Planetary Patterns: Exploring Your Existential Worlds

When looking for a therapist, it can be difficult to choose, because there are so many types! There are Cognitive Behavioral therapists, Acceptance Commitment therapists, Trauma-informed therapists, Sex therapists, and the list goes on. As an Existential Psychotherapist, I want to tell you a bit about what therapy may look like with me and other Existential therapists. One of the primary ways that Existential Psychotherapists help their clients is by exploring the worlds they come into contact with every day. Like observing planets in orbit, therapists and clients explore these worlds together by identifying themes and environments that may contribute to and coincide with your mental health needs. With an Existential therapist, you will explore four main worlds: Physical, Personal, Social, and Spiritual.

Exploring your Worlds

The Physical World

The physical world -also called the “Umwelt,” meaning “world around”- is the world of objects. Things like your favorite candle, that badly parked car, the device you are reading this on, and all the other things that make up the world around you. Exploring this world in therapy may range from talking about smaller things you use for self-care or something you saw on your way to work that made you angry, to things as big as global warming, financial stress, medical needs, and other tangible things that are affecting your mental health. You live in a world of things, those things affect you.


The Personal World

The personal world -also called the “Eigenwelt,” meaning “own-world”- is where all those internal things reside that make you… you! This sphere is an inner world that only you can truly access. In this world, you will find your emotions, thoughts, opinions, and values. This could include the emotional reaction you had to your favorite movie, your thoughts about sports, the values that help you through those dark nights, and all the other inner things that are uniquely you. This is one of the most common environments to explore in therapy. You and your therapist may spend a large portion of your session talking about emotions, thoughts, and personal quirks that may be helping or eroding your mental well-being. This could look like exploring emotions that pop up when you are alone, worries that live rent-free in your mind, or the warmth you feel doing what you love.


The Social World

Your social world -also called the “Mitwelt,” meaning “with-world”- is the place where your relationships exist. This is where you and your therapist will explore interactions that may involve that cute person you have a crush on, the patterns in your
marriage, or the quality of support you get from friends. In the social world, you exist alongside so many others. We can explore what is or is not working well. In a session with your therapist, this could resemble something like identifying your relationship skills, how to interact with friends and family, and how to add to the strengths you already possess. This world is especially important for therapy with couples and families.


The Spiritual World

The last of the four worlds is the spiritual world -also called the “Uberwelt,” meaning “over-world”- a space greater than humanity. Often when people hear the word spiritual, they immediately picture their god and religion. In this context, deities and worship organizations are some pieces of the puzzle. The spiritual world touches on forces, values, and ideals that transcend the physical, personal, and social worlds. You and your therapist can look at interactions with religious systems, core truths, and those recurring philosophies that resonate with you. This may look like a discussion about your ideologies, the benefits of the religious/spiritual system you participate in, or themes of redemption found in episodes of Avatar the Last Airbender. If more abstract topics feel overwhelming, that’s completely normal. These topics can be intimidating. You and your therapist can investigate the spiritual word with as much intensity as you prefer.


Hidden Treasures

Exploring various worlds can be an incredibly empowering and transformative experience that provides valuable insights for both you and your therapist. By doing so, you can identify negative self-talk, unhelpful relationship patterns, maladaptive coping skills, boundary violations, and other discomforts that may be causing you distress. With the help of your therapist, you can work towards overcoming these challenges and creating a more fulfilling life for yourself.

Existential Psychotherapy is an eclectic modality that combines various therapeutic interventions to help you bring about lasting change. As you discuss and explore your needs, your therapist will use appropriate interventions to help improve your boundaries, teach you assertive communication, and help you develop more effective coping skills to achieve your goals. With an existential approach, your therapist can use practices from different schools of thought to help you get closer to where you want to be.

So, as you journey into the cosmos of your life, remember you and your therapist are a team. They come with interventions and plans, and you come with knowledge and motivation. In the journey, you will come across bright and dim spots that will guide you toward those hidden treasures you are looking for.


Deurzen, E. & Adams, M. (2010). Skills in Existential Counselling & Psychotherapy. SAGE.

Deurzen-Smith, E. van (2012). Existential counseling in practice (3rd ed.). London: Sage.

Deurzen, E. Craig, E. Lӓngle, A. Schneider, K. J. Tantam, D. du Plock, S. (2019). The Wiley world handbook of existential therapy. Wiley Blackwell.

Fall, K. A., Janice Miner Holden, & Marquis, A. (2017). Theoretical models of counseling and psychotherapy. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. 5. Heidenreich, T., Noyon, A., Worrell, M., & Menzies, R. (2021). Existential Approaches and Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Challenges and Potential. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 14(1), 209–234.

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