Existential psychology is a form of psychotherapy that moves from the premise that an individual’s conflict is the result of confrontation with the absurdities of existence, specifically death, freedom and responsibility, isolation, and meaninglessness. These are the four givens, also known as ultimate concerns.
Existentialism, as a school of philosophy, traces its roots back to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, but is best represented by the thought of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. In the United Kingdom, R.D. Laing and David Cooper started with Sartre as the foundation for their work, and founded the Philadelphia Association in order to provide alternatives to traditional methods for treating mental illness.
The basis for existential psychology is the notion that human beings are alone in the world yet they want to be connected to others. Although people attempt to find meaning in the lives of others, each one must understand that validation cannot come from others, and finally acknowledge that fundamentally, each one of us is alone.
In existential psychotherapy, the past is not of concern. Rather, therapists work with patients to understand current and future choices. Individuals are taught how to increase their awareness of the present and overcome anxiety with the realization that one is not special, but still free to choose.