Existential Therapies by Mick Cooper

For the last three months, I have been studying psychoanalytic approaches to psychotherapy. It’s been interesting, and there are certainly some elements that I can see being useful to some clients. However, there is something about the approach that jars with who I am.

I am pleased, therefore, that for the next three months I’ll be moving on to read more about existential therapy: the kind I eventually plan to practise. I had anticipated enjoying it, but when I started reading this book I had a settling feeling, like coming home.

The existential approach just makes so much more sense to me than any other approach I’ve encountered. Perhaps this is because I fulfil so many of the criteria in the box on p.168:

One of the problems I have with several other styles of therapy is the embedded idea that people have conditions which they need to have ‘cured’, and if they can’t make them disappear entirely, then they’re counted as ‘incurable’ and therefore dismissed as unhelpable.

I am not completely anti-diagnosis – I believe there are times when diagnoses can be helpful. What I am against, though, is treating individuals like they’re defined entirely by their diagnoses, rather than as complex individuals with as much personhood as everyone else.

For me, existential therapy goes some way towards solving this problem. It also involves more openness and humanity on the therapist’s part: rather than therapist as ‘blank slate’ and client as ‘patient’, therapist and client are working through a process together.

One thing I love about existential philosophy is that it’s never done. As an existential therapist, your job isn’t to train in all the theories until you’re “done” and can help people who aren’t as “done” as you. Your job is to sit in the dark with people, looking for a light.

Existential Therapies provides a quick, accessible overview of the main schools of existential psychotherapy around today. As someone who struggles to explain what existential therapy actually is, I found it helpful to discover that so do most existential therapists.

If you’re at all interested in existential therapy, either as a therapist or a client, Cooper’s book provides a great introduction that should help you to get an idea of whether existential therapy might be the right fit for you, and if so, which existential approach you’d prefer.


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