existential therapy

I started reading Whitaker and Malone’s 1953 The Roots of Psychotherapy last summer, on the advice of John Miller, one of the heads of my Couples and Family Therapy program. He hadn’t actually read it, but had had it so highly recommended to him by a respected colleague that John wished he had time to read it. It was a difficult read, especially in addition to my regular course-reading, but interesting to see what looked like Whitaker’s explanation of his transition from psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the experiential family therapy of his later career.  You can see elements of existential, experiential, and person-centered therapies emerging in Whitaker, all explained in Freudian language.

My outline is quite sloppy, thanks mostly to Open Office’s awful outlining capabilities, to inserting my own comments, and to my own lack of understanding at times, but the guts of the book as I did understand it are here. I don’t recommend reading it unless you are a therapy nerd, but if you are, and especially if you are interested in Carl Whitaker’s model of therapy and its origins, I do recommend it. In less than an hour you can get the basics and decide if the book is worth reading for you.

Existential psychotherapist (and the author of Lying on the Couch, When Nietzsche Wept, and The Schopenhauer Cure) Irvin Yalom suggests that humans face five existential factors that play a large role in our lives and in the success of psychotherapy. This is how he describes them in The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, on page 98:

1. Recognizing that life is at times unfair and unjust

2. Recognizing that ultimately there is no escape from some of life’s  pain or from death

3. Recognizing that no matter how close I get to other people, I must still face life alone

4. Facing the basic issues of my life and eath, and thus living my life more honestly and being less caught up in trivialities

5. Learning that I must take ultimate responsibility for the way I live my life no matter how much guidance and support I get from others