on 1 May 2010
Wnenever I approach a book on existential therapy I always feel rather excited at the prospect of gaining further insight into the human condition from what promises to be an exciting form of therapy; yet I invariably come away from the book feeling disappointed, and I'm afraid this volume has been no exception. Ms van Deurzen obviously knows and loves her subject, and is clearly a leading figure in this field. Unfortunately, though the title of this book suggests that it might be something of a handbook for practising therapists, I found very little here that was of practical use.
As Ms van Deurzen makes clear,the themes of this type of therapy - and of existentialism in general - are fundamental. They concern issues of life and death, of meaning, of purpose, of choices and freewill. Yet in existential texts these fundamental themes are often developed and elaborated until the points being made become either incomprehensible, or just plain woolly. For my part, the most interesting part of this book concerned her approach to dreams, which I felt was insightful, and made a refreshing change to the interpretative approach of the psychoanalysts.
Nonetheless, one of the numerous doubts I have about this type of therapy is its apparent exclusivity. To an extent, all therapy relies on a client who is willing to engage with it, yet existential therapy seems to require a degree of philosophical-mindedness from clients that most simply will not have.
Another objection is that,just like psychoanalysis - which it clearly tries to distance itself from - this therapy has a tendency to complicate problems that don't need complicating. Sometimes a fear of falling off ladders is a fear of falling off ladders, and not an ontological crisis.
For a prospective client of this therapy my advice would be: if you're an educated, articulate, self-reflective individual inclined to philosophical speculation, and you have emotional or relationship difficulties that aren't too severe, then existential therapy could well be the right approach for you. If that's not you, then look elsewhere for help.
on 10 November 2002
I bought this book in the belief that Ms Van Deurzen might be able to tell me what existential therapy is. I should have read the review on the back by David Smail, who says "...this is not a book setting out a system or founding a school of therapy...". One wonders what it is in that case. This is indeed a book which fails to set out anything very clearly at all apart from the chapter summaries, which provide a synopsis of what little the book actually says about what existential therapy is. In the end, it is an example of how many words can say very little. Any reader wishing to make sense of what this kind of psychotherapy is - from Ms Van Deurzen's point of view at least - may well find themselves quite baffled by how little clarity £17.99 will buy you these days. I understand the hardback version is £60. In the end, one might learn more about existential therapy by spending a night in a graveyard. This book does not do existential therapy justice and is quite simply to be avoided by anyone serious about the approach.