Comparing Humanistic Existential Psychotherapy with Other Approaches

Comparing Humanistic Existential Psychotherapy with Other Approaches

Psychotherapy is a viable treatment for a variety of mental health issues. Wheeler (2020) defines psychotherapy as a process of treating emotional difficulties and mental illnesses by way of verbal and psychological techniques. Currently, several psychotherapeutic approaches are in existence including but are not limited to existential therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Humanistic existential psychotherapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that focuses on the human condition as a whole (Wheeler, 2020).

However, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which has gained its popularity since its establishment in the 1960s is deployed as a treatment modality for a multitude of mental disorders such as anxiety, substance use disorders, and depression. This piece of writing concentrates on comparing humanistic-existential therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy along with their associated outcomes when used in the treatment of patients.

Humanistic existential therapy uses a positive approach that appreciates human capacities and aspirations while simultaneously acknowledging their limitations (Feizi et al., 2019). This form of psychotherapy is a long-term process that helps an individual get in touch with the real experiences they are feeling. It deals with the last concerns of human beings’ existence such as death along with fears of isolation, meaninglessness, guilt lack of relationships, and emptiness (Grande, 2019). The fundamental aim of this therapy is to enable a patient to reach self-actualization in the presence of existential dilemmas. Nevertheless, existential therapy has been criticized for several reasons.

To begin, as opposed to other modalities of psychotherapy, this particular therapy lacks specific and concrete techniques for its administration. Similarly, existential therapy is nondirective which at times makes it restrictive and frustrating to the patients (Grande, 2019). Cognitive-behavioral therapy on the other hand is a goal-oriented, structured, and deductive hands-on form of therapy in which the therapist and the patient work in a collaborative manner with the target of modifying patterns of behavior and thinking to effectuate beneficial transformation in the patient’s mood and way of living (Fordham et al., 2018). Cognitive-behavioral therapy finds its basis through its theorization of the bidirectional nature of cognitive, physical, emotional, and behavioral relationships.

CBT has widely been criticized for focusing on individuals’ capacity to change themselves. Also, this therapy receives a setback for dwelling only on specific and current problems without taking a look at the underlying etiologies of mental health conditions. The above two modalities of psychotherapy differ in several ways which are discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.

CBT as a talking therapy focuses on the recognition of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors and subsequently challenges the patient to inaugurate a distinct course of action and thinking to enhance his overall psychological and physical wellbeing (Fordham et al., 2018). Existential therapy on the other hand focuses on evaluating human consciousness of oneself including the core existence which facilitates self-actualization and self-flourishing. Arguably, CBT is a well-structured, directed and designed form of psychotherapy that is utilized in various settings such as individual, family, and group whereas existential therapy, lacks specific concrete techniques, it is nondirective and is greatly elemental in an individual setting (Feizi et al., 2019).

Additionally, CBT emphasizes patient safety and happiness by encouraging the adoption of pristine thoughts and alterations in behaviors in the presence of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors that lead to good psychological and physical wellbeing. Nonetheless, existential therapy strongly contemplates the absence of permanent safety and happiness in life thus prioritizing the formation of identity (Feizi et al., 2019). The above dissimilarities are crucial and impact the practice of PMHNP. The PMHNP must recognize the mental health issue of concern and select the appropriate therapy that will be beneficial to the patient based on the pros and cons as well as the distinctive characteristics of each of the above psychotherapeutic modalities.

From the PsychotherapyNet (2009) in the James Bugental live case consultation psychotherapy video, the patient complains of “not feeling alive” and being “constricted in his life” warrants the use of humanistic-existential therapy as the treatment of choice. The rationale behind this is that existential therapy enables self-awareness, authenticity and increases awareness about life decisions. Moreover, this kind of therapy helps an individual find purpose and meaning in life, creates a positive attitude towards life, self-actualizes and self-nourishes an individual. Therefore, the patient benefited from a deeper discovery of the larger sense of himself (Feizi et al., 2019).

Cognitive-behavioral therapy could also be used in the management of the patient in the above video. However, this modality would necessitate the identification of maladaptive behaviors and thoughts behind being “constricted in life” and “not feeling alive” and then imposing a positive change. The expected potential outcome with the use of CBT depends on a multitude of factors including patient commitment, effective communication, patient-therapist relationships, and therapist skills (Fordham et al., 2018).  In the event that all the named variables are at optimum, the patient would likely develop novel ways of thinking and positive attitudes towards life.


Psychotherapy is a critical treatment modality for mental health illnesses and emotional difficulties. It is vital to select the appropriate psychotherapeutic technique based on the patient to achieve the most effective patient outcomes. Humanistic existential therapy seeks an in-depth understanding of the large sense of oneself to facilitate self-actualization. CBT deploys the bidirectional interconnection between cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical relationships to impact positive change in behavior and thinking for better physical and psychological wellbeing. Lastly, the sources used are scholarly since they are peer-reviewed journal articles, published within the last five years and from sites recommended for scholarly articles such as NCBI, PubMed, CINAHL, and MEDLINE.


  • Feizi, M., Kamali, Z., Gholami, M., Abadi, B. A. G. H., & Moeini, S. (2019). The effectiveness of existential psychotherapy on attitude to life and self-flourishing of educated women homemakers. Journal of Education and Health Promotion8, 237.
  • Fordham, B., Sugavanam, T., Hopewell, S., Hemming, K., Howick, J., Kirtley, S., das Nair, R., Hamer-Hunt, J., & Lamb, S. E. (2018). Effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a protocol for an overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. BMJ Open8(12), e025761.
  • Grande, T. (2019, January 9). Theories of counseling – Existential Therapy. Youtube.
  • PsychotherapyNet. (2009, June 29). James bugental live case consultation psychotherapy video. Youtube.
  • Wheeler, K. (2020). Psychotherapy for the advanced practice psychiatric nurse: A how-to guide for evidence-based practice. Springer Publishing Company.