What is Existential Coaching?

What is existential coaching? When I tell someone I approach coaching from an existential frame, they usually have one of two responses: Cool! or What? Both responses are usually followed by ‘so what exactly is existential coaching?’ It’s not about walking around thinking or talking about death all the time (an over generalization about existentialists). You may, however, find me sitting in a coffee shop discussing the meaning of life and the struggles of this human existence! I do some of my most productive work in coffee shops (like writing this post). Existentialism is an often misunderstood philosophy, probably because there are as many versions of existentialism as there are existentialists. Here is yet another interpretation of existentialism used in my approach life and coaching.

There are several concepts from existentialism that influence my approach. To help explain these concepts, I created a character: existential Tim (eTim)©.  I visualize eTim as this tall,  dark, and handsome Frenchman sitting in the coffee shop across from me writing in a very worn moleskin and enjoying a simple cup of coffee (not a latte or cappuccino).  Whenever I need to discuss existentialism, I see Tim [I.C. T.I.M.]

Individuality | Choice | Time-bound | Isolation/Interrelatedness | Meaning ©

I am not a professor of philosophy nor do I claim to know everything about existentialism. I can tell you that studying these concepts has led me to develop my coaching approach. Here’s a very short explanation of these concepts:

  • Individuality: each individual is unique and we each have our own worldview; we each have our own way of being in the world.
  • Choice: not just freedom of choice but we are responsible for those choices. Existentialists believe that our lives are NOT predetermined. We create our lives through the choices we make. Remember: existence precedes essence….we become who we choose to become. (Are you getting the idea of how coaching comes into play yet).
  • Time-bound: we humans have a finite about of time in this existence – and we know it! This is the all powerful concept of death. We will die eventually and that knowledge is always with us. How you use that knowledge is your choice.
  • Isolation/Interrelatedness: existential isolation is the tension between our awareness of our absolute isolation (the individual) and our wish for contact, for protection, our wish to be part of something bigger than ourselves. There is a constant struggle to balance between isolation and connection. We are part of the world! We influence others and are influence by others (the world around us). Our interrelatedness is how we decide to be in this world. How connected, how responsible for our choices, how much we participate or watch from the sidelines. And these decisions lead to finding….
  • Meaning: These factors all lead to the existential angst that is often misunderstood. Knowing we will die (eventually) how do we make meaning of this absurd existence? How do we make choices?You find meaning by living well….by living with passion and intensity! I can not tell you your life’s meaning…you must discover it yourself. Because we are each unique individuals, we each have a unique meaning.

With these concepts, the principles of existential coaching were formed:

  1. each individual is unique and this individuality is honored
  2. our choices define us; we can choose to be different
  3. changes happen with action, so get going!
  4. with change comes anxiety and defensiveness – this is good!
  5. committing to the right goal is the drive to get beyond the anxiety
  6. take responsibility for the choices you make, and learn!
  7. conflict & confrontation are opportunities from which to learn
  8. the above create self knowledge to enable authentic relationships
  9. the world is uncertain, embrace and appreciate the absurdity, and learn!
  10. the client must figure things out their own way,  the coach is the guide

I hope this provided you with some food for thought. In future posts I will expand on the principles a little further and share some of my worldview…how I am being in this world and doing what I can to make the most of this human existence.