Report from the Second International Conference on Existential Psychology

Participants in ICEP 2012. (click photo to enlarge)
Participants in ICEP 2012. (click photo to enlarge)

The Second International Conference on Existential Psychology (ICEP), at Fudan University in Shanghai, China from May 24-27, 2012, was once again a great success as gauged by the number of people in attendance and the enthusiasm of the conference. The interest in the conference quickly outgrew the venue, which could only hold 300 people in the largest room. Within a short time of the conference registration opening and prior to planned marketing initiative, there were 450 requests to register. Due to this, many individuals who wanted to attend were not able to due to space limitations. Individuals attended the conference from China, India, Korea, Singapore, Greece, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States.

For those who were able to attend, the conference was a powerful event. The theme of the conference focused on several important themes in Chinese culture, including zhi mian (i.e., “to face directly”) and harmony. Several presentations focused on zhi mian, which is a theme in the writing of Chinese literary figure LuXun. Xuefu Wang, one of the keynote speakers at the conference, developed an approach to therapy called zhi mian therapy, which is widely being touted as an indigenous Chinese existential therapy. In addition to Wang’s keynote, Dr. Al Dueck provided a presentation—“The Cultural Psychology of LuXun and Xuefu Wang”—that documented the important contributions of these two important individuals.

The 2012 ICEP continued its focus on bringing Eastern and Western approaches to existential psychology into dialogue. Although existential psychology is often recognized as a Western psychology, the West ought not claim exclusive ownership of the existential approach to psychology. Eastern approaches can be traced to many traditional Chinese thinkers including Lao Tzu, LuXun, and many others. Although the Eastern and Western approaches share much, there are also important differences between the two that need to be recognized. For example, to take a Western existential psychology and impose it on therapists and clients in China would not only be culturally insensitive, but likely would be ineffective and harmful. Yet, by bringing Eastern and Western approaches into dialogue, existential psychology can be advanced in both the East and the West.

The Zhi Mian Institute for Psychotherapy organized a number of pre-conference and post-conference presentations at various locations around China including Nanjing, Heifi, Shenzhen, Beijing, and Green Mountain. With the inclusion of these presentations, nearly 1,000 individuals participated in the various existential psychology presentations and dialogues in China in May and June. It appears that existential psychology is currently growing faster and with greater enthusiasm in China than anywhere else in the world. Several years ago, only a very small number of individuals in China knew of existential psychology. Yet, the 2012 International Conference on Existential Psychology was one of the largest conferences on existential psychology that has ever occurred.

In this entry, I have focused on a general report of the conference. Yet, it fails to really recognize the excitement and meaning surrounding the conference. In the coming weeks, a number of other New Existentialist writers will continue to document other aspects of the trip that better represent the energy of the conference. The only real way to get a sense of what is occurring in China is to attend one of the future conferences in China.

Plans are already underway for the Third International Conference on Existential Psychology. Given the rapid growth of existential psychology in China, it is likely that the conference will continue to draw many top existential scholars from China and around the world. We also anticipate that the size and enthusiasm of the conference will continue to expand. You can continue to follow the conference at and on Facebook at

— Louis Hoffman

Read more posts by Louis Hoffman

Keep up with our community – follow us on Facebook and Twitter