The International Research Network in Existential Therapy (IRNET) is a joint enterprise between ICECAP, the Universities of Linkoping and Sheffield, and Sällskapet för Existentiell Psykoterapi (SEPT, the Swedish Existential Society).
Our aim is to extend outcome research in psychotherapy from the purely symptom orientated, to make it more relevant to therapies, like existential therapy, that are focussed on the life problems, concerns, and dilemmas that bring many people to therapy, and away from a focus on uplifting the mood or improving sleep and concentration that symptom-orientated therapies target.
We are not directly challenging the the hegemony of manualized psychotherapies, like cognitive behavioural therapy, which have generated a substantial number of successful outcome studies. Not in itself a bad thing, of course, but in the current climate of evidence-based practice, therapies without outcome studies to their name are not considered to be established and effective. We are therefore concerned that the range, and therefore the benefits, of therapy are going to be limited by this seductive concentration on evidence-based therapies which is leading to CBT becoming the main, and sometimes the only, treatment that Government and government agencies endorse in both Sweden and the UK.
We do not consider that showing that our existentially-orientated approach has the same outcome as CBT in alleviating symptoms will do anything more than perpetuate this kind of symptom orientated thinking. We accept that many clients do want relief from distress, anxiety, or depression, and that it is important that they receive it. But their needs are increasingly the focus of psychotherapy services development.
We are much more concerned about the neglected group of unhappy people who manage from day to day, but whose lives lack meaning or purpose, and who use over-eating, alcohol, smoking or other quick fixes to try to give themselves a brief sense of wellbeing which otherwise they rarely experiene. We want to focus on improving wellbeing, and not just on ameliorating symptoms. We think that the existential approach is the way to do this, but we have an open mind. We want to test this hypothesis.
The first IRNET project will therefore be a study of the clients of existential practitioners to see if, in the estimation of the clients and of the therapists, their well being is increased as a result of completing the therapy, and if this amounts to more than a relief of symptoms.
We have devised a short before and after test of this, which can be completed by a client online. We hope to recruit a substantial number of clients in this project, so that our results have statistical significance, and cannot just be put down to chance by people who scrutinize them.
You can try the questionnaire yourself, or request your clients do so, by clicking on this IRNET google survey. Let us know what you think by email or other means
An introduction to the existential therapy research project
We want to deepen and extend outcome research in psychotherapy from the purely symptom orientated in order to make it more relevant to therapies like existential therapy. We want to find out about the effects of therapy on life problems, concerns, and dilemmas that bring many people to therapy in the first place and away from a focus on uplifting the mood or improving sleep and concentration that symptom-orientated therapies target.
Despite a long history and presence in the field of psychotherapy, the existential approach today still remains relatively unknown. We believe that it is possible to improve this state of affairs. In order for existential therapy to become more visible, recognized and in demand among the public, policy makers and other practitioner-researchers, it is necessary for existential therapists and researchers to start making use of quantitative outcome measures and studies to a larger extent than has previously been the case. We believe that it is entirely possible to do good and solid quantitative research while still remaining true to the values and unique vision of existential psychotherapy.
The aim of the current research project
Answering our questions about the long-term impact of existential therapy requires us to have the appropriate research tools and measures. We want to gather information about how clients feel and how they assess their lives at the beginning of therapy, and then at intervals thereafter. As a first step, we have created a questionnaire that we hope will be useful for existential therapists and their clients. The questionnaire asks questions about anxiety, depression, spirituality and well-being.
In order to find out if our questionnaire actually is an appropriate and useful tool for capturing the process of existential therapy, we need existential therapists to use it in practice with their clients. Our hope is that clients in existential therapy are willing to fill in the questionnaire, thus providing information and feedback to their therapists that can be of immediate use in improving and deepening the therapeutic process. Hopefully the information from the questionnaire will assist therapists in telling whether they are doing what they should be doing and how well they are doing it, while at the same time giving us an idea of the questionnaires suitability and accuracy as a research tool.