What is Existential Analysis?
The aim of Existential Analysis: to help each person find a way of living to which they can give their inner consent to their own actions (“affirmation of life”). In short, to find and live out an inner ‘yes’ to one’s life.
Existential Analysis can be defined as a phenomenological and person-oriented psychotherapy, with the aim of leading the person to (mentally and emotionally) free experiences, to facilitate authentic decisions and to bring about a truly responsible way of dealing with life and the world. Thus, Existential Analysis can be applied in cases of psychosocial, psychosomatic and psychological caused disorder in experience and behaviour.
The psychotherapeutic process takes place via phenomenological analysis of the emotions as the centre of experiences. Biographical work and empathic listening by the therapist contribute to an improvement in emotional understanding and accessibility.
Logotherapy is a method of counselling or helping in the quest for meaning.
Existential analysis is an approach to psychotherapy. It combines a great respect for a person’s individual life choices with therapeutically effective means. Its phenomenological approach allows the therapist to take all possible aspects of an individual’s experience into consideration.
Grounded originally in the anthropological concepts of Viktor Frankl, today its main theoretical conception consists of a more practically and methodologically applicable anthropology (Alfried Längle, Vienna). This assumes that human beings are moved in their lives through four Fundamental Motivations (FM). The first FM relates to the human need to be able to accept the basic conditions of life. The second comprises his/her need to feel values and to have relationships. The third FM relates to the quest to becoming one’s own person and the fourth FM addresses the need to achieve something meaningful in the world. The theoretical concept of these Fundamental Motivations provides the necessary framework to situate and treat all kinds of psychic problems. This concept is unique to the approach taught by the International Society for Logotherapy and Existential Analysis.
A Little More Extensive Description
Existential Analysis was conceived by Viktor E. Frankl in the 1930s as an anthropological theory of an existential school of psychotherapy. At the same time Frankl developed “Logotherapy” as a meaning-oriented form of counselling and treatment.
Existential Analysis means an analysis of the conditions necessary for a life in which values have their place and that is self-shaped and dignified. The aim of Existential Analysis is to develop one’s perceptiveness and individual activity (capability for commitment) in one’s experiences, relations and actions. This means that Existential Analysis deals with the personal conditions prerequisite for a meaningful existence in cases where these are blocked by psychic illnesses or troubles.
The theoretical and practical basis of Existential Analysis is the concept of the Fundamental Motivations (Längle), which are systematically referred to in counselling and therapy as the “building blocks of existence”. In addition, the method of “Personal Existential Analysis” is used in therapy. This represents an existential and phenomenological method of psychotherapy which makes it possible to treat psychogenetic (particularly neurotic) troubles with Existential Analysis in a similar manner to depth psychology. This form of Existential Analysis was developed in the GLE and is exclusively taught there.
The concepts of the GLE constitute an elaboration of Frankl’s approach and, in particular, include work on emotions and biography. This is especially important since the existential analytical and logotherapeutical anthropology sees humans as beings who constantly shape their lives with conscious or unconscious decisions. But decisions can only be taken in a meaningful way, if the values in question are made conscious, are experienced and are weighed against each other. This act requires perceptivity as far as the world around is concerned instead of self-absorption. Furthermore, this is only possible if one has access to one’ s emotions which bring a person in touch with his or her values.
Existential Analysis does not see a person as the mere result of intrapsychic processes or of the influences of his environment, but as someone who can shape him or herself in those things that count in life. Therefore notions like being (existence), relation (values), freedom of decision, responsibility (conscience) form the fundamental concepts of the existential analytical way of thinking and they all lead to the idea of “meaning” (=logos).
The practical application of logotherapy as a meaning-oriented form of counselling and treatment consists primarily in assisting people who are not (yet) ill, but who suffer from a sense of loss of existential orientation. Thus, logotherapy is widely applicable in psychological, psychohygenic, social, preventive, caring, educational and pastoral fields. It contributes to the prophylaxis of disorders and to the prevention and treatment of feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness (“existential vacuum”). Its aim is to enhance the individual experience of meaning by leading to a freely chosen responsibility (“individual responsibility”).
Existential Analysis and Logotherapy consist of roughly a dozen specific methods and techniques to realise this conception. Leading a meaningful life means doing what one has sensed and recognized as being valuable.
Select English Bibliography
Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning: Revised and updated. New York: Washington Square Press.
Frankl, V. E. (1973). The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (R. and C. Winston, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Originally published in 1946 as Ärztliche Seelsorge.)
Frankl, V. E. (1969). The will to meaning. New York: World Publishing Press.
Längle A. (2005). The Search for Meaning in Life and the Existential Fundamental Motivations. Existential Analysis, 16, 1, 2-14.
Längle A. (2003). The Art of Involving the Person. European Psychotherapy 4, 1, 25-36