What is Existentialism?
The concept of existentialism is an organizing ethical principle, capable to reveal the positive sides of the existential approach in counseling. An active introduction of these existential values in the process of counseling can increase efficiency of a therapeutic work.
Counseling is one of the types of a psychological assistance (along with psycho correction, psychotherapy, psychological trainings, etc.), singled out from psychotherapy. Counseling as a profession is a rather new area of a psychological practice singled out from psychotherapy. This speciality arose in reply to the needs of people who do not have clinical disorders, however, looking for a psychological assistance. Therefore, counselors face, first of all, the people experiencing difficulties in an everyday life. The range of the problems is really wide: difficulties at work (dissatisfaction with work, the conflicts with colleagues and heads, and the possibility of dismissal), disorder of private life and disorder in a family, a bad progress at school, a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, painful fluctuations of decision-making, difficulties in setting and maintenance of the interpersonal relations, etc. On the other hand, counseling as a young area of psychological practice has no strictly outlined borders.
Counseling is substantially filled with various theories - psychological, psychotherapeutic, philosophical, social, psychological, and existential. The emergence of the theory of counseling is under the influence of social, historical and cultural factors (the distinction in cultures in which theories are created). The founders of the theories quite often create the theories, solving own problems, thus expressing or reflecting own identity, having a strong interest in the record and transfer of ideas.
Practically, all known philosophers-existentialists warned against the errors of the psychological attitude to an existential perspective. Existentialism is implanted in life, instead of in mentality. In this sense, the existential perspective is an ontological perspective, instead of psychological. Nevertheless, there is an area of the analyzed notion where experts call themselves existential psychologists. Existential measurements of being are understood as a system of axes in which there is a place of a separate person and special therapeutic techniques are created for this purpose. The mentioned type of psychology is aimed at the most important questions in a human life, the answers to which determine the further development of a person. Existentialism includes love and death, freedom and responsibility, belief and doubt, hope and despair, loneliness and comprehensive unity, sense and senselessness, courage and determination, concentration and openness, etc.
The existential psychology is a practical psychology, and almost all its prominent representatives are practicing psychologists and psychotherapists are the representatives of it. It has its own methods - phenomenological and existential analysis. Unlike any other theory, existentialism allows conducting a methodological analysis of the other psychological concepts, and explicating its own methodology and philosophy.
Binswanger was interested in the fact that a little attention is paid to the viewed theory. He thought that the existential theory is not so popular because there were no certain prominent theorists or practicians, representing it. Firstly, the existential approach in counseling often seems something excessive, suitable only to some "correctly anxious" clients, who have time and money, sufficient to be engaged in the personal growth. Secondly, existential psychology is often considered as something esoteric and too abstract for the practical application for the usual cares of clients. Thirdly, some people think that the existential approach is based on the extremely negative understanding of a human being, his life and, therefore, is not a psychologically useful for the majority of clients.
Existentialism is a philosophical direction including enough different thinkers (such as, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Sartre). It creates difficulties in the determination of its practical usefulness in such psychological work as counseling. It is known that existentialism represents rather a chain of thinkers with certain views of a human life than a philosophical school. Moreover, the authors, who turned existentialism concepts into "existential psychology", often did it rather abstractly, at the level of the concept, instead of at a practical level. Therefore, it is difficult to distinctly separate counseling based on existential approach from other theoretical approaches.
From the point of view of the existential theory, all clients, who addressed to consultation, should realize better how their system of constructs "Me - World" supports and does their life possible and, at the same time, limits and does not allow their more effective existence. The statements of existentialism that a human being is free and has a choice find a paramount value in this case. The indicated counseling is a context for a profound research of helping and interfering influences of the system of the constructs "Me - World".
The existential problems, which the patients face, such as the problems of a choice, responsibility and a problem of the creation of own system of values, should be understood at the level of experience. It means that these problems should be treated authentically and subjectively. It often demands the refusal of comfortable and safe intellectual understanding. Existentialism seeks to push each person to overcome personal emptiness and to find the way out by means of which people can and have to choose the values of their lives freely. In any case, a sharp negative side of the pointed approach is only a part of the entire picture; however, it also has a positive side. There is not a human being, but his life in indissoluble communication with the world and other people (existence in the world, life together) is in the center of attention of existentialists.
Existential counseling maintains that disturbance is an inevitable experience for virtually everyone; the question is not so much how to avoid it as it is how to face it with openness and a willingness to engage with life rather than a tendency to retreat, withdraw or refrain from responsibility.
The medical factors at the existential approach include not the empathy, but the acceptance by the other person (therapist) and understanding of a life situation, creation of the attitude to the future, ability to make crucial decisions, which are brought up by the patient with a therapist.
The contact with a specialist is a necessary but insufficient condition for assistance. Responsibility in the existential approach to counseling is understood as the ability to answer life calls, its unexpected turns and ability to answer for the results of own actions. An existential counseling is a certain secret of a mutual influence of a client and a therapist through speech.
The existential psychology often raises questions of a life change for a person, and a life change is the process demanding considerable efforts and even sacrifices. There are the means, quickly and effectively removing symptoms, but leaving the roots of the disease untouched. The existential psychotherapy is the therapy which is engaged in illness roots, not in a causal sense, but in the sense of a vital environment of its emergence.
All suffering people, not only the patients in a condition of the so-called "existential crisis" connected with search of life meaning, and also people with existential pain, after very serious mental traumas, can be the clients of existential therapists. Moreover, the existential psychotherapy is the therapy promoting a fuller and freer living of life. Being completely accepted and processed by a counselor, the existential therapy can long serve for the deepening of influence of a counselor on the positive changes in a client's life.