Existential psychology: ideas, stages of development, representatives

January 16, 2021

Hello, dear readers of the KtoNaNovenkogo.ru blog. Existentialism is usually associated with a gloomy worldview: life is decay, there is no meaning in it, a person is tragically alone.

Existential philosophy reflected and determined the mood of the 20th century in the West, when humanistic ideas about the greatness of man were greatly shaken.

Two world wars, the invention of weapons of mass destruction, scientific and technological progress that turns daring fantastic ideas into reality - all this became a trigger for the existential perception of life.

Pronunciation and meaning of the word "existential"

For the Russian language, the word existentialism is an unpronounceable tongue twister. Many people pronounce it incorrectly, adding an extra syllable - “existentialism”. To correctly use all forms of this word, you need to understand its origin.

Existentialism is derived from the Latin word existence (existentia) - existence.

The difficulty is that there is no synonym for it in the Russian language, so in the simplest words, existentialism is a philosophy of existence, and existential is related to existence.

Signs of a crisis

Midlife crisis in men - what is it, when does it begin?

The main sign of the onset of an existential crisis is a person’s depressed state, which can manifest itself in different forms. The most common symptoms of critical illness in men and women are:

  • Depression;
  • The desire for social isolation of the individual;
  • Loss of interest in what made a person happy before;
  • Interest in mysticism and religion (characteristic of 85% of people experiencing a crisis).

It is known that large religious sects actively speculate on people seeking the meaning of life and in every possible way lure them into their networks. Therefore, during this period a person is especially at risk of becoming a victim of pseudo-gurus and “spiritual teachers.”

Existential despondency is a constant companion of a crisis state

Existentialism is...

Existentialism is a direction in which the subject of study is the existence of a person with his ordinary problems, tragedies, and emotions.

The bias towards the tragedy of human existence makes existentialism a “philosophy of despair.” This is one of the most popular movements in Western philosophy of the 20th century.

The polyphony of existentialists is extremely heterogeneous and diverse, but all are united by an interest in the main themes - human existence, freedom, choice, death, the meaning of life.

“A man died, in front of the gates of heaven he sees the Apostle Peter and said to him: “Excuse me, Apostle, I have one question for you.” I lived for a long time, but I still didn’t understand what was the meaning of my life? - Do you really want to know this? - Very! — Do you remember in 1975 you were traveling on the Vorkuta-Moscow train? - Well... I think I remember. — You and your fellow traveler were still talking. - There was something like that... - And then you and he went to celebrate your acquaintance in the dining car. “Perhaps...” There was a red-haired woman sitting at the next table. - Yes, yes, there was something like that... - She asked you to pass her the salt. - Exactly! I remembered, I asked him to pass the salt shaker! “And you gave her the salt.” - Yes, yes, I did. - Well, here it is...

*Bearded existential Soviet joke

Existentialism formed as a separate philosophical movement before the First World War and existed until the mid-1960s, going through all the disasters of the 20th century.

But the origins of this philosophy must be sought in the 19th century - in the works of F. M. Dostoevsky, the ideas of F. Nietzsche, the teachings of the Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard, who is called the founder of existentialism.

*Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)

It was Kierkegaard who derived the concept of existence, which became the central category of existential philosophy.

For the first time in the history of philosophy, the Dane poses the question bluntly - why, in fact, philosophers are concerned with anything - the essence of being, the primacy of matter, God, the knowability of the world, universals, will and other vague concepts - but turn their nose up at the pressing problems of the common man with his experiences, problems, fears?

Kierkegaard turned philosophy towards ordinary people. From now on, it should help a person make an internal choice, feel for his Self, and find an idea worth living for.

It is not surprising that existential questions are often heard in works of fiction. Perhaps this philosophical direction is reflected in literary creativity like no other.

F. M. Dostoevsky, L. N. Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Rainer Maria Rilke, Alberto Moravia - this is not a complete list of writers who raise existential themes in their works.

*Albert Camus about life

Most people live in conditions of inauthentic existence; they go with the flow, without thinking why and where. “Be like everyone else” is the motto of such a life.

In contrast, Kierkegaard puts true existence - existence, life, where a person makes a conscious choice, controls his destiny, finds himself and his calling.

Thus, the goal of human life is existence, finding oneself. Existential truth is not something that is known, but something that is experienced by each person individually.

Main representatives

Existential psychotherapy is represented by outstanding personalities, whose works are still bestsellers, and their names are known far beyond the boundaries of the field.

Karl Theodor Jaspers (1883-1969)

German philosopher, psychologist and psychiatrist. He criticized the diagnostic criteria and methods of clinical psychiatry. He formulated a new task for his colleagues - to take the human essence beyond the boundaries and framework that society dictates to it and with which it surrounds itself.

Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966)

Swiss psychiatrist. The first theorist of existential psychotherapy as an empirical science working within the framework of the anthropological approach to the human personality. And at the same time, he was her first practitioner: based on his own teaching, he successfully cured one of the patients from anorexia neurotic and described this case in detail.

Medard Boss (1903-1990)

Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist, founder of design analysis. The main idea of ​​the teaching is that people do not exist separately from the world, but it does not exist separately from them. Only man reveals—illuminates—the world. Dasein is that very “illuminating” thing that brings things “to the light.” Based on this concept, psychopathology is living in darkness as a conscious choice of the patient. Accordingly, the goal of existential psychotherapy is to return him to the light.

Ronald David Laing (1927-1989)

Scottish psychiatrist. The leading ideologist of anti-psychiatry, to which he did not count himself. His views on methods of treating psychopathologies were formed under the influence of existentialism and ran counter to generally accepted principles of psychiatry. He considered the behavior of any patient (even in the most advanced cases) as an expression of personal freedom, which has every right to exist.

Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997)

Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, psychologist. The creator of logotherapy - a narrow direction in existential psychotherapy. He believed that understanding the meaning of life and an objective look at what is happening (no matter how terrible it is) helps not only to overcome all difficulties, but also to survive.

Rollo May (1909-1994)

American psychologist, psychotherapist. When working with clients, he encouraged them to focus on the main problems of existence: guilt and anxiety, freedom and restrictions, good and evil, responsibility and fate, love and violence. The work “Love and Will” became a national bestseller.

Alice Holzhey-Kuntz (1943)

Swiss psychotherapist, leading existential analyst of our time, Ph.D. Being co-editor of Binswanger and favorite student of Medard Boss, she partially deviated from their views. Represents a completely new analytical movement: it reconciles Freud's psychoanalysis with existential foundations.

James Bugental (1915-2008)

American psychologist, psychotherapist. It was he who, in response to criticism of existential psychotherapy about the lack of a clear strategy, formulated 5 basic principles of this direction.

Irvin Yalom (1931)

American doctor of medicine, psychotherapist, professor of psychiatry. Opponent of a formal approach to treatment without taking into account individuality. He proposes to “invent” a new psychotherapy for each client - based on a unique story that is not similar to others. In his opinion, existential therapy should be built on interpersonal relationships “here and now”, on mutual revelations between the doctor and the patient. Many works are devoted to overcoming the fear of death.

Alfried Langle (1951)

Austrian psychologist, psychotherapist. Thanks to him, existential-analytical psychotherapy appeared, which today enjoys incredible success. He criticizes traditional methods of treating any disease (physical and mental) for the fact that they only relieve the symptom without delving into the cause. Considers the manifestations of the disease as a stimulus for self-reflection. Invites patients to think about their attitude to life, reconsider priorities, change and thereby heal. Considers the highest value to be the comprehension of the deep spiritual essence of oneself and other people. Heads the Association of Existential-Analytical Psychologists and Psychotherapists.

Atheistic and religious existentialism

Within the philosophy of existentialism, two currents are distinguished, although this division is very conditional:

  1. An atheistic movement whose main ideologists were Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus.
    “When I choose myself, I choose humanity.” *AND. -P. Sartre

    This direction is characterized by the idea of ​​the “forsakenness of God” of a person who follows a freely chosen path of development, regardless of external circumstances.

    But by choosing the path of responsibility for oneself, a person takes responsibility for all of humanity onto his shoulders, like God. Hence the feeling of an unbearable burden, the awareness of freedom as a nightmare.

    “God is dead,” Nietzsche declared, but now his role is filled by man. The starting point of existential philosophy is Dostoevsky’s phrase: “If there is no God, then everything is permitted.”

    Faith for atheistic existentialists is just a way to hide from the terrifying reality in which each of us is sentenced to death from birth. The end of existence is death.

  2. The religious movement is represented by Nikolai Berdyaev, Karl Jaspers, Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel.
    Religious existentialists do not see faith as a way to escape reality.

    Faith for them is a test, an attempt to understand the essence of man, to discover a personal God with whom they can have an endless internal conversation.

    Man is a co-creator with God. He himself creates his life and the world around him.

    Faith is not blindly following rituals and studying scriptures. Faith is a truth that cannot be known, but can be lived, proving its validity with your life.


The article confirms the need for a sociological understanding of the concept of existential values ​​and outlines the underlying theoretical framework, as well as prospects for further research of this type of values. Drawing on various sociological, philosophical and psychological approaches to axiological problems, the author converges to the importance of existential values ​​such as terminal, terminal values, which are not are rooted in values ​​of a higher order and signify the value structure of the particularity and matrimony.

Problems of existentialism

Existentialism in philosophy is a reaction to the crisis of rationalism (what is that?).

Existence cannot be dissected by rationalistic methods of analysis, sorted into shelves and structured.

Human existence is absurd and defies logic. A person himself can only see the light in borderline situations, when consciousness turns off and the true essence of the personality is revealed.

The main problems of interest to existentialists:

  1. The uniqueness of the human personality and its existence. Each of us experiences everything in our own way, therefore we are not able to fully understand the other.
  2. Scientific and technological progress kills the importance of man.
  3. The gap between the inner and outer world.
  4. Alienation of a person from society.
  5. Human “abandonment”, global loneliness, the meaninglessness of life.
  6. Finding yourself and your place in life, the problem of internal choice.
  7. The problem of freedom and responsibility for one's life.

Reasons why it occurs

Creative crisis - what is it, how to determine its onset and overcome it

The main cause of the crisis is existential conflict. It can take different forms. As a rule, the following traumatic situations can act as a provocateur:

  • Serious illness or injury;
  • Illness or death of a loved one;
  • Children growing up and leaving their parents' home;
  • Conflict situation at work;
  • Demotion or early retirement.

In some cases, the problem is aggravated by the use of psychoactive substances or alcohol. There are known cases when creative people, gripped by an existential crisis, literally became drunk before our eyes. Also, a personal crisis experienced by one of the partners, in severe cases, can lead to the breakup of a family or the separation of a guy from a girl.

Crisis manifests itself differently for different people.

Existential psychology

Existentialism came from philosophy to the field of psychology thanks to the works of the German thinker and psychologist Karl Jaspers and the Swiss doctor Ludwig Binswanger, who, in fact, challenged the Freudian model of analysis, declaring the unique existence of each individual.

Existential psychology is built on the philosophical concepts of life and death, loneliness and the meaning of existence.

The names of many famous psychologists are associated with existential psychoanalysis. Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, Alfried Langle, Irvin Yalom - each of them developed their own original methods in the vein of existentialism.

German psychologist Erich Fromm in 1955 in his work “A Healthy Society” writes that a person will never be able to experience the fullness of life by satisfying only his basic physiological needs.

*Erich Fromm (1900–1980)

Fromm derives a formula from five existential needs, satisfying which a person moves along the path of self-improvement.

  1. Communication, establishing connections, thanks to which the feeling of loneliness is dulled.
  2. Transcendence is overcoming oneself, leaving the comfort zone.
  3. Rootedness is the definition of one’s place in the world, a reliable rear that gives a feeling of security.
  4. Self-identity is the acceptance of one’s individuality.
  5. System of values.

The influence of an existential crisis on personality development

Although an existential crisis is accompanied by unpleasant emotions, it cannot be viewed from a purely negative point of view. All personal crises contain enormous potential for development. They seem to remind a person that he has stayed too long in his comfort zone and has outgrown it.

Something prevents a person from getting out of his cozy little world - fear, laziness, lack of self-confidence. Then a crisis bursts in and turns everything upside down.

The comfort zone turns into a discomfort zone, and the person begins to look for a way out of it.

If he has the determination to overcome his fears and inertia, he will reach a new level of personal development. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. A crisis can break a weak personality - no one has canceled natural selection. But let's not talk about sad things.

It was an existential crisis, for example, that helped a man named Siddhartha Gautama achieve enlightenment and become a Buddha. He was being prepared to become a king and a great future was predicted for him. Until the age of 30, his family hid from him the fact that man was mortal in order to protect the heir to the throne from grief and suffering. The sick and elderly were not allowed into the palace, so as not to raise unnecessary questions from him.

When Siddhartha first stepped outside the castle, an ominous and bitter truth suddenly fell upon him. He saw poor, sick old people, decaying corpses of animals, and monks who had renounced worldly life. The young man was especially interested in the latter. He could no longer carefreely enjoy life as before, and decided to leave the palace. Thus began his spiritual journey.

If you're facing an existential crisis, don't take it as a punishment. Consider it a godsend. It gives you a magical boost to start a new life.

Lottery ticket in exchange for life

The chance of achieving success in the world of cinema is comparable to the chance of winning the lottery. This applies to actors, directors, screenwriters and many others. The article may be useful, especially in the current crisis. The information in the article concerns only those people who are trying to “hit the jackpot” by giving up stable work and a normal life. Alas, there are many of them. I warn you right away that this is only the opinion of a private person, and not a claim to the ultimate truth.

A crisis has arrived. Its causes, possible consequences and ways out will be left for discussion by armchair experts on social networks. Here it is considered only as a factor that will inevitably freeze (and even bury) many film projects. The crisis will only aggravate and reveal many problems of participants in the cinematic community.

People who are trying to sell a script, find a producer, or initiate a film project often suffer because they are putting everything on the line. Trying to “hit the jackpot,” they refuse normal, stable work and a normal family life. When planning for the future, there is little consideration for failure. And they can live like this for years! They get by only with odd jobs and often have serious financial problems. They dream that they are about to sell the script, find an investor/producer, and most of the accumulated problems in life will be solved in one fell swoop. Psychologists need to understand the underlying mechanisms of this behavior (the roots are the same as gambling addiction). We will only consider the main manifestations.

The startup movement and the cinematic scene are twins

I had the opportunity to communicate with representatives of both the cinematic and startup community. There is a lot in common between them - the film project is in some way a startup itself. What they have in common is that many people rush around with their projects (concepts, scripts, applications, pilots) in the hope of finding an investor. Sometimes for years. Most often - unsuccessfully.

The same people are present in these related parties. And often even their “habits” are the same - coworking spaces and “cafes”.

Optimism is evil

Pessimism and optimism are equally harmful. You always need to remain realistic. If you make decisions based on an inadequately positive outlook for the future, then you are likely to lose.

Dreaming and thinking about good things is a must. But you shouldn't bet everything. For some people, optimism becomes a kind of religion (especially for people who make up the audience for Zeeland's waste paper and films like "The Secret"). And such people end up completely inadequately assessing the situation and making the wrong decisions. They don't take into account that failure is many times more likely than success.

Such people sell apartments to give their children an acting education or to enroll them in an elite sports school. These people go into debt to invest in their “Internet startup.” Such people take out loans from banks (or even from bandits) in order to open an absolutely unviable business (after being “pumped with motivation” in business sects). And these people lose in most cases. And it’s good if this loss is limited to lost time and damaged relationships with loved ones. In the worst cases, this ends in many years of depression, loss of all property, binge alcoholism, destruction of families, suicide and revenge from creditors.

No matter how punish it may sound, optimism can kill you. In the literal sense of the word.

Simple Arithmetic

Let's calculate missed opportunities using the example of a screenwriter. Let’s say there is a certain “spherical in a vacuum” screenwriter who wrote a good script. He dreams of selling it to a producer. If this screenwriter has a stable permanent (paid) job and trying to sell a script is just a side activity for him, then everything is fine. This is normal and appropriate.

But if this same screenwriter makes trying to sell a script his main occupation, doing odd jobs, then this is sad. And the longer this lasts, the more the stakes subconsciously “raise.” The more problems accumulate, the greater the temptation to solve them all in one fell swoop by selling the script.

But, as you and I understand, the chance of success is low. And even in the case of extremely unlikely success, you can earn not such a large amount for the script. For Russian cinema, the cost of an original script from a little-known author very rarely exceeds 20 thousand dollars. If we consider the pre-crisis 35 rubles per dollar, then the amount comes out to only 700 thousand rubles. It’s quite possible to earn that kind of money in a year and a half to two years, with a stable job. At the same time, live a full life. For some reason, many startups (including film startups) do not want to take such calculations into account. And they deprive themselves of a normal, fulfilling life. Often the possible success will not cover the lost profits. Success is already extremely unlikely, but in a crisis...

Example from the Chamber of Weights and Measures

I'll give you a canonical example. One unknown aspiring director decided to make a short film. The hope was that it would “pop” at one of the major festivals, the director (and the actors featured in it) would be noticed and everything would turn out well. The filming wasn't that bad and the actors tried their best. The whole process cost about 120-150 tr. Mostly borrowed from friends and relatives.

But... as you might guess, it “didn’t take off.” The short film was not selected at prestigious festivals. Effort and money are wasted (except for the purpose of education, entertainment and self-importance in the process of filming for the director). In the hope that the short film would take off, serious matters such as work were put off for many months. The man was in an existential frenzy, constructing fictitious scenarios for success. But it all crashed into harsh reality. Time wasted. A man got into debt that he never repaid. History knows many similar cases.

Existential trap

One of the main reasons for such illogical behavior is the mind trap that advertising and mass culture have woven. People are shown pictures of a beautiful life and are convinced that they have a chance to live the same way. And therefore people endure any social injustice, any deprivation just for the sake of a ghostly chance of communion. Therefore, “life on credit”, conspicuous consumption, economic crimes, domestic prostitution, etc. are flourishing. There are a lot of causes and consequences of this phenomenon and it will not be possible to consider all of them even in the format of an entire book. The main thing is that this trap provokes inadequately optimistic (and very risky) planning. A person lives in a fictional world of consumer happiness and is ready to risk EVERYTHING for the slightest chance of being there in one leap.

Obvious things? Kindergarten level? Not at all...

Many will note that the article describes such obvious things that everyone knows them. But, unfortunately, not everyone. I know several adults and mentally healthy people who have been going to negotiations with potential investors/producers/buyers for years, hanging out at pitching sessions, “grazing” on thematic sites in the hope of solving their problems at once. Unsuccessfully.

At the same time, everyone is in debt, lives very poorly, and is content with inconsistent earnings. Sometimes their wives leave such people, they lose friends and spoil relationships with relatives (due to debts).

Don't buy lottery tickets that are too expensive. Always be realistic and consider failure as the most likely outcome of your attempt. In times of crisis, inadequately positive planning can hit you at rock bottom with deadly force.


Original article Melnikov A.S.
Sociological interpretation of existential values ​​// Sociological research: Collection of scientific works. - No. 10. - Lugansk: View of SNU im. V. Dalia, 2008. - pp. 130-142. See: Bakirov V. Value consciousness and activation of the human factor. - Kh.: Vishcha School, 1988; Zdravomyslov A. Needs. Interests. Values. - M.: Politizdat, 1986; Podolskaya E. Value orientations and the problem of personality activity. - Kh.: Osnova, 1991; Handle A. Social values ​​and norms. - K.: Naukova Dumka, 1976; Pen A. Value approach in the system of sociological knowledge. - K.: Naukova Dumka, 1987; Surina I. Values. Value orientations. Value space. - M.: Sotsium, 1999; Schrader Yu. The values ​​we choose. - M.: Editorial, 1999; Boudon R. The origin of values. — New Brunswick: Transaction, 2001; Joas H. The genesis of values. — Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000; Rokeach M. The Nature of Human Values. - N.-Y., L., 1973; Spates J. The Sociology of Values ​​// Annual Review of Sociology. - 1983. - Vol. 9. - P. 27-49; Hitlin S., Piliavin J. Values: Reviving a Dormant Concept // Annual Review of Sociology. - 2004. - Vol. 30. - P. 359-393; Wuthnow R. The Sociological Study of Values ​​// Sociological Forum. - 2008. - Vol. 23. - Issue 2. - P. 333-343.

In particular, in Sorokin the concept of value is embodied in the typology of dynamic sociocultural supersystems, and in Parsons in this regard one can call the scheme of typical action variables (also see his work [3]).

See a detailed study on the history of the development of the concept of values ​​in sociology [4].

The value of hedonism has some features, which refers simultaneously to the pole of “openness to change” and to the pole of “self-aggrandizement.”

An additional argument in favor of Schwartz's model is its successful application within the framework of a large-scale research project, the European Social Survey. See the report on the life values ​​of Ukrainians in comparison with European countries [6]. In addition to the ESS, cross-cultural empirical studies of values ​​were carried out within the framework of the International Social Survey Program (for a Ukrainian report, see [7]) and the World Values ​​Survey (see https://worldvaluessurvey.org). The last of these projects is based on the approach to studying the values ​​of R. Inglehart.

Anyone can take the Hauser test at https://moral.wjh.harvard.edu/index.html

See: Gavrilyuk V., Trikoz N. Dynamics of value orientations during the period of social transformation (generational approach) // Sociological Research. - 2002. - No. 1. - P. 96-105; Lapin N. Modernization of basic values ​​of Russians // Sociological studies. - 1996. - No. 5. - P. 3-23; Smirnov L. Empirical study of basic values ​​// World of Russia. - 2002. - No. 1. - P. 166-184; Yanitsky M. Value orientations of the individual as a dynamic system. - Kemerovo: Kuzbassvuzizdat, 2000; Atayan V. Axiological concepts of the regulatory function of value in society // Humanitarian and social sciences. - 2008. - No. 6. - P. 2-9.

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