Existential therapy provides a framework for couple work that allows for human and life issues to come to the foreground. This can have the effect of bringing out what it is that really matters to the partners in a relationship and to start rebuilding from solid foundations. Such work can only be done if partners are first enabled to face up to conflict, limitations and contradictions in their lives. This will be facilitated through in depth personal existential work, which will be done by the therapist with each partner in the silent presence of the other. This enables the couple to become aware of the differences and similarities in their values, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes and to begin understanding and respecting each other’s life purpose. Existential couple therapists encourage partners to explore and communicate their most deeply held passions and desires and to find ways in which these can be received with respect and growing appreciation for the other’s existence. Often the meanings and projects each partner holds can then be reframed as complementary rather than as conflicting. It is not uncommon for partners to experience a total revolution in their evaluation of themselves and each other in the relationship as a result of such existential in-depth work.
This presentation of existential work with couples will briefly outline the fundamental planks of existential work as they apply in this setting. Some illustrations will be provided of the specific ways in which such work progresses and the therapist’s function s translator and interpreter of existential meanings will be demonstrated.
Emmy van Deurzen is a philosopher, existential psychotherapist and counselling psychologist with more than forty years experience in her field and thirteen books to her name. She has founded and co-founded several training institutes, including the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent’s College, the Centre for the Study of Conflict and Reconciliation at the University of Sheffield and the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling in London, of which she continues to be the Principal. She was the inspiration and creative force behind the launch of the Society for Existential Analysis and its Journal of the same name in 1988 and she was also the first chair of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy and representative to the Council of Europe on behalf of the European Association for Psychotherapy.
Her application of philosophical ideas to psychology, psychotherapy, counselling and coaching has revolutionized the field and has not only established the existential approach firmly in the UK, but has inspired many European and international developments. Her work has been translated into a dozen languages and she lectures worldwide. She is visiting Professor of Psychotherapy with Middlesex University and has been a professor with Regent’s College, an honorary professor with Schiller International University and the University of Sheffield as well as a visiting fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge.