Pros and cons of existential counselling

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Existential counselling is an approach based on existential psychology. Theorists such as Rollo May, James Bugental, Viktor Frankl and Irvin Yalom have contributed to modern psychological existential theory, which centres on how the individual lives in his environment and how he can best lead an "authentic" life.

As a form of counselling, the existential perspective has been met with both praise and criticism.

Pro: Meaning of life

One of the main goals of existential counselling is to help the client make meaning out of her life and experiences. Existential counselling focuses on some of the major existential questions that people face in life. Clients are asked to ponder questions such as why they exist, why they suffer, what is the point of their lives, and whether they are alone or part of a larger whole. The advantage of focusing on these types of questions is that it empowers the individual to make choices and take responsibility for her actions.

Con: Intellectualisation

Existential counselling has been criticised as being overly "intellectual." Some argue that those seeking therapy who cannot relate to deep self-reflection and self-examination may not be able to connect to the process of existential work. People seeking a more direct, time-limited approach may benefit more from cognitive-behavioural, rather than existential, forms of therapy.

Pro: Person-centred

Existential counselling is considered a person-centred therapy. This means that the counsellor treats the client with unconditional positive regard, and accepts the individual's ability to make his own choices in life. Existential approaches are humanistic in nature, in that they emphasise the individual's inherent worth and dignity. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, existential therapies are non-directive, and the counsellor avoids making broad interpretations or analysing the client. Rather, the counsellor works to be present and authentic in her work with the client, trying to understand the individual's moment-by-moment experiences.

Con: Religious conflict

There has been criticism that existential counselling is in essence atheistic, ostracising people of religious faith. This criticism may in part stem from the atheistic beliefs of some of the theorists who have contributed to existential thought and theory. It may also stem from the fact that existential counselling asks the individual to think about aspects of life that have to do with larger questions, such as why people exist and what the purpose of life is. This may be a conflict for some individuals, who believe that it's the role of religion to answer such large-scale questions. Proponents of existential counselling, however, insist that religion can play a role in the process as a way of answering these questions.