The existential approach is a philosophical method of dealing with challenges in living. It is rooted in the ideas of several European philosophers, notably Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Buber and Merleau-Ponty, as well writers such as Camus and Dostoevsky, and practitioners such as Frankl, Boss and Binswanger. Whilst their opinions varied, they were all concerned at a fundamental level with what it meant to be human and how we could understand human existence.
An existential approach will follow a specific philosophical method of enquiry involving description, understanding and exploration of the client's reality, known as phenomenology. Challenges are confronted and perceived possibilities and limitations are explored. Through dialogue, a client’s “world view” is revealed, and their coping mechanisms and assumptions about their dilemmas re-examined.
This approach encourages us to be realistic about our limitations which in turn help us to identify our possibilities. By re-examining our assumptions about ourselves, others and the world we live in, we create the possibility of seeing new opportunities for meaningful living which may well have been obscured, denied or not envisaged. An Existential approach does not eliminate anxiety but encourages us to engage with it with courage and compassion.
Leading a more meaningful life is the intention of this approach. It is about accepting that life and work involves pleasure and pain, sadness and joy, success and failure, good and bad. We all live in the tension of these paradoxes everyday but our response is often like a magnetic pull towards one end of those polarities and where we seek to eradicate or deny any value or influence of the other. Recognising that both ends of these life magnets have something to offer us in our challenges of life is the goal of this approach, to find a way through our dilemmas by accepting both our limitations and our possibilities, by working with the stuff in our lives we like and the stuff in our lives that we hate.
‘Happiness and unhappiness are twins that grow up together’ - Nietzsche