Existential Therapy

Existential therapy is a form of talk therapy that helps you understand how you fit into the world. You and a therapist will explore how your choices influence your future. You may choose this type of therapy if you experience anxiety, fear or addiction.


What is existential therapy?

Existential therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses theories and practices of philosophy to address the challenges related to being human. Existential therapy helps you identify how you have a personal responsibility for your behaviors. It can also help identify your true beliefs and what gives your life meaning and purpose.

While other forms of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, focus on how your past experiences influence your actions, existential therapy focuses on how you personally influence your experiences.

How can existential therapy help me?

Existential therapy can help anyone who wants to learn more about who they are and the world around them. It can help you understand how your decisions lead to a specific outcome. It helps you make better personal choices that are meaningful to you. You can also gain a better understanding of what you’re interested in and what makes you feel fulfilled.

Who is existential therapy best for?

Existential therapy may be beneficial for people who experience:

What are the goals of existential therapy?

There are four basic concepts or pillars of existential therapy that each person will work through. These pillars are part of the human experience and include:

  • Death: As death is part of life, accepting its existence without fear helps you live more fully.
  • Isolation: You alone are in control of your future.
  • Meaning: Identify what gives you purpose and what ultimately makes you feel fulfilled.
  • Responsibility (freedom): Your choices direct you on a specific path.

The focus of existential therapy is to reduce fear and anxiety toward these pillars so you can accept that they’re part of the human experience. A therapist will help you work through these difficult topics to help you reach your personal goals.


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Procedure Details

How does existential therapy work?

Existential therapy is similar to other types of talk therapy. The practice is based on theory and dialogue. The therapy environment is a safe space for you to share your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

When you first meet with your therapist, they’ll ask you questions about your goals of therapy. Your therapist will structure dialogue to help you reach your goals while exploring parts of what makes you human and how your choices impact who you are.

Existential therapy is grounded in the present. Your therapist may ask you about your past experiences to help you understand more about the decisions that led you there.

The focus of each session is to help you find acceptance of the four pillars of existential therapy. It’s normal to experience strong emotions and recall difficult memories during your treatment.

How long is an existential therapy session?

A therapy session is a time when you meet with your therapist. This usually happens once per week for about one hour at a time.

Risks / Benefits

What are the potential benefits of existential therapy?

Existential therapy can help you:

  • Learn more about yourself.
  • Improve your personal responsibility.
  • Reduce fear and anxiety.
  • Understand how your actions impact you.
  • Feel more in control of your life.


What are the limitations of existential therapy?

Existential therapy isn’t a cure-all form of therapy. There may be limitations to the practice that include:

  • It’s highly philosophical; some of the theories are complex or hard to understand.
  • It can conflict with some religious beliefs.
  • It may open the door to painful memories or experiences.
  • Some of the topics you learn about are uncomfortable and difficult to address.

Recovery and Outlook

How long will I need existential therapy?

Existential therapy isn’t a long-term form of therapy. You may continue the therapy until you reach your goals. This time frame varies based on each person, but it could take several months.


Is there anything I can do to make existential therapy easier for me?

When you start therapy, it can be difficult to open up with your new therapist. It could take several sessions before you feel comfortable sharing your personal history or feelings with them. When you approach each session, keep an open mind and understand that your therapist is there to help you reach your goals. If at any time you feel uncomfortable or like you’re not progressing, bring up your concerns with your therapist or other members of your care team. They can help you find solutions so you can get on track to meet your goals.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Contact your therapist or a healthcare provider if your symptoms of fear and anxiety get worse after participating in existential therapy.

Therapy can be challenging, as you may be addressing difficult topics during each therapy session. If you’re having thoughts about suicide, dial 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Someone is available to help you 24/7.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It can be overwhelming to start therapy. You may feel nervous or anxious opening yourself up to a new person, which can make you feel vulnerable. This is a normal part of the process. Existential therapy is a way for you to learn more about yourself and your place in the world. It can help you find closure, comfort and hope while addressing difficult topics that are part of being human. You may face challenges when you begin existential therapy, but your therapist will help you overcome any roadblocks that get in the way of reaching your goals.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/21/2023.

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