A Brief History of the Existential-Humanistic Perspective
The EHNW professional organization is rooted in the existential tradition within America and our broader Western culture. An existential perspective within psychology began to develop in the early twentieth century in the work of European theorists, most notably Ludwig Binswager, who were strongly impacted by philosophical existentialism through the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
The movement of existential-humanistic psychology in America emerged on the basis of this foundation toward the middle of the twentieth century, predominantly in 1958 with the landmark publication of Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology, co-edited by Rollo May. May, along with other prominent psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and James Bugental, pioneered the establishment and shaping of American E-H psychology and its clinical applications to psychotherapy. Bugental, in particular, was passionately committed to formulating and articulating a detailed and comprehensive E-H approach to the psychotherapeutic process, as well as to the professional training and supervision of E-H clinical practitioners.
Bob Edelstein, the president and founder of EHNW, has received extensive training and supervision from Bugental, who was a foundational mentor for his development into a leading therapist, clinical supervisor, and educator within the present field of E-H psychotherapy. Edelstein and the EHNW development team believe that our culture and world are currently in need of growth-producing change, and that E-H values are integral and vital to this constructive transformation.
The Existential-Humanistic Perspective is not just an approach to Psychotherapy, but a way of being with one’s self, and in the world. This way of being is vital and liberating because it emphasizes the reality of direct, lived experience rather than abstract knowledge or detached involvement. It means a deeper and fuller experience of living. The E-H perspective encourages authentically being with one’s self, becoming more fully aware of one’s true identity, and choosing to actualize innate potentialities. It advocates a way of being with others in terms of engaged presence, honestly sharing one’s authentic self and affirming others to reveal their authentic selves. It supports a way of being in the world in terms of intentional commitment and actively participating in the constructive transformation of one’s community, society, and global culture.
If you would like to learn more about Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, or Jim Bugental, click on the photos. If you would like to learn more about the EH perspective, here are some informational resources:
Society of Existential Analysis
The Association for Humanistic Psychology
Existential Psychoanalytic Institute of Seattle
Existential-Humanistic Northwest Professional Organization’s response to the 2016 election
A Divided Nation – Our Existential Crisis
As an organization, our vision is to impact the world through existential-humanistic values. These include authenticity, integrity, responsibility, inclusion, and awe. In this spirit, the EHNW board would like to share our thoughts on the crisis of identity our country is presently undergoing.
During our post-election time, we as Americans have an existential crisis. As we engage in the current political changes, many of us are fearful, angry, and disheartened and many of us wait with hopeful hearts. There is a renewed urgency to secure hard-won values that we hold passionately. We ask ourselves, “Who are we as a country?” “What will the Future look like for our children?” Collective and individual actions taken today will influence and shape our future. Although we cannot control our country’s destiny, as existentialists, we recognize the potential and power of each intention, choice, and action.
As existentialists, we acknowledge and actively advocate for groups within our shared humanity who are denied, ignored, and marginalized due to race, sexuality, religion, and class. We are called upon to responsibly join with others to become an active voice for our diverse communities. We are also concerned that issues, such as climate change, which effect the international community will not be recognized. We acknowledge and actively advocate that these issues are of vital concern.
The ambiguity and uncertainty of our present political climate compels us to face our existential vulnerability. This can be terrifying. We need to have the courage to be with our existential vulnerability, and in so doing, we will begin to make meaning of the crisis in our national identity. Our work is three-fold. We need to know our authentic selves, educate ourselves about these issues, and become allies to those in need of support.
Our humanistic values emphasize unconditional positive regard towards everyone. This attitude helps us cultivate an understanding of those who hold different views from us. We believe that although there may be strong differences in points of view, ultimately we are all part of the human family and we are all intending, in our own way, to help humanity.
We also have a deep faith in the resiliency of the human spirit. Resiliency may be expressed in something as simple as the choice to be curious and open, rather than to judge and polarize. This can mean stretching ourselves to be inclusive and not shut others out. This can be a struggle. We want to embrace the complexity of our human experience. These attitudes can create the potential for open dialogue, increased empathy, successful negotiation, and mutually satisfying solutions.
As existentialists, we recall the freedom available to us in every moment. We can stand in awe of these tumultuous changes in our world. Our intention is to live a life of integrity aligned with our existential-humanistic values. We strive for integration of these values within ourselves and within the context of our world.