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Matthew Lowe
Matthew Lowe

Skills In Existential Counselling


Although there is no single existential therapy, each approach shares the same basic principle that while life is fraught with dilemmas, we choose our values and whether and how we live by them (Adams, 2013).




Skills in Existential Counselling



This article introduces existential therapy before exploring how it is performed. We also provide helpful worksheets, questions, activities, and exercises to equip therapists for each session and support clients.


The companion website to Skills in Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy (van Deurzen & Adams, 2016) provides valuable videos exploring putting existential theory into practice and turning essential concepts into treatment plans.


Share the Managing Existential Anxiety worksheet to help them recognize that existential anxiety is normal and consider the positive experiences and emotions they experience in life to maintain a balanced outlook.


The authors provide a comprehensive introduction and overview of ideas and techniques central to the philosophical theories underpinning existential therapy, along with practical approaches for use with clients.


Once existential anxiety is recognised, it can be dealt with constructively. Anxiety can be a stimulus for growth as we become aware of and accept our freedom. If we have the courage to face ourselves and the challenges of human life, we may be frightened but we can change.


However, critics of existential therapy see it as excessively individualistic; for many cultures, it is not possible to talk about self and self-determination outside the context of the social network. This modality can also be seen as ignoring the social factors that cause human problems: even if clients change internally, there may be little hope that the external realities of racism or discrimination will change.


In this 15-hour online training, leading instructors in the E-H field will provide theoretical explanation and experiential opportunities for the development and/or strengthening of skills and capacities that are not only core to the E-H approach but can also support therapists of many other modalities cultivate a foundation for optimizing their technical skills.


In this 16-hour core E-H therapy skills online training, leading instructors in the E-H field will provide theoretical explanation and experiential opportunities for the development and/or strengthening of skills and capacities that are not only core to the E-H approach but can also support therapists of many other modalities cultivate a foundation for optimizing their technical skills.


EHI offers courses on the principles of existential-humanistic philosophy and practice, the inner search process, presence, subjectivity and encounter, the therapeutic relationship, and the responsibility of the therapist. We offer existential therapy certification and our yearly existential therapy training retreat for clinicians teaches E-H therapy skills to enhance therapeutic practice.


All too often new books on counselling and psychotherapy fail todirectly address the needs of students but instead serve to regurgitate,albeit in an updated form, what others have already written. Skills inExistential Counselling and Psychotherapy is a notable and welcome exceptionto that tendency. This book sets out to provide a more practical introductionto existential counseling and psychotherapy than we have seen before and, inthe process, addresses a key issue for so many students of the existentialapproach, the lack of guidance in the literature on what they should actuallydo when working existentially with a client. The book is structured intoeight chapters, beginning with an attempt to define and situate existentialcounselling and psychotherapy and then a discussion of the personal andprofessional qualities needed to become a therapist, before moving on tooutline the foundation for all practice, the phenomenological method. Whilstthe phenomenological method is necessary for existential therapy it is, ofcourse, not sufficient and Chapters 4 to 6 engage with key ideas fromexistentialism that provide the theoretical backbone of practice. Thepenultimate chapter focuses on the practicalities of working as a therapistwith the book ending with a summary of the key ideas that have been espoused,a glossary and suggestions for further reading (and viewing).


The huge value of this book comes from the wonderfully practicalapproach that is taken throughout. Instead of simply parroting ideas that formany seem vague or even incomprehensible, the authors provide concretesuggestions for practice. This is a brave and very welcome move and willensure that this book becomes the key text for students (and experiencedpractitioners alike) struggling to comprehend exactly what they are supposedto do when working as an existential counsellor or psychotherapist. The realhighlights of this book for me are Chapters 3, 4 and 5 where the authorsprovide the most practical guide to phenomenology and existentialism inpractice that I have ever read. Throughout these chapters concretesuggestions for interventions are supplemented by client vignettes (withcommentary) which serve to bring the different elements of practice to life.Detail is provided about the heart of our approach with information lightlypresented on theory, much practical advice (or perhaps I should say, wisdom)and exercises designed to reflexively engage the reader. Whilst the theory isvery light, and students will need to look elsewhere for theoretical depthwhen they write their essays, this is actually a positive rather thannegative thing here. This book is not about the minutiae of theory but aninvaluable guide to the skills needed to work effectively within thisparticular therapeutic approach.


There are of course omissions and areas of disagreement but itwould be remarkable if there were not. One area of disagreement, forinstance, lies with the argument forwarded at the very start of the bookabout the reluctance to prescribe the limits of this form of psychotherapy.Van Deurzen and Adams celebrate the diversity of existential practice,something I would not disagree with, but argue that this diversity is astrength rather than weakness and it is here that I believe we may have aproblem within contemporary UK existential counselling and psychotherapy. Forme the reality is that diversity is too often a masquerade for ill-informedintegrationism. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with systematicintegration within psychotherapy, too often the result within existentialpsychotherapy is an impractical hotchpotch of ideas and techniques, which dolittle to focus the therapist (and perhaps, most importantly, client) onexploring their worlds together such that whatever challenges the clientfaces can be met with renewed vigour. Without some real sense of what lies atthe core of an existential therapeutic approach (and for me, and I think alsofor van Deurzen and Adams, this must be a phenomenological method augmentedby existential and hermeneutic philosophy), with real commitment to such afoundation, clients are liable to be met with either a rather watered down orconfused person-centred method or cold analytic presence. I appreciate theirposition that existential therapy is paradoxical and, of course, should notbe manualised or simply taught as a set of skills but if our form of therapyis to thrive and really benefit our clients then I believe it is vital thatwe do not shy away from setting boundaries. These boundaries must of coursebe tested theoretically and practically as an ongoing process, but withoutsuch a foundation we will never mark out our unique contribution to the fieldand provide clear limits that can truly be tested.


The brief discussion of politics and recognition that the personalis always political in Chapter 2 is, for me, all too brief and also perhaps alittle simplistic. The example is given of voting in an election that isgiven as an example of engaging politically, with the person who abstainsfrom such events described as someone 'who gives up belonging to thewider world of society or who gives up having an effect on it' (p. 33)fails to take account of the variety of ways of engage politically, beyondthat of engaging with the establishment. People may be choosing not to voteon the basis of belief that none of those participating in the election areworthy of their vote or that the election process itself is inherently flawedor corrupt and furthermore, such people may also be engaged politically insociety in myriad other ways through direct action, protest, communitybuilding and so on. The lack of subtlety in this section is a shame but Isuspect, at least in part, reflective of a need to keep the book tightlyfocused on practicalities. Whilst I feel that the political (and indeed,ethical) is something that continues to be lacking within the existentialtradition, others may not be quite so concerned about this omission.


These disagreements (and indeed, any others that I might havechosen to highlight) in no way undermine the value of this book. In terms ofmeeting the needs of the likely key market (students studying on courses inexistential counselling and psychotherapy) it is nigh-on perfect. If anystudents are reading this review then I would strongly recommend you buy thisbook. Indeed, I would recommend that anyone interested in existentialcounselling and psychotherapy, whether student or experiencedpractitioner/teacher, buy this book and relish the clear, accurate andsuperbly practical exposition contained therein that is all too rare in thisfield.


Humanistic and existential psychotherapies use a wide range of approaches to caseconceptualization, therapeutic goals, intervention strategies, and researchmethodologies. They are united by an emphasis on understanding human experience anda focus on the client rather than the symptom. Psychological problems (includingsubstance abuse disorders) are viewed as the result of inhibited ability to makeauthentic, meaningful, and self-directed choices about how to live. Consequently,interventions are aimed at increasing client self-awareness and self-understanding.


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