Tenents of an Existential Approach to Counselling

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What are the tenets of an existential-humanistic approach to counselling and how relevant is this counselling approach in the African cultural setting?

Existential-Humanistic psychology looks at individuals as a whole person and living in a socially interconnected and holistic world. It focuses on helping the individual self-discover the healing process, leading eventually to improved self-esteem. High self-esteem has many positive social benefits: individual happiness (Shackelford, 2001), academic achievement (Schmidt & Padilla, 2003), and supportive social behaviour. The five core beliefs of humanistic psychology are: a phenomenological approach; a tendency for a person to attain self-actualization; a holistic perspective and integrated view of a person; that each person has the ability to determine for them what is good and bad; and for the therapist to respect the subjective experience of a person unconditionally. Existential therapy can be best described as "a philosophical approach that influences a counsellor’s therapeutic practice" (Corey, 2009, p.132), existential counselling is governed more by a way of thinking as opposed to a particular therapeutic style (Spear, 2001).The existential approach is based on a philosophical understanding of what it is to be human, on exploring the challenges and paradoxes of human existence. It is also based on the assumption that we are free and therefore responsible for our choices and actions, we are more than victims of our circumstances. It accepts the notion that our choices are limited by external circumstances and rejects the notion that our acts are determined. The existential approach looks at the individual as a whole person living in a socially interconnected and holistic world. It is not concerned with client’s past but emphasizes the choices to be made in the present and future. Existential counselling involves assisting clients to discover meaning in their lives, and highlights that life's driving force is "an innate spiritual desire to find this meaning" (Cook, 2007, p.16). Archer & McCarthy (2007) contend that the fundamental tenet of existential counselling is to help the client become more aware of how they are living, find personal meaning and purposes in life, and accept responsibility for their own life decisions; while Jeffress (2010) considers the key principle of existential counselling to be "the philosophical notion that individuals are entirely responsible for their own lives" As humans we can reflect and make our choices because we are capable of self- awareness. According to Jean-Paul Sartre at the core of our being is nothingness. We become something through the choices we make and the something we become is continuously changing, transforming and living a finite life in a context of personal strengths and weaknesses. We become aware that we have the potential to act or not to act and that meaning is not automatically bestowed on us but is the product of our searching and of our creating a unique purpose. We also become aware that anxiety which is basically a consciousness of our own freedom is an essential part of living, as we increase our awareness of the choices available to us we also increase our sense of responsibility for the consequences of these choices. We also become aware that we are basically alone yet we have an opportunity to relate to other beings. The second tenet is freedom, choice and responsibility. Even though people have no choice about being thrust into the world, the manner in which we live and what we become is a result of our choices. People have far more choice than they allow themselves within the limits of their existence. They have a choice in their responses to these limitations. There are no certainties, no absolutes, it is for us to decide how we wish to lead our lives, to make our own rules and find our own meaning. Existential therapy is directed at helping clients realize they have the freedom to make...
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