Invitation to Existential Psychology – Københavns Universitet

Invitation to Existential Psychology: A Psychology for the Unique Human Being and its Applications in Therapy. Wiley, London 2007

Kan beses og bestilles, her:  

Her følger en anmeldelse, fra "Mental Health, Religion & Culture", Vol. 11, No. 8, December 2008, 829-830

by Stephen Joseph, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK


The Preface opens by saying ‘‘This book is an invitation to explore the richness and depth of the human being as seen by existential psychology. Psychology is not just for diagnosing psychological illnesses. Psychology also has to show people how it is possible to develop a fuller being, to achieve a more vibrant sense of being alive, to meet adversity, to get closer to states of happiness and love, and to acknowledge what is good and bad in their lives'' (p. ix). Is the invitation worth accepting? Speaking for myself, yes, I loved this book.

Chapter 1 opens on the question of what is existential psychology, and gives a tour beginning with the concept of phenomenology through to the big questions in life and how existential psychology compares and contrasts to other schools of psychology-humanistic psychology, positive psychology, and mainstream psychology. The remaining chapters 2 to 7 take us into the world of happiness and suffering, love and aloneness, adversity and success, death anxiety and life commitment, free choice and the obligations of your life reality, and meaning of life in a chaotic world, respectively. The book is well written and very engaging, and although I thought I had a fairly good grasp of existential psychology already, I learned a lot of new things. I know this is a book that I will return to time and again for inspiration, professionally and personally.

Bo Jacobson brings his own insights to the book interwoven with scholarly and comprehensive discussions of the work of main existential theorists such as Rollo May, Medard Boss, Eric Fromm, Ernesto Spinelli, Otto Rank, Karl Jaspers, and Irvin Yalom. Links are made to humanistic and psychoanalytic ideas, and to moral philosophy. Short pithy case examples are used throughout to illustrate. The book demands self-reflection and engagement with our own answers to the big questions.

Towards the end, Bo Jacobson reminds us of the importance of taking responsibility for our own lives, others, and the world, and the various ways in which people avoid responsibility. Importantly, he reminds us of how, as professional psychologists, we can easily collude with people in their avoidance. But what I really appreciated, given my own research programme on trauma and growth, was the emphasis on adversity and the role of crisis in human development. I had not quite seen myself as an existential psychologist, but I do now.

I would recommend this book to anyone studying psychology. Existential psychology is not a major part of the curriculum, but after reading this book I am wondering why not. It should be. As the subtitle indicates, however, this is a book primarily aimed at therapists. I am sure most people who are training in, or who specialize in, existential therapy already have a copy. But the rest of us in counselling and psychotherapy, and other psychology professionals, no matter what our theoretical orientation, would do well to read this book. This is important stuff, and sometimes in a world captivated with the medical model, it is easy to forget the importance of meaning in life and the need to understand from the inside rather than the outside.