Existential therapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the belief that a person’s inner conflict is a result of the confrontations with the realities of existence. These realities, or “ultimate concerns”, are the inevitability of death, freedom and its associated responsibilities, existential isolation, and, finally, meaninglessness. These form the basis of existential therapy and allow the therapist to develop a treatment method through the conceptualization of a patient’s problem.
Therapists using existential therapy techniques are frequently not concerned with a patient’s past; the treatment’s emphasis is instead on the choices the patient makes and will make in the present and future. There may be discussion about the ways the patient has answered life’s question in the past, but attention there will eventually shift to helping the patient look for a new, increased awareness in the present.
Existential therapy uses four “dimensions” of human existence to help categorize patients without being restrictive in their labels; the dimensions are all ones that can be observed cross-culturally in order to be as broad and inclusive as possible:
The Physical Dimension refers to how individuals relate to the realities of the environment and the physical world around them. Generally, the focus in this dimension is between the need for domination over the elements and natural law as well as the acceptance of natural boundaries.
The Social Dimension centers on is how individuals relate to each other and the public, social world around them, including responses to the culture in which they live and classes and races they do and do not belong to.
The Psychological Dimension is concerned with how the individual relates to him or herself, and the personal world created out of that relationship.
Finally, the Spiritual Dimension relates to the unknown and the sense of an ideal world; essentially, it is how the patient finds meaning by forming an ideology and philosophical outlook.