Goals of Counseling and Psychotherapy
The existential goals of counseling or psychotherapy and change are "tragically optimistic" (Frankl, 1984, p. 161). Existential counseling or psychotherapy has the following core principles (Frankl, 1984): Suffering is a human achievement and accomplishment, guilt provides the opportunity to change oneself for the better, vulnerability motivates a person to become authentic, and life's unpredictability provides an individual incentive to take responsible action. Yalom would add that clients will only grow in a "safe and intimate" therapeutic relationship (Krug, 2009, p. 347). Although steeped in philosophy, these principles hardly provide a working primer for the budding existential counselor or therapist. Existential change is a process whereby meaning is gleaned from common, worldly endeavors. The goal of counseling is to be aware of a client's potentials within a realistic backdrop. Clients are transformed through courageous and subtle encounters with aspects of their humanness in the context of a counseling relationship.
The Process of Change
Change evolves from a client's willingness to participate in the interpersonal encounter by confronting loneliness, experiencing individuality, encountering true connection, and developing the inner strength to transcend the life situation (May, 1953). By discussing and working through these issues, the client can increase insight, improve relationships, and gain a more aware sense of being (Yalom, 2009). But the process of change begins much earlier. By reaching out to be with another person authentically, the client begins the process of transformation. Anxiety loses its power, and clients change as their fears melt into vital energy. Tillich (1980) indicated that courage to be oneself evolves out of personal anxiety.
The process of existential change involves coming to terms with anxiety through awareness of responsibility and choice.
A key aspect of the practice of existential psychotherapy involves being with our clients in a way that helps them find the courage to choose in the present whilst challenging ourselves as practitioners to have the courage to fully engage with our clients just as we find them in the encounter, wherever the relationship takes us and whatever the demands it places upon us. (Medina, 2008, p. 130)
Through increased awareness of self and experience of the world, combined with their awareness of choice and responsibility, clients can experience their potential. Instead of a veiled existence, they are living consciously and responsibly; they are connecting with others as well as with aspects of themselves. The actual process of change may move very rapidly and clients may bloom into creative, energized individuals able to self-actualize. The process may also unfold more gradually. Regardless, the catalyst for change is the relationship facilitating the development of awareness, acceptance, responsibility, vulnerability, and authenticity in the individual.
The change process discussed thus far has been in the context of individual counseling or psychotherapy. But as indicated in an article on group counseling (Ruzicka, 2007), many people have found the existential model useful for understanding and implementing the group process. The multiple relationships provided by the group can promote a change toward greater awareness and genuineness through an awareness provided by the relationships.