The correct way to lead one’s life and its relation to happiness has been studied by many philosophers, dating back to Aristotle and ancient Greece. The very nature of human existence begs the question of what men should do with their lives. This philosophical tradition climaxed with Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, who emphasized personal choice and commitment, inaugurating existential philosophy. After decades of developing this current of thought, existential psychotherapy was developed as a way to deal with the anxiety that the uncertain nature of man’s place in the cosmos provokes through a special kind of human relation. Through interpretation, existential therapists look to better the patients’ subjective phenomenological experience and minimize his suffering.
The philosophical Western tradition, with its emphasis in ontology, led to the development of existential philosophy. The importance that this current of thought gave to being begged the question of what its mission was. Beginning with Nicomachean Ethics, Western philosophers began to ask how they should lead their lives in a way that good and pleasure would be achieved. Nevertheless, centuries later, existentialists argued that no such universal meaning of life existed, and that the best an individual could do was to position himself with respect to the anxiety that this lack of knowledge begot. Therefore, there was no one correct way to lead one’s life, but different manners in which to do this, which caused more or less suffering and a better or worse position within the world.
As a response to these philosophical developments, existential psychotherapists took these notions and devised a way to conceptualize human suffering and relieve it though human relations. The existentialist philosophy served as a framework that allowed therapists to theorize about human suffering, concluding that it basically stemmed from a bad way decision to lead one’s life, or the resignation in front of all this meaninglessness. With the advent of psychotherapy, especially Freudian psychoanalysis, human relations were offered as a way to alleviate suffering.
Existential psychotherapy focuses on the patient’s present and future to relieve suffering through interpretation. Therefore, existential psychotherapists looked to help position their subjects with respect to the void of existence in a way that would diminish their suffering. The therapist is in charge of helping the patient find a way to lead their life in a way that is not so costly, which is done through interventions that emphasize living in the present and the responsibility and liberty with which we make personal decisions. The meaning that each person gives to their life, if they achieve one, may be modified to one that causes them less suffering through this type of therapy.
In conclusion, existential psychotherapy is a practice that looks to diminish human suffering through the modification of a person’s encounter to existence. Western philosophy had reached a point, with Kierkegaard, where existence, liberty and decisions were emphasized. This individualistic point of view, which deemed that everybody was responsible for his or her existence led to the establishment of existential psychotherapy. In it, a human relationship was established that, through interpretation, helped to alleviate this suffering, allowing the patient to lead a better and more fulfilling life.