About Existential Analysis
What is Logotherapy / Existential Analysis?
Author: Alexander Batthyány
The development of LTEA dates back to the 1930s. On the basis of Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler's Individual Psychology the psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997) laid down the foundations of a new and original approach which he first published in 1938. Logotherapy/Existential Analysis, sometimes called the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy", is an internationally acknowledged and empirically based meaning-centered approach to psychotherapy.
In Logotherapy/Existential Analysis (LTEA) the search for a meaning in life is identified as the primary motivational force in human beings.
Frankl's approach is based on three philosophical and psychological concepts:
Freedom of Will
Will to Meaning
Meaning in Life
Freedom of Will
According to LTEA humans are not fully subject to conditions but are basically free to decide and capable of taking their stance towards internal (psychological) and external (biological and social) conditions. Freedom is here defined as the space of shaping one's own life within the limits of the given possibilities. This freedom derives from the spiritual dimension of the person, which is understood as the essentially human realm, over and above the dimensions of body and of psyche. As spiritual persons, humans are not just reacting organisms but autonomous beings capable of actively shaping their lives.
The freedom of the human person plays an important role in psychotherapy, in that it provides clients with room for autonomous action even in the face of somatic or psychological illness. And it just that resource which enables clients, in the context of the techniques of Paradoxical Intention and Dereflection, to cope with their symptoms and to regain control and self-determination.
Will to Meaning
Human beings are not only free, but most importantly they are free to something – namely, to achieve goals and purposes. The search for meaning is seen as the primary motivation of humans. When a person cannot realize his or her "Will to Meaning" in their lives they will experience an abysmal sensation of meaninglessness and emptiness. The frustration of the existential need for meaningful goals will give rise to aggression, addiction, depression and suicidality, and it may engender or increase psychosomatic maladies and neurotic disorders.
Logotherapy/Existential Analysis assists clients in perceiving and removing those factors that hinder them in pursuing meaningful goals in their lives. Clients are sensitized for the perception of meaning potentialities; however, they are not offered specific meanings. Rather, they are guided and assisted in the realization of those meaning possibilities they have detected themselves.
Meaning in Life
LTEA is based on the idea that meaning is an objective reality, as opposed to a mere illusion arising within the perceptional apparatus of the observer. According to LTEA humans are called upon, on the grounds of their freedom and responsibility, to bring forth the possible best in themselves and in the world, by perceiving and realizing the meaning of the moment in each and every situation. In this context it must be stressed that these meaning potentials, although objective in nature, are linked to the specific situation and person, and are therefore continually changing. Thus LTEA does not declare or offer some general meaning of life. Rather, clients are aided in achieving the openness and flexibility that will enable them to shape their day-to-day lives in a meaningful manner.
Therapeutic Techniques in LTEA (Selection)
Indications: mainly compulsive disorders and anxiety, also vegetative syndromes.
Guided by the physician or therapist, clients learn to overcome their obsessions or anxieties by self-distancing and humorous exaggeration, thus breaking the vicious circle of symptom and symptom amplification.
Indications: Sexual disorders and sleeplessness, also anxiety disorders.
Instinctive, automatic processes are impeded and hindered by exaggerated self-observation. By the same token, some mild and well-founded sensations of anxiousness or sadness will be increased and amplified by self-observation, making them more noticeable and engendering even more intense observation. It is the purpose of dereflexion to break this neuroticizing circle by drawing the client's attention away from the symptom or the naturally flowing process.
Socratic dialogue / modification of attitudes
Certain attitudes and expectations may be obstacles to meaning fulfillment. They can alienate a person from the meaning potentialities in his or her life, thus accentuating neurotic disorders, or even producing them via repeated maldecisions and formation of behavior patterns.
It is important to note that the therapist or physician must refrain from imposing his or her own values or meaning perceptions. Rather, clients are guided to perceive their unrealistic and counterproductive attitudes and to develop a new outlook that may be a better basis for a fulfilled life.
Socratic dialogue is a conversational method frequently used by logotherapists. Specific questions are aimed to raise into consciousness the possibility to find, and the freedom to fulfill, meaning in one's life. In the philosophical setting this technique of guiding by questioning was introduced by Socrates, who characterized it as a sort of "spiritual midwifery".
Dictionary of LTEA
The greek word "logos" is here used in the sense of "meaning"; the equally valid translations, "word" or "rational order" are not helpful in explaining the tenets of LTEA. In particular, the logotherapist is not attempting to persuade the client by logical reasoning; rather, they assist the clients in detecting their specific and individual meaning.
Logotherapy is applied therapy on the basis of the psychological-anthropological model developed by Viktor Frankl.
EA may be understood as the philosophical and scientific basis of logotherapy as well as an essential part of a therapy proper.
Basically, existential analysis means analysis with respect to existence, or "explication of existence" with consideration of a self-responsible, self-realized and humane life.
In "general existential analysis" the pursuit of meaning is discussed and identified as a basic motivation in humans, and arguments are provided that demonstrate the fundamental possibility of finding meaning in life. On this basis the therapeutic effects of a successful search for meaning may be explained.
In "special existential analysis" the specific, individual life of a person or a group is probed for the possible existential roots of a mental or psychological disorder. In this context it provides the basis for a logo-therapy as a specific therapy proceeding via the "existential core". Thus the therapeutic value of existential analysis lies in the elucidation of the concrete existential situation and the preparation for giving assistance in the – autonomous – search for meaning.
Existential Analysis in the field of Counselling and Psychotherapy
Existential Analysis is perhaps best known for its developments in the field of Counselling and Psychotherapy. One of the great challenges for practitioners and those involved with Existential Analysis is to provide a simple description of the approach.
What makes this task so difficult is that the Existential approach has an incredibly diverse philosophical history – with practitioners’ therapeutic perspectives often being as varied as individual practitioners are themselves. The fluid and constantly developing nature of the Existential approach lends itself well to working creatively with all aspects of human experience – whatever the therapeutic needs or problem being faced.
Existential Analysis in its simplest form is more than a set of rules, theories and procedures for providing therapy – it is a way of being that is embodied and is experiential in nature.
Below are some examples of the kind of themes that Existential Analysis may help us to reflect on and clarify in order to understand the context of the problems and challenges we face as human beings – you will also find a further description of what Existential Analysis is about:
What does it mean to be alive?
What are the possibilities that my life presents me with?
What is my relationship to myself, to other people and the world in general?
What are my responsibilities to myself and to other people?
What do I value and cherish dearly?
What is the nature of the anxiety that I experience in my life?
What are the assumptions and attributions that underpin my thoughts and actions?
What are the contradictions, discrepancies and paradoxes that occur in my everyday life?
What is my worldview – the way that I have constructed the story of my life?
What is my true potential?
What would it be like to choose my own way of living?
In recent years Existential – Phenomenology has been recognised as one of the principal paradigmatic bases within British Counselling Psychology – creating a valid pathway for training in Existential Counselling Psychology with the British Psychological Society (BPS) and part of the pathway to becoming registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
The Existential – Phenomenological model is at the forefront of what has become known as ‘Human Science Research’, where it informs approaches that examine cultural and sexual diversity – in attempting as much as possible to be aware of assumptions and beliefs that may underpin a particular view. In short the ‘phenomenology’ aspect of therapy basically means bringing things to light that were previously hidden. Existential – Phenomenological perspectives continue to have an influence on the attitudes and language used within cognitive science and consciousness studies.
The information provided below is intended for the casual visitor and professionals, providing a broad idea of what Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy is about and has to offer.
While some Existential – Phenomenological Counsellors and Psychotherapists work exclusively through the medium of Dialogue – what is commonly know as talking therapy – many others incorporate wider experiential practices and techniques, such as Mindfulness, Meditation, Focusing and / or Body Work Exercises. There are however, a number of characteristics that distinguishes the Existential approach from other modes of therapy.
As with its philosophical history, Existential – Phenomenology takes the human condition in all its wondrous manifestations as the focus of investigation. Existential – Phenomenology emphasises the unfolding nature of human experience and brings a curiosity to what it means to be human. Its aim is to reveal the way in which each individual comes to understand and construct his or her particular way of being – the way in which we create our own lives and selves by the way we live and come to understand the world. One of the key aims of Existential – Phenomenology is to facilitate a process of reflection and description that reveals with ever more detail and clarity the meaning that arises from our lived experience. We are not trying to merely explain ‘why’ things happen to be the way they are, but instead to describe ‘how’ we find ourselves to be – the process with which we involve ourselves.
Another key element of Existential – Phenomenology, as an approach to therapy, is that it emphasises the fundamentally relational aspect of being human – we seek to understand the ways in which as individuals we relate both to ourselves, others and being in the world in general. In exploring our relationships we also explore the way that everything we do is dependent on the context of our lives and the environments we inhabit along with others.
Existential – Phenomenology calls attention to the hidden processes that occur between people – the intersubjective nature of our relationships. It may also explore the nature of the anxiety we experience as we face our lives – as might the limits to what can be known for certain in our lives. As such, Existential – Phenomenology endeavours to understand the way we come to construct an understanding of the world – our worldview.
Existential – Phenomenological Counselling and Psychotherapy is open to the exploration of our sense of ethics, morality and issues of human freedom and facticity – the limits of human freedom. The process of Existential – Phenomenology explores the horizon of our possibilities and seeks to uncover our individual potential – it challenges us to make the most out of our lives by facing the defining choices that lay before each one us.
Existential – Phenomenological Counselling and Psychotherapy is often seen as challenging the assumptions made by mainstream therapeutic models – in particular the rationale and usefulness of diagnosis. The Existential – Phenomenological approach considers the problems that we encounter as human beings as not necessarily being indicators of potential ‘mental illness’ or of ‘symptoms’ that need to be removed, but rather as a consequence of the difficulties we face with living. As such, Existential – Phenomenology embodies both a systemic as well as a constructionist approach – in that it seeks to engage people in dialogue with the aim of describing, revealing and relating specific phenomena that are experienced in particular context, to those experienced in the global lived context. In doing so the process works at revealing the meaning that is inherent in our lived experience.
There is a basic assumption to all therapy that states that there are good reasons for the way people adapt and behave as human beings in the face of difficult, challenging and traumatic experiences – even when initially the thoughts and behaviours can seem nonsensical, self defeating and even destructive. Another assumption being made in therapy is that there is something we can learn from the process of reflecting upon both our individual and shared experience of existence – of the way we encounter ourselves, others and the world that we inhabit.
In stripping away what is taken for granted, that we can begin to reveal the assumptions that underlie our most dearly held values and cherished belief systems. Existential – Phenomenological Counselling and Psychotherapy provides the valuable opportunity of uncovering the contradictions, discrepancies and paradoxes that we experience in our everyday lives. With increased clarity and insight it is reasoned that we are better equipped to face and resolve the problematic issues we experience in our lives – and be able to consciously embrace the lives we want to live.
Existential – Phenomenological Counselling and Psychotherapy explores the way we encounter issues of our own freedom and examines the role of personal choice within our lives. For example – Do we as individuals consciously and intentionally choose the things that we are either passionate or fearful of – or do we choose with our feet, sleepwalking unconsciously into our respective futures. Existential – Phenomenology explores fundamental issues of isolation and loneliness that is experienced in life, together with the overarching certainty of our physical death. Through Existential – Phenomenology we explore the potential that life can hold even in the most difficult of circumstances. Existential – Phenomenology is used to explore every aspect of human life – ranging from the finite experience to our infinite perceptions of perfection and eternity.
Existential – Phenomenology has much in common with many ancient practices, such as Buddhism and Taoism, that incorporate the practice of Mindfulness as a way of becoming more present and receptive – an aspect of Therapy that has seen a prolific rise in popularity, particularly within therapies that originate from within the natural sciences – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a more recent example. However, Existential – Phenomenology is an organic process, one that is able to adapt responsively to the particular therapeutic needs of the individual, whether that is for short-term or longer-term therapy.
If you are looking for a therapeutic approach that engages with and challenges you to explore and reflect on your personal history, your way of being and your personal philosophy of life – Existential– Phenomenological Counselling and Psychotherapy can provide an effective way forward.