Overview of Existential Psychology

We return to Philip's story at several pohits in this chapter. But first, we present a brief overview of existential psychology.

Shortly after World War II, a new psychology—existential psychology—began to spread from Europe to the United States. Existential psychology is rooted in the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and other European philosophers. The first existential psychologists and psychiatrists were also Europeans, and these included Ludwig Binswanger, Medard Boss, Victor Frankl, and others.

For nearly 50 years, the foremost spokesperson for existential psychology hi the United States was Rollo May. During his years as a psychotherapist, May evolved a new way of looking at human beings. His approach was not based on any controlled scientific research but rather on clinical experience. He saw people as living in the world of present experiences and ultimately behig responsible for who they become. May s penetrating insights and profound analyses of the human condition made him a popular writer among laypeople as well as professional psychologists.

Many people, May believed, lack the courage to face their destiny, and in the process of fleeing from it, they give up much of their freedom. Having negated their freedom, they likewise run away from their responsibility. Not being willing to make choices, they lose sight of who they are and develop a sense of insignificance and alienation. In contrast, healthy people challenge their destiny, cherish their freedom, and live authentically with other people and with themselves. They recognize the inevitability of death and have the courage to live life in the present.

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