Definition of Existential Therapy
One survey taken by Corey suggests a definition of Existential Therapy
include two key elements:
Existential Therapy is essentially an approach to counseling and therapy
rather than a firm theoretical model, it stresses core human conditions.
Normally, personality development is based on the uniqueness of each
individual.Sense of self develops from infancy. Self determination and a
tendency toward growth are control ideas. Focus is on the present and on what
one is becoming; that is the approach has a future orientation. It stresses
self-awareness before action.(1996, p.465)
In layman terms, Existential therapy can be described as a philosophical
approach that is not designed to cure people but instead help the client reflect
and search for value and meaning in life. Existential Therapy does not supply a
cookbook of methods like other approaches but instead it provides a framework
that is adaptable to the therapist, in which to view the individual and the
world in which they participate.
Definition of Person-Centered (Client-Centered) Therapy
According to Mosby’s Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary,
client-centered therapy is a non directive method of group or individual
psychotherapy, originated by Carl Rogers, in which the role of the therapist is
to listen to and reflect or restate without judgment or interpretation the words
of the client.
Objectives of Existential Therapy
The objectives of Existential Therapy are quite unique. Existential
counselors are focused on helping the client achieve and expand their self-
awareness. Many Therapist assume once self awareness is achieved, the client
can examine new ways of dealing with problems and except the responsibility of
Objectives of Client-centered Therapy
The objective of client-centered therapy is to assist the client to
experience self exploration, so that they can identify problems that are
hindering their growth process.Essentially, the main goal of client-centered
therapy is to have the client achieve a sense of increased awareness and
understanding of his attitudes, feelings, and behaviors.
Existential and client-centered therapy have been criticized for not
being scientific enough. They have been down played as not being empirical
and not having a therapeutic model that is firmly set in stone with a set of
methods and interventions. A large number of therapist feel that Existential
and client-centered therapy are not sound therapeutic approaches for treating
and diagnosing adolescents. One main reason for this argument is the
existential view toward adolescence. Existentialist view adolescence as a time
when a young person begins to gain a sense of awareness on a surface level.
After achieving this level, the adolescent gradually starts to focus on self
meaning, which takes place through the development of their identity(Hacker,
1994). Existentialist also believe that how the individual conceptilizes death
plays a part in the whole being of the person. A survey of 82 students revealed
people viewed death as cold and denied. This information indicates death is
very influencial in creating anxiety in people (Westman, 1992, p. 1064).
Existential and client-centered therapy have not labeled themselves with
a distinct clinical procedure, instead these techniques and concepts have been
effective in helping patients to recognize and accomplish their goals.
For this reason, I believe existential thought coupled with client-centered
therapy are appropriate in treating clients who confront some type of obstacle
or major event in their life (confronting death, sudden isolation, changing from
childhood to adolescence). David Cain(1993), a person-centered therapist,
believes client-centered therapy is not a wise decision for treating clients in
some cases, he sites that due to the lack of evolution of Client-centered
therapy and the client-centered community’s unwillingness to change with the
advancements of counseling and psychotherapy has limited the therapeutic
On the otherhand, therapist Philip Kendall and Michael A. Southam-Gerow,
seem to recognize the importance of client-centered therapy. Kendall and
Southam-Gerow conducted a study which examined the long-term effects of
psychosocial treatment for anxiety disordered youth, which they evaluated the
long term effects and the effective components of the treatment.
The results from the study revealed that children and adolescent clients
treated two to five years earlier with psychotherapy retained their gains over
anxiety related disorders(p 728).
Kendall noted the lack of anxiety related problems could have resulted
from the clients maturation and not the long-term effects of therapy. This
evidence alone exhibits just one aspect of the tremendous effects of client-
centered psychotherapy. The study also demonstrated the variety of techniques
used with the clients, which ranged from relaxation exercises to role playing.
Another ongoing criticism of the two dynamic approaches to therapy is
gender plays a major role in the outcome of therapy. Researchers (Porter, Cox,
Williams, Wagner, & Johnson, 1996.) have provided research to argue this point.
They conducted a study, which a Client-Behavioral system was used to
evaluate the therapeutic process with 27 sexually abused girls who were enrolled
in individual counseling, the study revealed that when sexual abuse was formally
taught that the girls were more likely to answer with abuse related answers in
response to child abuse questions, regardless of whether the counselor was male
Summary and Conclusion
One can see from the material provided that there are some recurring
themes in the areas of client-centered and existential psychology: The search
for meaning and value in life, self-awareness, and behavior. While existential
and client-centered roots are planted firmly in philosophical and humanistic
styles of thinking without clear evidence of any scientific model,
existentialism and client-centered therapy offers the science of psychology a
path much different than the other approaches to therapy that seek only a
scientific outcome. Existential and client-centered offer a alternative form of
therapy, a phenomenological approach to the person, not a look at the instincts
of the person, not a separation of the id, the ego, and superego, but a view of
the entire being in the now.
The drawbacks of existential and client-centered therapy have been
stated as a basic lack of pure scientific methodology. These two approaches do
not offer a textbook of how to techniques, but instead they offer a viewpoint,
a lens, a way of picturing the person and the world in which they live. It
offers a way to view oneself, as a therapist, a motivator, and as a helper.
They do not however, offer a fix-all to every problem, rather they seek to help
the client realize responsibility for their actions and thoughts while helping
the client gain a deep sense of awareness and trust in themselves in the
Cain, D. J. (1993).The uncertain future of client-centered counseling.
Journal of Humanistic Education and Development. 31 (3), 133-138.
Client-Centered Therapy Dictionary Definition. Mosby’s Medical, Nursing, and
Allied Health Dictionary. CD-ROM Abstract from: Health Reference Center. File
Corey, G. (1996). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. (Rev.
ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Coleman.
Hacker, D. J. (1994). An Existential View of Adolescence. Journal of Early
Adolescence. 14. (3), 300-327.
Kendall, P., ; Southam-Gerow, M.(1996). Long-term follow-up of a Cognitive-
Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety-Disordered Youth. Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology. 64.(4), 724-730.
Porter, R. L., Wagner W., Johnson, J., ; Cox, L. M. (1996). Sexually abused
girls’ verbalizations in counseling: an application of the client behavior
CD-ROM. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 43. (4), 383-389. Abstract from:
Health Reference Center. File Number: 18987461.
Westman, A. S., (1992). Existential Anxiety as Related to Conceptualization of
Self and of Death, Denial of Death, and Religiosity. Psychological Reports. 71.
This paper examined two philosophical and humanistic approaches I have chosen
as my rationale to counseling and psychotherapy. The paper will define and
explain the objectives and techniques of these two dynamic therapies.
Furthermore, it will illustrate existential and client-centered therapy’s
importance in regards to treating adolescence.