Existential-Humanism is a body of work that offers a compelling analysis of human experience. One I find useful, honest, and complex enough to make sense of a dizzying array of problems in living clients are faced with sorting through and solving.
Though a diverse tradition that originates in existential philosophy, it is one that generally takes into account significant dimensions of life often undervalued as contributing factors to both the prevention of and movement toward a more satisfying, meaningful life.
These dimensions include the difficulty of navigating choices and making meaning, the struggle between self and other(s), and the fact of our inevitable death and limits.
Choice, freedom, commitments, other people, mortality, play out in our individual lives in very real, concrete ways, presenting us with ethical dilemmas, identity crises, critical disappointments, and overwhelming demands to cope with ever-changing realities. Often what it means to be human sets us up for inner conflicts, situational conundrums, and difficult passages that raise existential-level questions into awareness.
Methods of tapping into and working with this 'existential level' of self-understanding are an invaluable resource to the "arduous task" of the therapeutic process whose positive, rewarding outcome can, when met with "commitment, self-knowledge, and courage" be a life of alignment and authenticity. .
The promise of attaining some degree of this self-understanding requires us to develop our psyche. When we develop psychologically, we generally become more skillful in dealing with the problems that arise in being human and we become attuned to ourselves in ways we need to be in order to discover our unique nature, how we function and operate, what we prefer, enjoy, and long for, what we want out of this 'one precious life'.
This self-understanding is not just armchair speculation. It is the groundwork for unlocking latent potentials within your human spirit, rescuing some sense of personal meaning in a world full of options without clear-cut guidelines, and taking modest, reasonable control of your life course, future direction, and the daily decision-making that adds up to a life that feels like your own.
The Founders of Existentialism
Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, & Close Associates
Existentialism, a "cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 50s," has been identified a philosophy of freedom, emphasizing the conditions of choice, responsibility, commitment, and meaning-making in human experience. A more nuanced and delicate reading reveals that Sartre and De Beauvoir meant to disclose human reality as a "freedom in the context of his or her situation", by which they mean the cultural, historical, and even familial context, into which we are born, grow within, and find our adult way in. Without factoring in this critical dimension, which is called facticity, existentialism devolves into a kind of voluntarist "do whatever I want", which is hardly the philosophical position Sartre and his close associates were advocating.
In fact, this 'voluntaristic freedom', still popular in contemporary thought, is a major example of the 'bad faith' he and Beauvoir painstakingly analyzed, or again, the ways we deceive ourselves about the nature of being human, usually to avoid different kinds of anxiety that necessarily and unavoidably come along with existence. This kind of bad faith, denying limits, constraints, the 'world-historical process', circumstances, and other determining factors on our choices, is called 'flight of transcendence' and is common amongst us all, and especially in religious or spiritual ideology.
Sartre maintains that, despite giving weight to this factical dimension of human experience in his later thinking, found to be even more significant to the shaping of our lives than his youthful appraisals would permit, there is an irreducible freedom unique to the kind of consciousness that human beings are equipped with. This freedom is the 'nothingness' or 'gap' of one of his most famous philosophical tomes, Being and Nothingness, and it, overly simplified, means the capacity for us to consciously respond to these determining circumstances in infinitely creative ways.
Read more about the movement's history and key concepts at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's page on Existentialism.