A transpersonal critique of Existential Psychotherapy

yalomA major criticism of an existential approach in counselling and psychotherapy is that it lacks a systematic statement of the principles and practices of therapy. There is an absence of a coherent set of highly developed techniques. The approach can be applied in a haphazard manner since there is no primary theoretical framework. Furthermore, from a transpersonal perspective, there is no acknowledgement of the soul journey. Whilst it would be unfair to view all existential therapists as atheists, since they often have a great depth of training in philosophy and sometimes theology, they do not actively pursue the soul journey in their theoretical approach to counselling and psychotherapy.

An existential crisis, from a transpersonal perspective, can be viewed as loss of soul due to the demands of modernity to stay connected to the technological advances in society. These advances can be seen as creating greater isolation, material possession and resulting in greater secularization. 

Life crisis can emerge when coping strategies fail to support the sense of self. As a result, people lose touch with their inner essence and this has co-incided with a declining sense of community.

Like an existentialist therapist, a transpersonal integrative therapist may seek to address lack of meaning in life directly with clients, and accompany their client on their journey to find meaning in their lives. Being integrative doesn’t mean avoiding anxiety about the unknown by remaining defensively within the security of the supposedly known. In Frankl and May, there is a rich approach to discovering a sense of meaning and responding to the givens of life. Indeed Yalom’s tales of therapy in “Love’s Executioner” are inspirational and insightful.  His reflections on being a therapist in the “Gift of Therapy” is an excellent source of inspiration for integrative therapists.

The existential approach can offer a unique insight into clients and their issues. It is holistic in the sense that it considers the client as a whole and goes beyond merely how the mind functions, to the core issues of existence.  However, the existential approach does not (or at least not in Yalom’s model), consider the spiritual aspects of a client and the soul journey, quite apart from distinguishing between different soul types. Transpersonal psychotherapists would argue that a development of the psycho spiritual model of consciousness could better serve the client by working on archetypes, symbols and images and viewing the therapeutic journey, including dreams, through the lens of alchemy.

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2 thoughts on “A transpersonal critique of Existential Psychotherapy

  1. I have been trying, as a transliminal, to make sense of existentialism. It seems to me existentialism says it proposes meaning, but can lead to indifference and nihilism, says it proposes oneness, yet can lead to isolation, and though it promotes nondualism – argues against religion as a valid path to enlightenment for those of good will.

    I have experienced Heaven in a NDE as a baby, and know there is good reason we are all seekers in this life seeking a Home and One Personal Mind greater than and outside of ourselves, even though we are One with, through and in this Source right now. It’s a paradox and mystery, but a meaningful one.

    Life is *like* a dream, and although we are all cocreators with God, we didn’t dream this life up. God did.

    But I guess my question here is – doesn’t existentialist *therapy* really *teach* dissociation from trauma, as well as self judgement regarding actions taken because of trauma – rather than revisiting and relearning trauma, correcting how we perceive what happened to us, embracing not dissociating from grief, reparenting oneself, and working through the process of unraveling what was done to us? Existentialism seems to promote self blame for mistakes made because of trauma, and a general dissociation from life itself; rather than as you say, that healing soul journey. In other words existentialism says “just get on with it – you are bigger than this. This didn’t really happen to you” which is why people develop mental illnesses in the first place.

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