Start an Existential Therapy Career

Liberated ManWhat Is Existential Therapy?

Existentialism is a term that many people have heard, yet few can easily define. Basically, existentialism is a philosophical theory that emphasizes human existence, choices, responsibilities, and certain truths.

Existential therapy is a type of therapy that is based on the principals of existentialism. Professionals that utilize this method of therapy attempt to help people realize that they are ultimately free to make their own choices. However, existential therapists also stress that with freedom comes responsibility, meaning that people are, in the end, responsible for each and every choice they make. The choices that we make, according to existential therapists, basically define us and our lives.

Irvin Yalom, an existential psychotherapist in the 20th century, came up with the very existential idea that there are three truths, or “givens”, in our lives.

1. Freedom and Responsibility

“Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.”
- Jean-Paul Sartre

As humans, we all have the freedom to make choices. Even if we decide to sit back and do nothing, we are still making a choice to do nothing. However, every choice that we make has a consequence, no matter how big or how small. We must learn to accept that we alone are responsible for our choices, and no one else. In other words, we have no one else to blame for our woes but ourselves.

2. Isolation

"No matter how close each of us becomes to another, there remains a final, unbridgeable gap...”
- Irvin Yalom

Existentialists believe that every person in this world is ultimately isolated from others, or alone. Because humans are social creatures, many of us struggle with this issue, which can lead to negative thoughts and feelings of loneliness.

3. Meaning

“Existence precedes essence.”
- Jean-Paul Sartre

As with other types of philosophers, existentialists also have a theory on the meaning of life: there is no meaning. Well, at least no predetermined meaning. These philosophers believe that the meaning of life is different for everyone, since each person must define his own meaning through his choices and actions.

4. Death

“Today, however, we are having a hard time living because we are so bent on outwitting death.”
- Simone de Beauvoir

Death is one of the absolute truths in life. Everyone must die, at some point or another.

Existential therapists believe that these truths can be hard for some people to deal with. People that have trouble accepting these truths will often find themselves struggling with inner conflicts, which can manifest themselves into mental and emotional problems. By helping people accept these truths, existential therapists can help them live their lives to the fullest overcome their mental burdens.

How is Existential Therapy Different than Traditional Therapy?

Many mental health professionals operate under the pretense that individual exhibiting symptoms of mental duress, such as depression or anxiety, are suffering from illnesses or disorders. Some may believe that these illnesses are caused by such things as heredity or environment.

Existential therapists, on the other hand, do not believe that these problems are true diseases. Instead, they believe that these problems are caused by the “pains of existence”. For instance, they may be caused by being unable to come to terms with such things as life’s harsh realities, social norms, or the consequences of our choices.

What Does an Existential Therapist Do?

Existential therapists operate much the same way as most other mental health professionals. For instance, they often meet with their clients to assess them and their problems. In general, these types of therapists treat a wide range of mental and emotional problems. For example, they might work with individuals suffering from depression, addiction, anxiety, eating disorders, and marital problems.

However, existential therapists don’t believe that their clients suffer from these problems through no fault of their own. Instead, they believe that the majority - if not all - of a person’s problems stem from their very own choices. Existential therapists then attempt to help their clients understand this.

Only when clients understand that their current states are direct results of their own actions and choices, can they work toward changing their lives. Existential therapists will often help their clients explore their future goals and aspirations in life, and help guide them toward realizing their full potential. They may discuss choices and ramifications with their clients, as well as help them explore their own personal set of beliefs.

Where Does an Existential Therapist Work?

Existential therapy can be utilized in several different branches of the mental health field. For example, mental health professionals from clinical psychologists to marriage counselors can use existential therapy methods. Therefore, an existential therapist might work anywhere that other types of therapists work, such as in hospitals, social service offices, and mental health clinics.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Career in Existential Therapy?

In general, an existential therapy career requires an education in mental health as well as philosophy. If you’re looking to pursue a career in existential therapy, you should start by earning a degree in your preferred field of mental health. This can be a general area, such as general psychology, or something more specific, such as substance abuse counseling.

You should also consider taking courses in philosophy as well, specifically courses in existentialism and existential theory. Reading classic literature authored by some of the most famous existentialists, such as Irvin Yalom and Jean-Paul Sartre, can help you understand this difficult theory better.

You should also consider becoming a licensed psychologist or counselor if you'll be pursuing an existential therapy career. Licensure procedures vary by state, but individuals in most states will usually be required to earn graduate degrees and complete several hours of supervised fieldwork.

Learn more from psychology schools in your area that offer Bachelor's, Master's or PHD degrees.

What is the Annual Average Salary for an Existential Therapist?

The field of existential therapy is relatively new and lesser known, it can be difficult to gather enough data to determine the salary for existential therapists. However, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics does keep track of salary data for a wide range of therapists. If the therapist isn't an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or recreational therapist, then that professional probably falls into the other category. According to the BLS, all other therapists make an annual average salary of $59,190 with the top 10 percent of the profession earning, on average, $91,640 per year. Obviously salary will depend on location, education, experience and employer.