The Future of Existential Psychology: An Introduction

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Editors’ Note: This series is dedicated to memory of Dr. Eugene Taylor, a founding member of the New Existentialists, whose inspiration and superior scholarship will serve as a beacon for current and future existential psychologists.

Existential psychology is experiencing a resurgence in recent years, as marked by numerous new publications (Cooper, 2003; Mendelowitz, 2008; Schneider, 2008, 2009; Schneider & Krug, 2009, Spinelli, 2007) and an important endorsement by Bruce Wampold (2008), a leading psychotherapy outcome researcher. It is being applied in new ways and new contexts, such as its emergence in China (Hoffman, Yang, Kaklauskas, & Chan, 2009; Wang, 2011, Yang & Hoffman, 2011), experimental psychology (Greenberg, Koole, & Psyzczynski, 2004), and social psychology (Burke, Martens, & Faucher, 2010).

Despite this, existential psychology continues to be frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. In a recent issue of Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, a journal of the American Psychological Association, Jeremy Bartz (2009) published an article with numerous factual errors and misrepresentations of existential psychology (see Helminiak, Hoffman, & Dodson, 2012, for a critique and review of the errors). In the Bartz article, in addition to misunderstanding and misrepresenting the scholarly works of existential psychology, he did not reference any major works in existential psychology written since Yalom’s 1980 Existential Psychotherapy outside of other writings of Yalom and one book by Frankl (a second book by Frankl was inaccurately cited as being more recent). While Bartz did acknowledge that he was primarily focusing on Yalom, he ignored and seemed unaware of a large body of existential literature relevant to his topic. A significant problem such as this would typically be addressed in the peer review process, leaving one to wonder if the reviewers, too, were unaware that there is a significant body of contemporary existential literature.

The New Existentialists project was begun, in part, to help rectify these problems through the promotion of contemporary existential psychology scholarship. Since being launched in May 2011, the New Existentialists website has published several hundred blogs reviewing contemporary existential scholarship and applying existential psychology to contemporary issues. We have demonstrated that existential psychology remains an important force in psychology and society.

I am pleased that the New Existentialists website has drawn contributions from many leading contemporary existential scholars as well as important student and early career voices that are destined to be the future of existential psychology. Many of these scholars are faculty at Saybrook University, which continues to be the leading force in training the next generation of existential scholars. However, scholars from across the United States and around the world have joined the project. Many of our contributors report that their contributions are being recognized and talked about when they attend professional conferences. I have also received emails and letters from many people across the United States and several other countries expressing their appreciation of the New Existentialists project.

The New Existentialists project, however, is not intended to just be a reflection of current existential scholarship and applications. We intend to be a creative force shaping the future of existential psychology. If existential psychology cannot adapt to address contemporary issues and be relevant in various cultural contexts, then it should fade away into irrelevance. Yet, our scholars believe that existential psychology is relevant and will continue to be relevant. Furthermore, we are certain that existential psychology has something important to contribute.

For example, the recent series of articles on existential psychology and politics highlighted its relevance to important current social issues. Lisa Vallejos‘s article, for example, reviewed Kirk Schneider’s Experiential Democracy Project. Two articles that I wrote applied the concept of zhi mian, an idea recently introduced to existential psychology by Xuefu Wang, to our contemporary political challenges. There should be no doubt for any regular followers of the blog that existential psychology continues to be relevant in today’s world.

This article is launching a new series that will continue for several months on the future of existential psychology. These articles focus on opportunities for existential psychology as well as predictions regarding the direction it will traverse in the coming years. Already, many leading scholars from Europe, China, Singapore, and the United States have agreed to contribute to this series. Yet, we believe it is vital that we not just include the perspectives from established existential scholars. Often, students and early career professionals are able to see the blind spots and contemporary needs that are missed by those who have been long immersed in the field. We hope this series will create a dialogue of perspectives that will help us better envision where existential psychology needs to go. In other words, we intend this series to be more than a collection of opinions, but rather an active conversation that helps shape the future of existential psychology.

We hope that many readers will follow along with this news series and join the conversation through commenting on new posts; sharing these articles on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets; and encouraging colleagues and students to follow along.

Bartz, J. D. (2009). Theistic existential psychotherapy. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 1, 69-80.

Burke, B. L., Martens, A., & Faucher, E. H. (2010). Two decades of terror management theory: A meta-analysis of mortality salience research. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 155-195.

Cooper, M. (2003). Existential therapies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Greenberg, J., Koole, S. L., & Psyzczynski, T. (Eds.). (2004). Handbook of experimental existential psychology. New York, NY: Guilford.

Helminiak, D., Hoffman, L., & Dodson, E., (2012). A critique of the “theistic psychology” movement as exemplified in Bartz (2009) “Theistic Existential Psychology.” The Humanistic Psychologist, 40, 179-196. DOI: 10.1080/08873267.2012.672351

Hoffman, L., Yang, M., Kaklauskas, F. J., & Chan, A. (Eds.). (2009). Existential psychology East-West. Colorado Springs, CO: University of the Rockies Press.

Mendelowitz, E. (2008). Ethics and Lao-Tzu: Intimations of character. Colorado Springs, CO: University of the Rockies Press.

Schneider, K. J. (2008). Existential-integrative psychotherapy: Guideposts to the core of practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Schneider, K. J. (2009). Awakening to awe: Personal stories of profound transformation. Jason Aronson.

Schneider, K. J. & Krug, O. T. (2009). Existential-humanistic therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Spinelli, . E. (2007). Practicing existential therapy: The relational world. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

van Durzen, E. & Young, S. (2009). Existential perspectives on supervision: Widening the horizons of psychotherapy and counseling. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wampold, B. E. (2008, February 4). Existential-integrative psychotherapy: Coming of age [Review of Existential-integrative psychotherapy: Guideposts to the core of practice]. PsycCRITIQUES: Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, 53 (6). DOI 10.1037a0011070.

Wang, X. (2011). Zhi mian and existential psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist, 39, 20-246.

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Yang, M. & Hoffman, L. (2011). Introduction to the special section on the First International Conference on Existential Psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist, 39, 236-239.

— Louis Hoffman

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