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date: 12 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Existentialism arose in the 19th century as a philosophical countermovement to perspectives prioritizing universal human essences over the uniquely situated nature of each human existence. Two schools of existential thought—the dialectical-psychological and cultural-phenomenological—have exerted divergent influence on the contemporary movements of experimental and clinical existential psychology. While clinical approaches stress the patient’s phenomenological situation and need for meaning, experimental existential psychology employs modern quantitative methods to test hypotheses regarding threat and defense processes. Despite different emphases, existential perspectives see the human essence as characterized by three qualities: (1) the uniqueness of the human species and the individual; (2) the indissolubility of the person and the situation; and (3) the ubiquity of freedom and threat in human experience. In an attempt at synthesis, we trace these themes across clinical and experimental existential psychology, highlighting how these perspectives differ from mainstream approaches in their explanations for phenomena such as depression.

Keywords: affective intentionality, clinical existential psychology, depression, existential threat, existentialism, experimental existential psychology, psychotherapy, self-determination theory, terror management theory, human essence

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