Why Become an Existential Therapist?

As an existential therapist, I’ve frequently heard colleagues and students comment, “I’ve always liked existential theory, but I don’t know what to do with it in the therapy room.” Students considering taking a course on existential therapy have also asked questions such as, “Am I going to be able to understand this theory?,” “Are we going to have to read Kierkegaard and Sartre?,” and “Will this class be relevant to what I do in therapy?”

Existential psychotherapy seems to draw both intrigue and hesitation from students and professionals in the mental health field. This is not a surprise from a therapy approach embracing paradox and priding itself in being largely technique-less. However, the fear of existentialism is largely due to a lack of understanding. In this overview, I hope to demonstrate that existential therapy is less threatening than it first appears, but also much more exciting and powerful than is often realized.

Flexibility with Foundation

It is important to continually re-evaluate where you are at as a therapist, including where you are at in your theoretical development. For many years now I’ve considered myself an existential therapist, but continued to read broadly into other approaches to therapy. Through this process I’ve become heavily influenced by contemporary/relational psychoanalysis, humanistic therapy, and constructivist approaches. At times, I’ve wondered whether one of these approaches to therapy would be a better label for what I do on a day to day basis. However, as I’ve assessed this process I continue to realize existential is the best title from how I approach therapy.

One of the advantages of the existential approach is that it provides a framework from which other approaches can be integrated. Kirk Schneider and Rollo May (1995), two of the most influential existential therapists, outlined an existential integrative approach. This places existential therapy as the foundation, but allows for an integration of other theories. However, because of the emphasis on authenticity, genuineness, and critical thought, it also demands that approaches or aspects of approaches which are integrated remain consistent with the foundation.

The flexibility of existentialism comes from many sources. By its nature, existential therapy does not fit with the fundamentalism that develops within many other approaches. The most successful therapies adapt to the strengths of the individual therapist, but also to each client. As Yalom (2002) states, a new therapy is created with each client.

Existential psychotherapy also avoids the opposite problem of too much flexibility incurred in eclectic approaches. A weakness of many eclectic approaches is that they loose their foundation through their attempts to be adaptive and pragmatic. Pragmaticism often seeks to accomplish goals without taking into account the consequence of the process to or result of attaining the goals.

Central Tenets of Existential Thought

Yalom (1980) identified the four major themes of existential thought as death, freedom/responsibility, isolation/loneliness, and meaninglessness. While Yalom’s organization is generally agreed upon, it also reflects a significant point of distinction. Yalom states these themes in a manner which emphasizes their finality. Yalom does not believe there are ultimate answers to these questions. Rather, they are viewed as existential terrors with which we all much cope. Other existential thinkers disagree. May, Tillich, and many others state that while there may be ultimate answers to these issues, we are not able to fully attain these answers and the questions remain difficult.

The issue of death refers to the reality of a physical death, but is also symbolic of all human limitation. These two prongs of finiteness are difficult realities for many people to accept. Ernest Becker’s (1973) The Denial of Death, is often considered a classic in this discussion. Becker makes a penetrating analysis of our attempts to deny our finiteness. In Becker’s (1975) follow up, Escape from Evil, this argument is extended to the concept of evil. Becker purports the basis of evil is the denial of our finiteness.

Freedom is the next existential reality Yalom (1980) discusses. It is essential to connect freedom with responsibility. You cannot have one without the other. Yet, this is what many people seek and also can contribute to the problem which bring many individuals into therapy.

Isolation is the third existential reality (Yalom, 1980). Here, we are pushed to deal with the reality that everyone experiences isolation and loneliness. Yet, the desire for love, connection, and intimacy is arguably the strongest and most central human drive. Don’t let the odd placement of relationship as the third existential issue trick you. Many, maybe most, existential therapists place relationship is the primary issue of human existence.

Meaning, the final of the central existential issues, unites the three other theories. Humans are meaning seeking creatures. The attainment of meaning requires the facing of the three previous existential issues. This also returns us to relationship; many existentialists believe authentic relationship is the most powerful form of meaning a person can achieve.

How Therapy Heals

The common adage “it is the relationship that heals” is consistent with existential therapy. While it would be a mistake to claim any one theory on how change occurs according to existential theorists, the general tendency is toward a phenomenological, experiential, and relational perspective.

While the focus is on the relationship, there are many other aspects of therapy which contribute to the healing and growth process. First, insight is extremely important. Existential therapists may interpret aspects of the unconscious differently, but they still believe in the importance of the unconscious. Existential therapy also helps people make changes in their attitudes, decisions, behaviors, and thoughts through the awareness process. While the approach to accomplishing these changes is very different than brief therapy, existentialists agree they are part of healing.

A third component of healing is experience. Experience can be thought of in terms of experiencing a genuine relationship, but also is conducive to the idea of a corrective emotional experience talked about within many psychodynamic approaches to therapy.

As should be evident, healing occurs through a variety of processes in existential therapy. However, the therapy relationship remains a central component in all the various aspects of healing.

The Experience of the Therapist

The therapist takes a unique role in existential therapy. We are co-participants in a deeply rewarding, but sometimes painful process. While therapist and client sit facing each other, the process of therapy focuses their vision in the same direction. Existential therapy is, at its heart, a very collaborative approach.

Because of the focus on genuineness, authenticity, and awareness, it requires the therapist to be emotionally present and available. Additionally, it is vital that the existential therapist continue to keep their vision as clear as possible by doing their own work, continuing in the self-reflective process, and seeking out their own continued journey.

While it is often thought that depth therapists are passive in their way of relating with clients, this is a misnomer. Existential therapists are very actively engaged in the therapy process. However, their engagement is not in a directive manner. Rather, it’s an engagement in the relationship process as it unfolds and develops. Being passive is not genuine.

Advice for those Considering Becoming an Existential Therapist

If you are considering the pursuit of becoming an existential therapist, I would recommend beginning by reading three authors which will give you differing perspectives. Yalom is a good place to start because his reading is the most accessible. I recommend beginning with Love’s Executioner (1980) and Existential Psychotherapy (1989). The former begins with a brief overview of existential theory before offering 10 tales or case histories of existential therapy. The latter is the most comprehensive overview of existential therapy written to date.

Yalom was heavily influenced by Rollo May, who is generally considered the father of American Existential Psychotherapy. May, like Yalom, is an excellent writer who has an ability to make existentialism accessible. Love and Will (1969) and The Cry for Myth (1991) are two excellent places to start with Rollo May. The former has more clinical utility, while the latter is more abstract but an immensely important book.

Frankl provides a much different approach than May and Yalom. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning (1984), is a classic far beyond the realms of existential thought and psychotherapy. It begins with Frankl’s experience in the concentration camps during World War II and follows this with an overview of logotherapy (Frankl’s approach to existential therapy). However, for a better summary of Frankl’s approach to therapy, Man’s Search for UltimateMeaning (2000) is recommended.

Two other resources may help get a vision of the existential approach and deserve mentioning. First, are the many videos of James Bugental. Bugental was one of the early existential therapists strongly influenced by Rollo May and many humanistic psychologists. His legacy includes many brilliant therapy demonstration videos which do an excellent job of illustrating existential therapy. A second resource is Kirk Schneider’s Rediscovery of Awe. Using an existentially informed depth psychotherapy approach, Schneider gives a vision of how existential thought and depth psychotherapy can have an impact beyond the therapy room.

There are a growing number of other training opportunities in existential psychotherapy. If you remain interested after some initial reading on existential therapy, it may be beneficial to seek out one of these training opportunities and/or contact an experienced existential therapist to talk with them in more detail about what it like to be an existential therapist.


Being an existential therapist is an extremely exciting career. The experience of working with suffering people to help them find healing, new insight, and authentic relationship in itself is rewarding. An added benefit is the colleagues you will meet. It is a wonderful group of people that is drawn toward existential therapy and we are always happy to welcome new colleagues.

Review of A Beautiful Risk by James Olthuis

James Olthuis is an impressive therapist and writer. I was first introduced to this book when attending a presentation on Olthuis’s approach to therapy. I was so struck by the deep compassion and love that was evident in his presence. When providing a therapy demonstration, it was evident that Olthuis is truly gifted in his ability to connect with people and recognize their suffering.

This book is an excellent book, but does not replace the power of attending one of Dr. Olthuis’s workshops. While Olthuis does not consider himself an existential therapist, the similarities abound in his relational approach which he describes as being strongly influenced by relational theory, feminism, and postmodernism. An important point of convergence between Olthuis and existential thought is in the valuing of the relationship. He demonstrates the power availed through a compassionate relationship between therapist and client. Some of the most powerful illustration in this book are the times when Olthuis talks about the power of crying with his “therapeuts.”

A central theme throughout this book is love. For Olthuis, the basis of this is his spiritual beliefs and convictions. The Beautiful Risk, in embracing this relational perspective, the concept of love, and spirituality provides a great example of a high quality integrative perspective. Yet, it is still a good read for those not interested in the more spiritual approach.

I highly recommend this book for therapists and those seeking to become a therapist, especially those who feel stifled by many of the ways therapy is practiced in today’s society.

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Review of Anam Care: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donahue

Dr. Robert Murney, my long time mentor, was the first person to introduce me to Anam Cara. It was during a time when his wife had been diagnosed with cancer and he was trying to prepare for the possibility of losing her. He showed it to me one day and said this was the only book he had ever read seven times. The book intrigued me for two reason. First, it had such an incredible grip on Dr. Murney. But also because as he described the book it just seemed filled with existential wisdom. I quickly purchased the book and devoured it in a couple of days. It remains one of the most profoundly intriguing books I’ve ever read. Not more than a year later, we were joking that we should be getting a commission for all the copies of this book that we gave away as gifts or that were sold upon our encouragement.

John O’Donohue is a Catholic priest living in Ireland. However, his writing has not always been very well accepted within the Catholic community. This is partially because it is rooted as much in Irish paganism as it is in Catholicism. This is an issue which O’Donohue addresses in Anam Cara. When Christianity entered Ireland, it was blended with folk wisdom and religion, just as has occurred in many other parts of the world. It is this rich blending of traditions that brings this little book to life.

“Anam Cara” literally means “soul friend.” This is comparable to what is often referred to as “soul mates.” Unfortunately, the concept of soul mates has often been degraded by superficial, romantic views of what it means to be soul mates. The view presented in Anam Cara, however, is far from shallow or superficial. For O’Donohue, an Anam Cara is someone who deeply impacts who we are as a person. It’s more than finding someone to marry or even someone to spend your life with. It’s more than a best friend. It’s someone who becomes a part of you.

O’Donohue’s version of a soul mate interacts with many ideas not considered in the more traditional literature. For example, he views time apart and death as two extremely important aspects of being a soul friend. It is death, that makes life and our relationships so precious. It is time apart, or solitude, that allows us to invest deeply into our immediate relationships. These harsh realities are part of the beauty of relationships.

Anam Cara has been a great lesson for me as a therapist, but even more it has been a great lesson for me as a human being. Dr. Murney, who introduced me to this book passed away several months before I sat down to write this review. In his death, I realize the preciousness of his life and friendship. I think he’d be happy to know that in his death I think of this book and that it has been a comfort to me in my grieving for him.

The lessons in this book are very much alive. It is an important read for all those in the professions which deal with the soul and relationships.

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Review of Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra may be Nietzsche’s most important and brilliant piece of writing, and Walter Kaufmann’s translation, with its insight translation notes, may be the most significant version. Though the overarching theme of this book is fairly evident, there is a tremendous amount of confusion not only about the book, but even its central theme. In concise terms, the thesis of this book is that people must overcome themselves. Nietzsche speaks of this in terms of the overman, which is often translated as superman.

The traditional translation of superman, according to Kaufmann, may account for much of the confusion. Superman, in Western thought, easily becomes imbued with super powers or godlike qualities; however, this was not Nietzsche’s intent. The overman is less about super qualities and more about the courage to face himself or herself. The overman is willing to take responsibility for his or her life while creatively engaging the world. Included in this engagement is the willingness to not accept the values of one’s world, culture, and even religion; instead, the overman critically examines these worldviews while creating their own values.

In concept of overcoming oneself, Nietzsche takes on one of his most controversial and misunderstood topics: religion. It is clear that Nietzsche is not religious and to attempt to reconcile him as a man of faith would significantly misrepresent his thought. However, Nietzsche is neither pro-religion nor the as much an enemy as he is often portrayed. The main concern Nietzsche has with religion is blind faith and conformity. This type of religion, Nietzsche is adamantly opposed to. However, a religion in which the individual has struggled to attain is not seen as dangerous.

Two important quotes may help understand Nietzsche’s view of God:

“Alas, my brothers, this god whom I created was man-made and madness, like all gods! Man he was, and only a poor specimen of man and ego: out of my own ashes and fire this ghost came to me, and, verily, it did not come to me from beyond. What happened, my brothers? I overcame myself, the sufferer; I carried my own ashes to the mountains; I invented a brighter flame for myself.” (p. 31)

“In their hostilities they shall become inventors of images and ghosts, and with their images and ghosts they shall yet fight the highest fight against one another. Good and evil, and rich and poor, and high and low, and all the names of values – arms shall they be and clattering signs that life must overcome itself again and again.” (p. 101)

The first quote demonstrates some bitterness toward religion, though it does not rule out the possibility of healthy religiosity. Nietzsche’s position is not that different from Freud (1927/1961), and quite possibly contributed to Freud’s perspective. Essentially, Nietzsche viewed God as a projection of our wishes (will-fulfillment) and our pathology; not a metaphysical reality. Because of this, God’s characteristics are dependent upon the individual and the culture. This helps to explain Nietzsche’s controversial claim that “God is dead.” Frequently, this is interpreted as a metaphysical statement; however, this was not the nature of Nietzsche’s claim. Instead, Nietzsche was stating that the cultural and individual understanding or creation of God is dead. It is a critique of culture and individuals, not God.

A review of Thus Zarathustra Spoke would not be complete without some notes on the literary style. If nothing else, the literary style of this book demonstrates Nietzsche’s brilliance. He utilized a tremendous understanding of religious literature with he often mocked through his style of writing. A person familiar with the Bible will quickly recognize his frequent indirect references to Biblical ideas, stories, and quotes. It is through these that Nietzsche shows his wit and command of literary style. It is also where Nietzsche likely offends and drives away many of his readers. This is unfortunate. Even if one does not agree with Nietzsche’s appraisals of religion, or care for his clever mocking; there is still important messages in this book for the religious and the non-religious.

To the religious, Nietzsche challenges people to become more than sheep. However, it is clear that he believes most people chose to be sheep: “No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse” (p. 18). If one chooses to be religious, they should know what that choice entails! One should take the time to learn if it what they truly believe or if it is what they seek to achieve security escaping the fears and anxieties of life. Escapist religion is dangerous religion; however, religion achieve through struggle and genuine belief may be a responsible choice.

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Review of The Cry for Myth by Rollo May

In all the significant books written by Rollo May, this is the book which has had the greatest impact upon me and my thinking. The breadth of May’s knowledge and the depth of his understanding quickly become very evident. It is also interesting to note the influence of Jung’s theory in this book. While Jung’s influence is apparent in many of May’s works, perhaps none as much as this volume.

In the first section of the book, May provides an outstanding overview of the concept of myth from an existential framework. May defines myth in a very Tillichian (Paul Tillich) fashion as that which cannot be proved, but yet is believed. However, in stating it cannot be proved it is not claiming that myths are false. In one of the most powerful lines in the book, May states: “There can be no stronger proof of the impoverishment of our contemporary culture than the popular – though profoundly mistaken – definition of myth as falsehood” (p. 23).

 In the next several sections, May applies this to many of the great myths of our society. Part II examines “Myths in America.” Included in this analysis are Gatsby and the American Dream, the American frontier myths, individualism, and narcissism. Part III expands to include the “Myths of the Western World.” In this section May examines Dante’s journey through hell, Peer Gynt, the Briar Rose, three views on Faust, and the devil & creativity. The final section, Part IV, closes with a discussion of “Myths for Survival.” Included are the issues of women’s liberation, mortality, planetism, and humanism.

Whether a psychotherapist or just interested in existential perspectives, this is an excellent book.

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Review of Paulus: Tillich as Spiritual Teacher by Rollo May

This short book is one of my favorites of Rollo May. It’s only a little over 100 page, has been out of print for a while (though still fairly easily accessible), and is not your typical Rollo May book. However, it did win the 1987 American Psychological Foundation Gold Metal Award.

The book is a tribute to May’s mentor and friend, Paul Tillich. Tillich, one of the most famous American theologians, spent many years teaching philosophy and theology at Union Theological Seminary. His work has not only be influential on theology and philosophy, but he has also been a powerful influence on existential psychology.  His most famous work in psychological circles is The Courage to Be.

May compassionately gives the story of Tillich’s life and thought in a way which applies to psychological theory. Tillich is presented in a very human manner in this book. His mistakes, including his affairs, are not hidden from the reader. Rather, Tillich is presented as who is very human yet able to make profound contributions to the world of thought.

One of the greatest contributions of Tillich’s thought which May addresses is the benefits and agony of doubt. Tillich saw doubt as contrary to faith, but rather as part of it. This also forms the basis for one of Tillich’s greatest quotes: “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful” (p. 71). This statement is one that has become my teaching philosophy.  I believe it can be applied well beyond the the topic of faith in God, to many other realms of thought.

Another important contribution in this book is May’s discussion of Tillich’s presence. This is the basis for the title being referred to as “Paulus,” which brings a much more intimate feel with it. May goes through extensive detail about his perception of Paulus’ presence. This has been the basis for much of my own though development around the issue of presence — both in examining my own presence and also in using this as a teaching technique for those studying to be therapists.

Overall, this is an excellent, excellent book which I highly recommend to therapists, theologians, and anyone interested in existential theory.

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Review of Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The nemesis of Frankl’s writing has always been the discontinuities of his books. While Frankl’s essays are penetrating and powerful, when brought together in a book format they retained the feel of a collection of essays instead of a unified work. It could be argued that this has always been a limiting factor in logotherapy becoming more influential. Until this book, there has not been a book of Frankl’s which has been able to achieve consistency through the entire piece.

While if you were to only read one of Frankl’s books, I’d recommend Man’s Search for Meaning, this book is the best overview of his theory.  It is more of a therapy book aimed at clinicians, but could also be an interesting read for those interested in existential or logotherapy theory.

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Review of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

I have often heard it suggested that this book should be reread every decade of one’s life. At each stage of life, the book can bring new insights. Many are familiar with the general content of this book, however; no description can adequately deal with the power of the story. The first portion of this book, which entails over half the book, is Frankl’s story of his experience in the concentration camps during World War II. This is both gripping and chilling. I will make no attempts to give an overview of the story because it is a story that each person must read for themselves.

Frankl was a psychiatrist trained in psychoanalytic theory prior to the concentration camps. He began his break from psychoanalysis prior to his experiences in the camp, but these experiences further pushed Frankl toward an existential approach. Frankl in a very compassionate way wondered why some people were able to survive the brutality and horror of concentration camps while others died or killed themselves. His answer, ultimately, was that some people were able to find a greater meaning. While all the physical and political freedoms may be taken away from an individual, no one can take away the freedom to choose the way in which a person will face their life.

In the last two sections of the book, Frankl outlines a brief overview of logotherapy — Frankl approach to therapy. Logotherapy literally means meaning therapy. Meaning is the central tenet of his approach. While this overview does provide a description of the major points of logotherapy, it is not his best writing on his therapy approach. In general, Frankl has never produced an overly organized view of his theory. Most of his books are collections of essays which often don’t provide the best continuity from one essay to the next. The best overview of logotherapy is his book Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.

Overall, this is one of the most powerful existential books ever written. It is a good read for therapists and those interested in existential theory alike. There are few people for whom this book wouldn’t be an appropriate read.

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Review of Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic by Stephen A. Diamond

It is a bit intimidating to write a review of Stephen Diamond’s book. Rarely in my life have I read about book as packed with content as this volume. The 312 pages of this book read like 500-600 pages of text. While the thickness of ideas in this book make it a slow read, Diamond is still able to write in a manner that makes the book highly readable and easy to understand.

Diamond redeems anger in much the same way that Rollo May redeemed anxiety. Throughout the book he returns to the idea that what turns anger into evil, mental illness, and other destructive entities is not the presence of anger, but rather its denial, suppression, repression, and containment. What is needed is a healthy, creative expression and acceptance of anger. While this central thesis of the book seems simple enough, Diamond demonstrates why it is not so easy to redeem anger, especially in the context of an American society which abhors it. But it is this very dread of anger which has led to anger becoming a national epidemic!

Rollo May, in delineating the basic motivational theory of existential psychology, placed the idea of the daimonic at the center in much the way the the libido and the id were central features of Freud’s motivational system. Diamond makes several attempts at defining this elusive term. In his first attempt, he quotes Rollo May (1969) stating the daimonic “is any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person” (p. 65). This affirms the naturalness, the innateness, of the daimonic. The daimon is something very human and to be human is to have a daimon.

But what are these natural functions May and Diamond talk about? The elusiveness of this question is one of the strengths of this theory. Initially, Freud’s theory was almost exclusively based on sexuality (interpreted literally and symbolically) and our sex drive or life instinct. Later, Freud expanded his theory to include a death instinct. This allowed psychoanalysis to become much more inclusive, but it still remained a rather closed, fixed, and narrow system. In moving to the daimonic as the basic motivational component, both the life instinct (sex) and the death instinct were subsumed as part of the daimonic, but not the entirety of it. The daimonic is a mixture of instinctual (biological), experiential (personal history, emotions), and collective (cultural, societal, familial) influences. An individual can become focused on one aspect of the daimonic or experience it more broadly. In the Victorian era, when Freud was developing his theory of psychoanalysis, it was a societal phenomenon to repress and fixate on sexuality. Freud’s theory was a logical and accurate analysis of this phenomenon and it was not until later in his career that he began to realize this focus was only one aspect of the daimonic (though Freud was not drawn to using this word). Later, Becker (1973) will argue that death has become a new culturally repressed and fixated phenomenon. May will focus on the fixation on anxiety, but also broaden the awareness of the daimonic to include anger and many other emotions. Now, Diamond, argues that anger is becoming the new cultural fixation. As these fixations usually become repressed, they find their expression in mental illness and other societal ills.

The brilliance of Rollo May’s reintroduction of the daimon may well have gone largely unrecognized had it not been for Diamond. While Jung and the Jungians retained a similar idea with the shadow, this term was still much more narrow than the daimonic, as Diamond illustrates. I don’t think that this important reintroduction can be underestimated, especially given the current state of the field of psychotherapy. The Daimonic, as a broad, integrated motivational system, allows existential depth psychotherapy to become an ideal foundation for an integrated depth psychotherapy. I do not believe any other approach to depth psychotherapy retains such a flexible, inclusive structure.

Building on the theory of the daimonic, Diamond is able to provide a penetrating analysis of demonology and evil. These are difficult and controversial topics, especially in a time when America is experiencing a paradoxical increase in secularism and, at the same time, a rise in fundamentalism. Diamond’s critique of demonology and reinterpretation of this phenomenon as “daimonic possession” is as good of a critique of demon possession as exists.

Diamond also tackles the difficult issue of mental illness in an existential depth psychology framework. While many within the depth psychology traditions are skeptical of diagnosis, Diamond presents a good argument for diagnosis combined with a reinterpretation of the foundational theory of categorizing mental illness. In many ways, Diamond redeems diagnosis for depth psychotherapy for those who choose to diagnose. An important part of this redemption is Diamond’s claim that the etiology of most mental disorders stems from the psyche, not the individual’s biology. Or at least not solely in their biological makeup.

For people interested in existential theory and/or depth psychotherapy, few books are a more important read. Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic is an excellent introduction to the breadth and depth of existential theory.


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Review of Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think by James F. T. Bugental

Jim Bugental was one of the important early leaders of the existential psychotherapy movement. More than that, he was a strong proponent of depth psychotherapy in general. Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think, one of his final books, is an important contribution to this literature. At the point of his career when he wrote this book, psychotherapy had undergone many significant changes. The depth realm of psychotherapy was no longer valued and often even mocked and attacked. While it is evident that Bugental is concerned by these changes, he does not respond to the attacks as much as speaking to the need for renewed valuing of the depth realms of existence. While this debate is reflected in the title and background of this volume, Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think is more of a practical guide to therapy than a political statement about the contemporary field of psychotherapy.

The essence of Bugental’s message is that the most important part of therapy is the living moment or the here-and-now. For most therapists, this is the most difficult portion of therapy to learn. Techniques, interpretations, and general explorations of the past are much easier to learn than using the present moment. Bugental, who is a master teacher as well as a master therapist, illustrates this process with many case illustrations and examples of therapy dialogue.

A particularly important contribution in this book is Bugental’s illustration of working with difficult issues in therapy. Many of his illustrations involve working through resistance and anger processes in therapy. While many assume that existential-humanistic therapy is a ‘soft’ or ‘warm-and-fuzzy’ approach, Bugental illustrates the importance of being able to deal with the inevitable anger that generally arises in the psychotherapy process. Implicit in these illustrations are the dangers of avoiding dealing with anger, or contributing to a suppression of anger when it emerges through the natural therapy process.

Bugental also works to assist therapists in developing an ear for process. It is natural for all people, noless the therapist, to focus on the content or words instead of the process. Indeed, this is often what separates the master therapist from the typical therapist. While most therapists learn to deal with process to some degree or can recognize process when writing up therapy notes, few learn to utilize process in the therapy moment. Bugental illustrates what this looks like in many of his illustration of therapy processes.

In conclusion, Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think is an important contribution to the literature. It is particularly an important read for therapist desiring to become better at working in the here-and-now of therapy, those wishing to improve there ability to work with resistance, and those wanting to improve their ability to deal with process elements of therapy. While it is rooted in the existential framework, it’s value is to all therapists, particularly those interested in depth approaches to therapy.