Applied Existential Psychotherapy


Applied Existential Psychology

We are afraid of our freedom, because to be totally free means to be totally responsible.

From Sartre’s perspective freedom leads to existential anxiety because to live in freedom means to live on the edge of “double nothingness”, without a fixed sense of identity or solid self, or a clear knowing of who it is I am becoming. In order to avoid existential anxiety we imagine ourselves to be fixed and solid, or to use Sartre’s term “serious”. This gives us a false sense of security we imagine ourselves to be some-thing. The trap of this security seeking process is that we give up our freedom, which leads to believing we are stuck, which leads to suffering.

Gestalt Therapy, developed mainly by Perls, also explores the many ways we give up our freedom and refuse to take responsibility for our lives in order to feel secure. Gestalt is an existential experiential approach. It focuses more on process: the body, the relationship between client and therapist, the way we say things, etc., rather than on the story we tell ourselves.

In AEP, influenced greatly by Sartre and Perls, we look at the many points of decision we make to give up our freedom. When looked at in the contest of the situation of our lives; family of origin, culture, socioeconomics, war, etc., these decisions may have been wise. In the current context of life though, they may be in your way of experiencing joy and spontaneity. Through this process one can learn to drop the ‘serious” approach to life and enter into the “spirit of play”.

The spirit of play is a lighter approach to existence. In this approach we recognize our multitude of choices. We can live fully in our body, rather than disconnected. We are no longer constrained by our past, our unconscious mind, our culture, or any of the many ways humans find to trap themselves. We are free to experience joy, sorrow excitement, whatever life has to offer. In AEP we move from the spirit of seriousness to the spirit of play.

For further reading, please see: Applied Existential Psychotherapy