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 that clients are faced with sorting through and solving for.
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 depression, anxiety, and other mental health imbalances and dysfunctions, and movement toward a more satisfying, meaningful life.
These dimensions include the difficulty of navigating choices and making meaning out of the chaos, complexity, and "stuff" of life, the struggle between self and other(s), and the fact of our inevitable death and the limits we encounter as we try to actualize our desires and possibilities throughout the course of our lives.
Choice, freedom, commitments, other people, and 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 the field of awareness.
Methods of tapping into and working with this "existential level" 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" become a life of alignment and authenticity. .
The promise of attaining some degree of this self-understanding requires us to explore and develop our psyche. When we develop psychologically, we generally become more skillful in dealing with the problems that arise in being human. We become attuned to ourselves, working with rather than against our unique nature, learning how we really function and operate, what we prefer, enjoy, and long for, and 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 decisions you make that add 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, de Beauvoir, and their close associates were advocating for.
In fact, this very popular "voluntaristic freedom" is a vulgarization and distortion of existential thought, a major example of the "bad faith" Sartre and de Beauvoir painstakingly analyzed and warned us about as a common form of inauthenticity, a way 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 quite common, 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 even 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.