The Future of Existential Psychology: Facing Maturity?

Photo by Graham Horn.
Photo by Graham Horn.

When confronted with the invitation to share some thoughts about the future of existential psychology, the first question that came into mind was whether existential-phenomenological psychology (as I prefer to call it) is in fact constituted and well-established as a science, with an outlined object of study, research methodologies and with clearly delineated objectives. I would dare to say no. Hence, the challenge, internationally speaking, is precisely the need for existential-phenomenological psychology to be able to achieve a desired maturity. In this way, I suggest four areas—to which others may be added—that are, simultaneously, future challenging areas and that contribute to the autonomy of the subject of existential-phenomenological psychology.

Existential-phenomenological psychology—a compendium of Introduction to Existential-Phenomenological Psychology is yet to be developed that, based on a research program, will give answers to questions that any theoretical model has regarding eminently psychological issues, namely: perception, memory, language, thought, development, concept of self, etc. Certainly, there is a history and a tradition of phenomenological research. However, there does not seem to be an organized and systematic elaboration on the great issues that all models in psychology seek to answer.

Developmental Psychology—Directly linked to the previous point, and although there are recently published works on the area of developmental psychology from an existential-phenomenological perspective, we believe that there is work still to be done, and that is undoubtedly an immense gap in our model. This gap, for example, is clearly visible in the absence of material on developmental psychology that can be applied in existential-phenomenological psychotherapy practice. We understand the historical and even the epistemological reasons for the perspective on development being, perhaps, less crucial than in other psychotherapy models. However, we advocate the need for developing an existential-phenomenological perspective on child development, knowledge that may have applicability in multiple intervention areas.

Counselling and Psychotherapy—existential-phenomenological psychology can, and should, be a bridge between the epistemological roots of the approach, with its application in the context of counselling and psychotherapy. Existential-phenomenological psychology can provide a theoretical and practical basis, which can assist in the implementation of existential psychotherapy practice. The psychotherapy world is currently full of enormous challenges: the demand that approaches and methodologies demonstrate their empirical validation; the gap that still remains between clinicians and researchers; the ever-present dichotomy between the use of specific techniques or defense of so-called common factors; and the enormous political, economic and social pressure. All these challenges are present in the practice of existential psychotherapy and can benefit from more anchoring in existential-phenomenological psychology.

Institutional—The need to create international organizations that can adequately give voice to the multiple associations, institutes, and societies of the existential-phenomenological approach. Moreover, it seems that one of the problems of this approach is that some study centres, universities, or professional, do not always last more than a generation. The issue of institutional organization still seems to be a major challenge that existential-phenomenological psychology needs to respond to, in order to progress towards its own maturity.

— Daniel Sousa

Today’s guest contributor, Daniel Sousa, is an Auxiliary Professor at ISPA – University Institute in Lisbon, Portugal and a founding member of the Portuguese Society of Existential Psychotherapy (SPPE).

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