How I work

Often when we are going about our daily lives we take it for granted that our lives will continue to run more or less smoothly. It is only when something goes wrong that we are forced to look into how this has happened. For example, the car suddenly stops working and we are stuck in the middle of a busy road, not knowing what to do and with no-one to help, or a relationship becomes problematic or we find ourselves feeling uncomfortable or troubled in our daily life, perhaps anxious, depressed or prone to sudden anger or even inexplicably passive and apathetic. At the time, we cannot see our way to a solution.

What we would really like is to get the problem fixed as quickly as possible, but before finding a solution we need to get a clear view of what is going on, how this has happened. A rough analogy is that you need to understand how the engine works before you can understand what has gone wrong.

What we need to do is to start looking at the familiar background of our lives much more closely than we are used to doing. For example, how our relationships work, what is really going on there. We need to look at ourselves, our habits of thought and behaviour, how we behave in certain situations, how we react emotionally, what triggers those reactions.

We need to look at our values, what really matters to us and what motivates us. We may think this is all too obvious but often it isn’t as we haven’t had to look closely at those things because for most of the time our lives have been running quite smoothly, and, anyway, we just don’t have the time because we are too busy and there are more pressing things to be done.

Also, it’s not just that we are often not aware about what is going on in ourselves and our relationships, we often don’t have much experience and skill in doing this kind of thing. Perhaps we think we know ourselves, but maybe some beliefs about ourselves are out of date, maybe we formed them many years earlier, at a different time in our lives, and, while we have changed we have forgotten to update those beliefs.

It could be that we have a certain idea about ourselves because it’s what someone said to us many years earlier and it has entrenched itself in our way of thinking about ourselves. Sometimes we have come up with a faulty picture of ourselves. We are often not very good at describing ourselves and the ways in which we see ourselves can be inaccurate.

Therapy therefore always starts with a process of description. Through questioning, through helping the client reflect on their responses, the therapist helps the client get a clearer picture of what is going on in their life. Sometimes this can lead quickly to a solution, the client himself/herself will see something that needs to be changed and will know how to make the change, sometimes the process can take longer and will need more work.

So, the client and therapist together build up a shared picture or description of the client’s situation/life. At this stage, some of the other therapeutic approaches will try to fit this picture into a pre-defined set of theoretical boxes but as an Existential Psychotherapist I don’t do that. Existential Psychotherapy, unlike some other therapies doesn’t try to pack peoples’ experience into neat little theoretical boxes. It treats each client as a distinct individual with his or her own specific personal experiences and character, and so doesn’t offer a one size fit all approach.

The questioning and reflecting is helping a client to learn a skill which they can use when therapy ends. Existential Psychotherapy aims for the client to maintain their independence from the therapist & the therapy. The Existential Therapist won’t tell a client what to do, this may be frustrating for the client, but ultimately the client will need to identify their own problems, find their own answers and not be dependent on the therapist. These skills are valuable and will help the client in years to come.

As an Existential Psychotherapist, I seek to understand how my clients experience life from their unique perspective. I engage seriously with what matters most to them, with a non-judgemental stance and with the goal of helping them to explore and become aware of their own values, attitudes and beliefs in relation to their life issues and their way of being with others in the world.

I believe that if a client doesn't see a solution as their own, they won't be motivated to pursue it.

My underlying assumption is that most people will ultimately be able to live life well in their own way, once they have had the opportunity to think about and identify what it is that matters most to them and which stance towards their life makes it meaningful to them.

Existential psychotherapy is informed by a branch of philosophy known as existentialism, which examines the meaning of existence and the human condition. It can be traced back to the work of various philosophers, most notably Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre. Well-known existential psychotherapists and academics include Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, James Bugental and Irvin Yalom in the States, and Emmy Van Deurzen and Ernesto Spinelli in the UK.

If you are interested in reading a more detailed description of the approach then please refer to website.


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