Aspects of Existential Therapy


Adult life can be seen as challenging due to the need to make decisions and take up responsibilities. Many people find it difficult to address the issues they encounter, which results in various psychological concerns. This paper includes a brief analysis of the case of Sherry, who is a 26-year-old bartender living with her parents in their house. The female rented an apartment for a while, but after her apartment had been broken into, she feared to live on her own, stressing that she cannot afford a place of residence in a proper neighborhood. The case under consideration will be addressed with the help of existential therapy.

Presenting Concern

Existential therapy is an optimal approach as it can be instrumental in addressing the client’s major concerns that include the lack of self-esteem, anxiety, the lack of meaning, and the fear of taking responsibility. Existential therapy is associated with finding meaning and self-determination and helping patients to grow to their maximum potential (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). Sherry needs to attain such goals as she believes she is incapable of making rational choices that are necessary for living independently from her parents. Existential therapy will help the client find strength and her inner potential to cope with the complexity of modern life.

Sherry’s basic conflicts are related to her unwillingness and unpreparedness to leave home physically and mentally. She wants freedom and being responsible (that are a part of adult life), but she wants to feel safe that is possible (as seen by the client herself) when she is at home. Therefore, Sherry has to address the conflict between the understanding of the value of her independent life and the desire to feel safe and make no major decisions.

The primary concern to be addressed is Sherry’s feeling of insecurity that is the major reason for her living at her parental house. She believes she cannot afford a safe place to live due to her low salary, but instead of looking for options and opportunities to improve her educational background and employment, she chooses to live with her parents. She is unlikely to move on if she keeps relying on her parents. Sherry needs to find the meaning and her place in the world instead of sticking to the past where she feels safe.

Three Central Concepts of the Theory

In addition to self-awareness and self-determination, as well as looking for the meaning in life, three other basic concepts of the approach include responsibility, accepting fears and addressing them, as well as building proper relationships with others. One of the pillars of the existential approach is the focus on responsibility and making people ready to be responsible and make decisions on their own (Cooper et al., 2019). The basic concept of this therapy is freedom and free will, as well as associated responsibility (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). The client is motivated to accept the need to be responsible for their actions.

Instead of looking for underlying issues and reasons in their past, the patient is encouraged to think of their present and the tools they have to make the right decisions. According to the existential paradigm, free will is people’s value and curse, so they have to acknowledge their freedom, accept it, and succeed by being responsible (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). Taking responsibility rather than relying on others or the external environment is the key to a person’s growth. Sherry needs to start being responsible and leave her parental home to find her own dwelling, which will be a new start for her.

Accepting fears (and anxiety) as a part of human existence and developing skills to address this aspect effectively is another core concept of the approach. The focus on this area is one of the reasons for choosing existential therapy when working with Sherry. She is afraid of violence she can potentially experience when living on her own. Existential therapists help such clients to acknowledge that an escape from anxiety is impossible and not productive (Van Deurzen & Arnold-Baker, 2018). People should be aware of potential hazards, and being fearful is a natural reaction to threats that are often associated with something unknown. Understanding the nature of fear and accepting it is instrumental in becoming truly responsible for one’s choices and decisions. Sherry should understand that her anxiety will never pass (since it is a part of human life), but she is the one who can control it utterly.

Finally, the development of relationships with others is the third primary concept of existential therapy to be discussed. According to existential therapy, people need to find their place in this world, and developing appropriate relationships with people around them is one of the most effective ways to achieve the set objective. The client learns how to build social ties and relationships that become the necessary support. Sherry reports that she is ready to live with a friend, so she might need to develop some skills to be more active in this respect. Finding a roommate is an important and responsible step to be undertaken. Sherry may need to develop relationships with her colleagues in the bar to be more confident when leaving her working place. She needs social ties and networks to try new professional paths as well.

One Technique

Existential therapists employ diverse tools to help their clients attain the goals they establish. Socratic questioning is one of these instruments that have proved to be effective in finding meanings and addressing one’s fears (Ortiz & Flórez, 2016). This technique encompasses asking the client a set of guided open-ended questions. The client is invited to explore their selves and the nature of the issues they find challenging. While reflecting on these problems and concerns, the person is guided to identify existing solutions and choosing the best option in their case. Sherry will definitely benefit from the use of this tool as she will be able to understand the true reason for her living with her parents, her desire to avoid responsibility. She will also find the courage to start a new life with multiple opportunities she may uncover.

Strengths and Limitations

As any other therapy, the existential approach is characterized by strengths and certain limitations. The major strength of the therapy when used with Sherry is the focus on the client’s self-awareness. The young woman needs to understand who she is and who she can become, as the role of a bartender is not what satisfies her. By acknowledging her traits, aspirations, capabilities, Sherry will be able to choose the right path and take courage to make decisions on her own. Another strength is the focus on acceptance of basic features of human existence. Sherry has some fears that prevent her from being responsible or even starting to explore her real self. Existential therapy will help Sherry understand that anxiety is an indispensable part of people’s lives and it has to be accepted. Moreover, in some cases, fears can play a positive role in an individual’s life, but it is critical to learn how to control them.

As far as limitations are concerned, the basic one is the need to invest a lot of time as the existential approach is a lasting therapy. Some clients may want to get quick results instead of building relationships with the therapists and working days and even months to attain some goals. Another limitation is a comprehensive method that may seem too broad for many clients. Existential therapy is concerned with the philosophy of life and meanings, while some clients may be willing to complete quick and clear tasks. Sherry seems to be one of those who want quick and simple decisions. She may be unable to wait for long-term benefits but seek definite responses from the therapist.


After applying existential therapy to myself, I managed to address one of my fears. When contemplating the things I am truly afraid of, I realized that failure makes me feel depressed and causes considerable discomfort. Clearly, all people are not happy when they fail, but in my case, overreaction is the thing that bothers me and the people around me. I tried to further analyze the nature of failure and my attitudes. I learned that failures are only a step towards success, and I should start treating them that way.

The most challenging aspect for me was setting the right questions as it seemed I tried to avoid being responsible and sincere with myself. However, I returned to my contemplations over and over again, so I wore myself out in a way, which made me be more open and honest. As for cultural limitations, the only thing was related to the social aspect. We live in a world of winners, so success is a must. These values and norms were a certain obstacle on my way to accepting my fears and controlling them.


Cooper, M., Craig, E., & van Deurzen, E. (2019). Introduction: What is existential therapy? In E. van Deurzen et al. (Eds.), The Wiley world handbook of existential therapy (pp. 1-27). John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Ortiz, E. M. & Flórez, I. A. (2016). Meaning-centered psychotherapy: A Socratic clinical practice. In S. E. Schulenberg (Eds.), Clarifying and furthering existential psychotherapy: Theories, Methods, and Practices (pp. 59-78). Springer.

Van Deurzen, E., & Arnold-Baker, C. (2018). Existential therapy: Distinctive Features. Routledge.

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PsychologyWriting. "Aspects of Existential Therapy." September 18, 2023.