Is Existential Therapy Viable for Treating Your Loved One’s Addiction?

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If you have a partner, child, sibling or friend who is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, you want to make the best possible choice for effective treatments. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the different treatment approaches available: 12-step, holistic, cognitive behavioral, etc. Is existential therapy a viable option? Keep reading to learn more.

What is Existentialism?

Rooted in psychodynamic theory, existentialism strives to help humans understand their position in the world and assign meaning to their existence. Long before it became a clinical approach, existentialism was founded in the deep, reflective questions of philosophers like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Sartre.

Rather than zeroing in on a particular symptom, existential therapies focus on the individual and their unique experience. The hallmarks of what it means to be human are pondered in this approach– life, death, suffering, hope, loss.

The client derives his or her own meaning from these concepts, and their distinctive understanding of how these concepts apply to their existence are used to bring about self-awareness.

Example of existential questions that may be pursued in therapy include:

  • Who am I really?
  • What does it mean to be alive?
  • What is my true purpose?
  • What happens upon my death?

In comparison to other therapeutic modalities, many view the deliberations of existentialism as esoteric in nature. Nonetheless, these very questions, the “ultimate concerns,” are directed at assisting individuals in becoming more aware of their true nature.

Is Existential Therapy Viable for Treating an Addiction?

The primary themes of existentialism revolve around responsibility and freedom. Upsetting phases in life are brought about due to choices. Therefore, depression, anxiety and substance abuse are the result of some choice that has been made by the individual.

The existential therapists’ goal is to assist the client in pinpointing choices they have made that brought them to their current predicament in order to take responsibility for those decisions. Then, the client is empowered to make better choices that will ultimately shape their destinies. Freedom comes with this ability to take responsibility.

The problems the client experiences in life are grounded in anxiety about those life questions. Concepts like despair, loneliness, meaningless and even death are the basis of all conflicts humans endure. In other words, when your loved one faced isolation or rejection at school or work, they were reminded of their own limitations.

Coming to Terms

When a loss was suffered such as death or the end of a relationship, again, they must come to terms with innate helplessness. According to existentialism, these limitations are what drive one to depression, anxiety or addiction. The therapist helps the client to realize the control they must exercise in their choices to promote meaning in life.

With existential therapy, your loved one is obliged to engage in honest evaluation of himself and his existence. Only through this deep reflection can he understand how to take responsibility for his future and claim those coveted experiences of love, commitment, transcendence, self-actualization and power.

Avalon Malibu believes in providing practical solutions for treating addiction that fit the client’s worldview. Existential therapy is just one of the many treatment approaches available. To find out more about this approach, or to enroll your loved one today, contact our knowledgeable staff.


  1. Brief interventions and brief therapies for substance abuse. Chapter 6. Brief humanistic and existential therapies. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 1999.
  2. Diamond, S.A. What is existential psychotherapy? Psychology Today. January 2011.

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