Existential theorists believe that behavioral deviations result when a person is out of touch with himself or her-self or the environment. The person who is self-alienated is lonely and sad and feels helpless. Lack of self-awareness, coupled with harsh self-criticism, prevents the person from participating in satisfying relationships. The person is not free to choose from all possible alternatives because of self-imposed restrictions. Existential theorists believe that the person is avoiding personal responsibility and giv-ing in to the wishes or demands of others.
All existential therapies have the goal of helping the person discover an authentic sense of self. They emphasize personal responsibility for one’s self, feelings, behaviors, and choices. These therapies encourage the person to live fully in the present and to look forward to the future. Carl Rogers is sometimes grouped with existential therapists. Table 3.7 summarizes existential therapies.
Many existential therapists use cognitive therapy, which focuses on immediate thought processing—how a person perceives or interprets his or her experience and determines how he or she feels and behaves. For example, if a person interprets a situation as dangerous, he or she experiences anxiety and tries to escape. Basic emotions of sadness, ela-tion, anxiety, and anger are reactions to perceptions of loss, gain, danger, and wrongdoing by others (Beck & Newman, 2005). Aaron Beck is credited with pioneering cognitive therapy in persons with depression.
Albert Ellis, founder of rational emotive therapy, identified 11 “irrational beliefs” that people use to make themselves unhappy. An example of an irrational belief is “If I love someone, he or she must love me back just as much.” Ellis claimed that continuing to believe this patently untrue statement will make the person utterly unhappy, but he or she will blame it on the person who does not return his or her love. Ellis also believes that people have “automatic thoughts” that cause them unhappiness in certain situa-tions. He used the ABC technique to help people identify these automatic thoughts: A is the activating stimulus or event, C is the excessive inappropriate response, and B is the blank in the person’s mind that he or she must fill in by identifying the automatic thought.
Viktor Frankl based his beliefs in his observations of peo-ple in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. His curiosity about why some survived and others did not led him to conclude that survivors were able to find meaning in their lives even under miserable conditions. Hence, the search for meaning (logos) is the central theme in logo-therapy. Counselors and therapists who work with clients in spirituality and grief counseling often use the concepts that Frankl developed.
Gestalt therapy, founded by Frederick “Fritz” Perls, emphasizes identifying the person’s feelings and thoughts in the here and now. Perls believed that self-awareness leads to self-acceptance and responsibility for one’s own thoughts and feelings. Therapists often use gestalt therapy to increase clients’ self-awareness by having them write and read letters, keep journals, and perform other activi-ties designed to put the past to rest and focus on the present.
William Glasser devised an approach called reality therapy that focuses on the person’s behavior and how that behav-ior keeps him or her from achieving life goals. He devel-oped this approach while working with persons with delinquent behavior, unsuccessful school performance, and emotional problems. He believed that persons who were unsuccessful often blamed their problems on other people, the system, or the society. He believed they needed to find their own identities through responsible behavior. Reality therapy challenges clients to examine the ways in which their own behavior thwarts their attempts to achieve life goals.