual to think about aspects of life that have to do with larger questions, such as why people exist and what the purpose of life is. This may be a conflict for some individuals, who believe that it's the role of religion to answer such large-scale questions. Proponents of existential counseling, however, insist that religion can play a role in the process as a way of answering these questions.