Existential Therapy

Existential therapy, created out of the existential philosophy tradition, is a treatment orientation based that focuses on the human condition as a whole. One of the primary goals of existential therapy is to help clients face life and its anxieties head on and to embrace the freedom of choice humans have, taking full responsibility for their choices as they do so. Therapists trained in existential therapy believe that unhealthy or undesirable behaviors result from an inhibited ability to make authentic, self-directed choices about how to live. Therefore, in therapy, an existential counselor will work with you to focus on your own responsibility and freedom. You will be challenged to think and behave responsibly by confronting internal thoughts, rather than outside pressures. Existential therapy seeks to help clients live more authentically, to be focused on the present (not the past), to be less concerned with superficiality and to find meaning in their lives. Think this approach might be right for you? Reach out to one of TherapyDen’s existential therapy specialists today.

Meet the specialists

While my theoretical approach can best be described as eclectic, I have a strong basis in existential psychology and am heavily influenced by that school of thought, so I do tend to often see things through that lens: really upbeat stuff like ‘existential angst’ and ‘existential paralysis.’ But it’s a lot more fun that it sounds. And it can be very liberating to view life in those terms, to find meaning in the way we are interacting with the world, and to make a choice to choose differently.

— Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Clinical Psychologist in Asheville, NC

I have studied Applied Existential Psychotherapy in Boulder, CO and just completed a training with Irvin Yalom. Existential concerns and our search for meaning are oftentimes at the core of the challenges or distress we are facing.

— Cindy Gordon, Licensed Professional Counselor in Longmont, CO

Existential therapy focuses on how we find meaning in our lives. People with chronic pain often have lost abilities, careers, or relationships. How do we redefine our lives and find new sources of satisfaction and joy while grieving such loss? I can help you find ways to connect with meaning in yourself, your relationships with others, and your relationship with the world around you.

— Peter Addy, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Portland, OR

This is one of the first orientations I fully bought into as a clinician. The four conditions of humanness are hard to unsee when you finally grasp them, and my training includes extensive reading and reflection on existential therapists, as well as consultation and supervision from this approach.

— Tara Vossenkemper, Counselor in Columbia, MO

Free will, personal choice and responsibility, and exploring the meaning of life are key parts of how I work. I believe this is the fundamental dignity of being human and love seeing people connect with their own deepest values.

— Heather Seguin, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Upland, CA

"If nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do." Meaning arises from the actions we take and the relationships we form with ourselves and others.

— Grant Gordin, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Austin, TX

A common theme that comes up in session with clients and in my own life is how do we cope with the vast unknown. My general world view is existential. Part of the work of therapy is helping you identify your coping strategies for life's unknowns and help you build your tolerance for sitting with it rather than running away.

— Lily Sloane, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA

Existential psychotherapy is a style of therapy that places emphasis on the human condition as a whole. Existential psychotherapy uses a positive approach that applauds human capacities and aspirations while simultaneously acknowledging human limitations. Six propositions of existential therapy are: Capacity for self-awareness. Freedom and responsibility. Establishing an identity and meaningful relationships. Finding meaning. Anxiety is unavoidable. Awareness of mortality.

— Radmila Hollnagel, Licensed Professional Counselor in Charlotte, NC

I use tenets of Gestalt and Existential therapy in my work, as I believe that we all gravitate naturally towards self-determination and holistic congruence. Self-examination and self-awareness are key steps for this - supported in therapy. I use tenets of Gestalt therapy in association with existential therapy: such as immediacy, the therapeutic relationship, and individual responsibility.

— Neil Panchmatia, Counselor in Portland, OR


— Troy Piwowarski, Psychologist in Oakland, CA

Existential therapy focuses on each person as a unique individual as well as the choices that shape their life. The therapist empowers the person to take responsibility for their decisions and create the present and future they desire; by evaluating their values, beliefs and situation, acknowledging limitations, identifying opportunities for their life, finding meaning and purpose and developing more effective ways of communicating.

— Shay Phillips, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Houston, TX

Existential therapy is related to the issues of depression and suicidal thoughts. When we have depression or suicidal thoughts, we question, "Why do I exist in this world?" This question feels like it does not have an answer or if it does, we will not be able to reach the answer. I believe, however, we will be able to find our own answer if we open our hearts to this profound life question. Our answer is always within our own hearts, and our work is learning to be open to our hearts.

— Hideko Ota, Counselor in Oakland, CA

People are the only creatures on earth who are truly aware of their existence, which is a benefit and a burden. Setting time aside to look at our meaning and purpose is never wasted. This sort of work is why I am a believer in not setting artificial limits for time spent in therapy, since all of us are evolving, hopefully for the better.

— Gilbert Bliss, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Towson, MD

I believe that each person has the power to determine what has meaning in their life. What we give meaning to is often what dictates how we feel and how we live. We must also find ways to accept ourselves as individuals rather than waiting for others to accept us. We can work together to help you identify what you want to give meaning to your life and to accept who you are at this moment.

— Ashton Burdick, Licensed Professional Counselor in Mooresville, NC

Existential Therapy can help you explore and clarify your concept of the most essential aspects of your life; what it means to be free, and the responsibility inherent in freedom. I feel that Existential Therapy and Contemplative Therapy overlap a bit in some ways, and that they tend to compliment each other, as well as Person-Centered Therapy. I belong to the professional group Existential-Humanistic Northwest.

— Susan Rooney, Counselor in Portland, OR

Listening to unease and discontent can shift our relationship to inherent pains and discomforts of living. Awareness of the impact and implications of beliefs, values, and actions allows us to be deliberate in how we show up, engage with ourselves and others, and participate in our lives and the world. Cultivating honesty with ourselves, drawing in spiritual and philosophical threads, illuminates purpose and meaning, moving towards ethical alignment and greater congruence and integrity.

— Jessamyn Wesley, Licensed Professional Counselor in portland, OR

The name "Existential Therapy" sounds very philosophical and intellectual. But nothing could be further from the truth. Existential Therapy just means that we're talking about how we find meaning in our lives, what life means to us, and how we deal with the realities of being a human being.

— Jacob Brown, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in Corte madera, CA