What is Existential Coaching?

by Danny van Deurzen-Smith, Course Leader MA in Existential Coaching

I am often asked what it is exactly that I do as an existential coach. This is not an easy question to answer by any means, but particularly as the more coaches we train in the existential tradition, the more we see that the specifics vary from practitioner to practitioner.

In short, existential coaching is a philosophical approach to implementing change in our lives. As a coach, I work to facilitate clients to make changes, plan for the future they want and gain new insights into themselves. As an existentialist, I work with them to elucidate their worldview, understand how this affects their choices and relationships, and clarify their values – these parts are perhaps the more obvious aspects of working philosophically. But the part that is harder to pin down, and, I think, really sets aside our work as existential practitioners, are the less sexy sounding parts; working with paradox and ambiguity, managing crisis and challenge, accepting responsibility for our choices, exploring what it means to be authentic (and what sacrifices we have to make to do this), embracing our inevitable failures, shortcomings and crises. The list goes on.

So why are these things important as a coach? Well, if we want to have the resources to move forward with our lives, to make choices and changes, we need to do this work. Creating lasting change means fostering a kind of existential robustness and philosophical understanding of one’s own inner workings. It takes great strength to become one’s self – and to remain in that conscious state of evolution, rather than striving for an end point of stability and perfection which can never exist.

Existential Coaches facilitate change for their clients – not a fairytale version, or a one-size-fits-all version – but a deeply personal and philosophical one. We teach clients to claim their complexity, and in doing so empower them to make decisions about how to take ownership of the complicated experience of being a human.