Existential Coaching - Exercising Our Experiential Muscles


What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of Existential Coaching?

At the heart of existential coaching is a very human desire to feel more fully present and engaged in our lives.

We want to feel more alive and vibrant, to feel connected to and part of communities, and to experience healthy, valued relationships.

We fear being isolated or set apart in the world. We want to feel less lonely. We want to be better able to weather and ride the waves of life.

We want to find ways to tame our worry and anxiety about issues we cannot easily control: our jobs, the economy, the environment, global politics, the state of our world. 

Existential coaching helps clients explore and articulate the deeply personal questions we have about our lives and helps clients move towards being more present in their daily lives and feeling more authentic and confident in their decisions, choices and actions. 

Existential coaching helps clients widen and deepen their awareness and perspective. It helps clients be more connected to their experiences, to their emotions, and to their relationships. Existential coaching helps clients to access and to exercise their experiential muscles.

Strengthening these muscles can be invaluable for clients seeking guidance and support through a career transition, clients experiencing burnout or clients wanting to build the foundations for a personally meaningful career. An existential perspective is thus invaluable to widening what career counseling can offer clients.

Widening our perspectives in career counseling from an existential perspective

Our career paths cover a significant portion of our lifespan and along the way we experience a tremendous range in the types of work we under-take, in our skills and expertise, in the meaning our work holds for us and the fulfillment we derive from it.

At times, questions arise. How we are experiencing our work? How engaged are we? Have we made the right choices?

There are moments when work is unreliable, disappointing, stressful or even harmful. 

And these moments raise probing questions about what work actually means to us, and to what extent our identities are entwined with the work we do. 

Our responses to these questions draw upon our personal beliefs, our hopes and our aspirations of success, independence, contribution, mastery and self-expression.

Each client I meet therefore embodies a complex and unique story of diverse experiences and accumulated expertise. And every issue a client raises inevitably includes deeply existential (personal) reflections. 

Some of these issues include:

  • Feeling unfulfilled and stuck in their careers and wanting a deeper understanding of these feelings and experiences.
  • Experiencing chronic stress and/or burnout that has led to feeling disengaged and disconnected from their lives and work.
  • Anxiety about the instability of their careers. This often occurs with sudden job loss, career transitions, burnout and other health issues.
  • Financial worries.
  • The desire for congruence between the work they do and their values.
  • Worry about global issues: economic, political, environmental and the impact these have on our lives.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or bored in their jobs.
  • Wanting a career that has purpose. Wanting to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Seeking work that better reflects their accumulated experiences and skills.
  • Fear and anxiety about entering the job market after a period of unemployment: how to navigate a career transition after a layoff or a personal decision to start a new career.
  • A lack of confidence in their skills.
  • The desire to feel passionate about their work.
  • To feel more alive, connected and engaged, to feel part of community.
  • To communicate and relate better with others.
  • A sense that their education and/or career path was not of their own choosing and thus feeling they are not the authors of their lives in decision, choice or execution.

Underlying these issues are very real, very human searches for authentic living, self-expression, relationship and community.
I call this the existential “want” list:

  • We want to feel relevant and we want our work to be relevant. 
  • We want to feel a sense of purpose in all that we do.
  • We want to experience our work lives as meaningful. 
  • We want the dignity of decent work. 
  • We want to grow and expand in skill and capacity. We want to feel a personal sense of mastery. 
  • We want to discover and reach our potential.
  • We want to make a contribution, be connected to something, and feel we have a place in the world. 

From Conversation to Action – harnessing awareness, perspective and resilience

The conversational style of Existential coaching is open, non-judgmental and reflective. It fosters deeper understanding and awareness and reveals personal resilience(s) and possibilities grounded in a client’s specific reality. It seeks understanding over interpretation.

By means of exploratory dialogue, existential coaching provides the time and space for clients to examine and discover personal answers to the real questions at the heart of their lives and experiences of work. 

Existential coaching:

  • Focuses on a client’s unique, diverse and contextual story. 
  • Helps a client deepen their awareness and perspective of their feelings, attitudes, behaviors and decisions.
  • Helps clients connect more deeply to their lives and their experiences.
  • Guides clients in becoming more aware of how they experience their lives, how they live their lives, what they value deeply, the meaning(s) they ascribe to their experiences and what they strive for.
  • Assists clients in compassionately accepting their lives and their losses (job or direction) and moving forward from there. 
  • Helps clients start a new relationship with themselves by accepting their whole lives while simultaneously choosing and implementing change where necessary.
  •  Brings to light and leverages the diverse experiences and unique expertise that make up a client’s capacities. 
  • Helps clients identify their innate capacities and skills and thus gain renewed confidence in their skills.
  • Reveals a client’s resilience(s).
  • Deepens a client’s understanding of what they value and how those values are connected to what they do day to day.

The content of these enriching conversations provides substantive and tangible material that illuminates what is possible and what concrete actions can be taken in the immediate that are both appropriate and of value to the client. 

The content of these explorations provides a client with a foundation from which they can make decisions for their lives and with which both client and counselor can collaboratively co-create personally meaningful steps forward. 

This process makes use of and exercises our experiential muscles. It merges our capacity for reflection and deepened awareness with decisive action grounded in the reality and possibility of the present moment. For clients, the outcome(s) are infused with personal meaning and motivation.

Britt-Mari is an integrative career counselor and certified career strategist (CCS). She has an extensive background in existential psychology, career counseling and teaching. Britt-Mari helps clients create personally empowered solutions to career transition, burnout and the building of meaningful careers. To inquire about sessions, please contact her at brittmari@brittmarisykes.ca