25 Questions to ask Clients in Existential Therapy

I would like you to take a moment and think about what brings meaning into your life. Once you have thought of your answer, think about how this impacts your behaviors. Does it motivate you in what you do and with your personal goals? Do you think there are changes in your life you could make to support the meaning in your life? 

Now think about the challenges that you could experience if you were unable to identify what brings you meaning in your life. You may have even had a time in your life when you struggled to find meaning. Give yourself a moment or two to sit with your thoughts. Continue reading to learn 25 questions to ask clients in Existential Therapy.

View all of our Existential Therapy Worksheets

Research has shown that individuals who struggle to find meaning in their life may be at a higher risk of using substances to cope with distress compared to healthy coping skills. Additionally, individuals who struggle with this may have a hard time setting goals for their future, maintaining motivation, and find themselves experiencing other mental health challenges.

Existential Therapy is a great approach to use with clients who are struggling with uncertainty, conflict, or concerns related to death. Existential therapists work with their clients to address the underlying concerns that are contributing to their level of distress. Irvin Yalom identified the four concerns of the human condition as death, isolation, freedom, and isolation. Together with their clinicians, clients work to find a way to exist with the challenges that they are experiencing.

Existential therapy utilizes the following six propositions:

  1.   Everyone has the capacity for self-awareness
  2.   As free beings, we must accept the responsibility that comes with being free
  3.   We each have a unique identity that is learned through relationships with others
  4.   We all continually recreate ourselves, as the meaning of life
  5.   Anxiety is a natural part of being human
  6.   Death is a basic human condition that provides significance for life

Existential therapy can be viewed as a mindset for therapy in addition to a therapeutic approach. Existential therapy can help clients become their authentic selves by creating personal meaning in their life. Additionally, clients will learn to take responsibility for their own decisions. Clinicians often use empathy to provide their clients with support

Getting Ready for Your First Existential Therapy Session with a New Client

When you are getting ready to meet with a new client, there are a few steps you can take to make this a little easier for you. Feeling prepared for sessions can help us feel relaxed and be our authentic selves during our session.

Taking time to organize yourself can include reviewing documents and consents that need to be completed. Depending on the clinical setting that you work in, you may have assessments or screeners that need to be completed as well. Once you have developed familiarity with what is expected of you in your setting, this step will become second nature.

Some treatment facilities provide clients with questionnaires, surveys, or  assessments that clients are asked to complete before meeting with you. These forms can help youdevelop an understanding of what has brought them in to see you and give you an idea of what topics would be important to focus on during your session.

The final suggestion that we have for you would be to ensure that you are giving yourself time to focus on your own self care and wellness. You may have the opportunity to go for a walk or practice meditation during your work day, or you may need to incorporate behaviors outside of your work day. To align with the existential frame of mind, try to engage in activities and relationships that bring meaning into your life.

Common Questions to Ask in Existential Therapy

Existential therapy questions can be used to explore underlying roots of concerns such as death, isolation, freedom, and emptiness as identified by Irvin Yalom. Existential questions can be tailored to each client and the different clinical situations that you are in.

Examples of existential therapy questions that you could utilize in sessions include:

  1. Can you tell me about what brings meaning to your life?
  2. How do you feel the meaning in your life impacts your behavior and goals?
  3. Can you tell me about a time that you were proud of yourself?
  4. Can you tell me a bit about what you value in your life?
  5. Do you feel as though your behaviors support your values? Are there any changes that you could make to your behaviors that would better support your values?
  6. Is there anything in your day today that you have been looking forward to? Can you share what made this stand out to you?
  7. Do you feel that there are any pressures outside of yourself that impact who you are or what you do? Worksheets, such as this Authentic Living Worksheet, can be used to further explore factors that impact your client’s ability to be their authentic self. 
  8. Can you share something that you fear? If one of your client’s fears is one of the inevitable human conditions outlined by Irvin Yalom, you can work with your client to identify their strengths that can help them cope with anxiety that they are experiencing.
  9. Can you tell me about a time when you had to make a challenging choice? What helped you feel as though you could follow through with your decision?
  10. Are there any characteristics about others that make you feel as though you can be your authentic self with them? Is there anyone who comes to mind when you think about this?
  11. If you were to wake up tomorrow and be living the most meaningful life possible, what would your life look like? Describe your relationships, friendships, hobbies, and work life. How would you treat others, and how would you be treated?
  12. Are there any changes that you could make in your life that would work towards the most meaningful life possible?
  13. I would like you to think of a challenge that you experienced where you feel as though you coped poorly. Looking at that situation now, what do you feel you could have done differently? Are there any strengths or skills that you could have tapped into to navigate this situation?
  14. I would like you to think about a time when you coped well with a challenge that you experienced. What skills and strengths supported you during this time?
  15. What would living your life fully look like for you? Do you feel as though you are living your life to the fullest at this time?
  16. Take a moment to think about how you would describe yourself. Try to separate your own thoughts and opinions from friends, family, and society. Tell me about yourself.
  17. Can you tell me what emotions you feel arise the most for you? After your client has developed their list, spend time reviewing a list of commonly experienced emotions. Ask your client if there are any that they feel they could add to their list and their overall reaction to the emotions that they experience on a day-to-day basis.
  18. How do you want to treat others? How would you like to be treated? Are there any changes you could make today that would work towards these aspirations?
  19. What is one thing you hope to do or accomplish before you die?
  20. How do you feel about your relationships with your friends, family, and other close relationships? Is there anything you would change?
  21. Is there anything that you feel you owe yourself? How can you work towards showing yourself this kindness?
  22. Can you tell me about your purpose in life? Do you feel you are working towards this at this moment?
  23. I would like you to look back on a time that you were experiencing a challenge or suffering. What can you make of that time in your life?
  24. Can you describe to me a time when you were living in the present moment? How did you feel at that time?
  25. Can you share with me your experience with mindfulness? Are there any barriers that have kept you from trying to use mindfulness skills and strategies?

Final Thoughts On Asking the Right Questions in Existential Therapy

Thank you for reading this resource on 25 questions to ask clients in Existential Therapy. Existential therapy is not commonly used on a short-term basis; however, existential therapy questions can be used in short term counseling and brief counseling. In these situations, it is important that the clinician remains mindful of the client’s timeline regarding therapy, and respects the time that they have.

Continuing Education credits are an example of a tool that can help mental health professionals learn about different treatment modalities, such as existential therapy. It is important to remain mindful of the expectations related to competency, and that you have developed the necessary skills before using existential treatment concepts in your clinical work.

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health worksheets here.

View all of our Existential Therapy Worksheets

Resources:

  • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance  Abuse. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1999. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 34.) Chapter 6 –Brief Humanistic and Existential Therapies. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64939/
Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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