In a hypothetical scenario where a patient with a serious anxiety disorder consulted two psychotherapists, one a Freudian, and the other an existentialist, for help with their issues, the therapist with the existentialist bent would be in a much better position to assist them in determining the origins and causes of their anxiety. While Sigmund Freud is rightfully considered the “father of psychoanalysis,” it is important to keep in mind that his theories and techniques were rooted in a very specific historical time period and culture, and thus may not be applicable to the stresses and strains of life in the twenty-first century that create mental health issues such as anxiety. For Freud, many mental illnesses, which he often labeled “hysteria,” or “neuroses,” often had a psychosexual origin, meaning that he believed that the basis of much mental illness was rooted in excess sexual energy created by the willful repression of natural drives. In early twentieth century Vienna, this phenomenon may have indeed been a widespread problem; however, in the hypersexualized culture of the contemporary United States, it is difficult to visualize anyone being psychologically victimized by their libido or its manifestations.
It is however, easy to see how problems of existence in our day and age might create symptoms of mental disease, and particularly severe anxiety disorders, in a person such as our hypothetical patient. The basis of existential psychotherapy is to assist patients with resolving the internal conflicts that arise as a result of the clash between internal values and the contingencies of living in the world (Bartz, 2009). In all likelihood, the patient who is experiencing an anxiety disorder is not suffering from the psychic castoff of a repressed libido, but is experiencing a profound internal dilemma created by the constant repression of their spiritual values, and thus the existentialist would be in a much better position to help them.

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  • Bartz, J.D. (2009). “Theistic Existential Psychotherapy.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 1 (2), 69-80.