Human Existence (Cún Zài): What Is It? What's In It For Us As Existential Psychotherapists?

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Abstract

This article is based on a keynote address for the First International Conference on East-West Existential Psychology held in Nanjing, China in April of 2010. The article combines aspects of the originally prepared paper with aspects of the actual presentation, which was largely an extemporaneous exposition of the Chinese characters for existence, cún zàiSymbol. The article begins with an overview of the meaning and development of the discipline of existential psychology and psychotherapy as an approach to psychology that is committed to investigating and understanding the human as human. It then proceeds to a hermeneutic analysis of cúm zài, explicating ontological insights regarding the nature and meaning of human existence: Namely, the that or facticity of human existence, the whence or the origin of human existence, and the how or the structure of human existence as being-in-the-world. Although the article is grounded in a phenomenological, ontological discourse, corresponding ontical discourse focuses on the significance of ontological insights for the everyday meaning and practice of existential psychology and psychotherapy. The article also defines and discusses the discipline and the démarche of existential psychotherapy as well as their relationship to actual psychotherapeutic practice. Within this context, the question of the nature of psychotherapy as a technical or a human activity is raised and discussed in both theoretical and practical terms. Extensive notes discuss complex historical and philosophical issues clarifying, supporting, and amplifying matters discussed in the text.

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