on 12 September 2011
The tradition of existential psychotherapy has been dogged by its reputation as a vague, overly academic and ultimately impractical discipline since inception. Therapists have been given an emphasis on being and not doing, and any apprehensions they might have as to how they should actually act in the relationship is passed off as being grist for the mill of anxiety.
This book begins to construct a very clear set of practical guidelines for the existential therapist to follow, while at same time staying with the strong philosophical and client-focused tradition it springs from. Therapists are given a framework of understanding anxiety and depression that is highly adaptable to clients and other varying models, while at the same time allowing an understanding of existential givens to inform the work.
The book is well structured into punchy chapters, regular fly-outs and sub-sections that allow the user to quickly navigate the text and pull out useful sections as and when needed. Its regular mix of formats and styles means that the existentialism, content that is far too often presented as inaccessibly as possible, is made very available for both the persuser and the cover to cover reader alike.
On the face of it Existential counselling and psychotherapy should be easy to do after all you sit with the client and share the truth of their life as it is, and therefore isn't it about the meaning of life... Oh yes, that actually means it probably won't be that easy! That in a very tongue in cheek way describes the reaction of some of my students past and present, who when we have discussed this type of therapy, have often moved from an attitude of 'it's too simplistic', to something akin to throwing their hands in the air and running from the room once they begin to realise just how challenging any discussion involving the meaning of anybody's life really can be.
Next in the education of those who stay beyond this point is the information that on the whole there are no hard and fast 'tools' of therapy that are employed within the therapy, and you guessed it, about half of those who had remained from the first weeding out process also exit the room, at least metaphorically. The real kiss of death is likely to occur when I ask the students to read one of the seminal texts on the subject, and it is following this point that they turn up for their next class looking completely glazed over, and that's if they turn up at all. This is all a great shame because undertaken properly this therapy is one of those that really does change lives for the better in a very holistic way, and it as a sub-classification of counselling and psychotherapy needs to continue to replenish its raft of practitioners if it is to remain vital and relevant.
It is in this context that I came across this brilliant new text from Emmy Van Deurzen and Martin Adams. I don't use this word brilliant in anything other than its literal sense. It is an easily read text without being simplistic; it has a general introduction to the whole subject and its foundations, that unlike other tomes on this particular aspect of the therapy, does not act as a cure for insomnia. The volume is slim and therefore approachable by even the newest student and there are some very useful and practical exercises for anyone wanting to work through the book alone, but which are equally applicable when a lecturer is using it as a class text.
I think clarity for the novice has arrived, and this can only be good for Existentialism as a whole because we can start to enthuse more new therapists in the approach if we have the right tools to aid in understanding.
There is only one cautionary note for the newcomer to the subject, this still is not a simple checklist of simple skills to use in the therapy, but after reading it you will I think no longer expect to find such a thing; now who is being enigmatic?
on 29 January 2014
Let's be frank, this is a specialist book which is not likely to appeal to anyone outside of counselling and psychotherapy. For people interested in existential therapy it is the holy grail. I am thoroughly enjoying reading it and reflecting on its wisdom. I'm not entirely new to the subject which means I already have a grasp of phenomenology and person-centred counselling which may help me to understand more as I read it through for the first time, but already I am looking forward to reading it through for the second time and reflecting more deeply and trying to integrate its principles into my daily life and my counselling training.
on 13 October 2012
Having read this book in just under a day I do not feel swamped nor overwhelmed by the content. I felt it was very accessible, the pace was brilliant, the case studies and illustrations brilliant as a way of bringing the points together, and the chapters well defined and fluid.
As someone who comes from a philosophical background and is on their journey to becoming a therapist in the long term, discovering Existential therapy is something of joy to me as it combines both of my passions. I am very excited as existential therapy and will definitely seek to incorporate the foundations described in the book.
I enjoyed this book as it does not prescribe but does not leave you floundering either, it helps with basic scaffolding and illustrates examples which you can then apply and look within yourself and your clients for. Thoroughly recommended for those who have an interest in Existential therapy, are practitioners or are in training.