WTF is Existential-Phenomenological Psychology?

I started graduate school last week. Yes, I am working too. And I am still in my online nutrition program. Life is a little crazy.

But it’s crazy in the best way. Rarely in my life have I felt so much alignment between what I’m doing and what I love to do. I thought I’d write up a little list of things that characterize an existential-phenomenological approach to psychology, for anyone who has ever asked me and will ever ask me (although it may grow as I learn more throughout this year).

An existential-phenomenological approach holds that:

Anxiety is a human condition. As beings, we are constantly aware that someday we might cease to be.

Anxiety is a necessary part of being human. Anxiety most frequently arises when we are confronted with a change in our world (as this is close to the feeling of losing ourselves).

Change is an essential part of continuing to become as we transform throughout life. Thus, anxiety will never entirely go away (and it shouldn’t, because that would mean that we stopped transforming).

Rather than objects to be analyzed, people are dynamic beings who have the infinite potential to design their worlds (while they are also being created by their worlds).

They “design” their worlds by responding to situations. Freedom to choose a response or reaction is one of the primary features of human beings.

Humans are infinitely creative, so there are countless ways to think and feel.

Someone with a “psychological disorder” is someone who has become stuck, or locked, in a world that seems without possibilities.

The goal of therapy is to illuminate those possibilities again by means of the therapeutic relationship. The therapist endeavors to shed light on the client’s world, to help them to see it clearly, so that they can begin to think of other possible worlds.

The primary tool of a therapist is presence. The therapist must be aware of themselves while being completely present for the person before them, suspending judgment and expertise in order to listen deeply and respond.

The therapist must understand that the person across from them is another human, and that they are also human themselves. In fact, the power of therapy lies in the interaction between two humans: the creation of community.

Healing requires commitment. In order to heal, a person must be committed to becoming aware of the possibilities of their life once again.

There is no list of techniques to choose from when addressing a client. Rather, the therapist’s first job is to attempt to understand the world of the client on their own terms. Only then can the therapist attempt to help the client heal.

– End of list (for now)-

I love this approach so far, because it speaks to something that I’ve always believed: every person is a universe. We are all a product of our experiences, yet we have the freedom to influence how they continue to influence our lives. We can only do that, however, by delving into our present: our patterns, our self-talk, our habits. It requires love and attention – loving attention – to what we’re doing.

Most of us do most things automatically. I eat mindlessly. I mindlessly surf social media, mindlessly drive, mindlessly walk, mindlessly prep food…everything can be mindless.

Or it can be mindful.

We can tune in to our feelings (not second-guess or repress). We can move toward anxiety (not move away via distraction or run screaming to the hills). We can assert ourselves in our relationships. We can look for the positive. The freedom. 

The countless choices that we make every day can become intentional, real choices.

It’s challenging and worthwhile, to become the very best becomers that we can be.

WTF is Existential-Phenomenological Psychology?

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