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Humanistic/Existential Theories
May: Existential Psychology
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I. Overview of May's Existential Theory
Existential psychology began in Europe shortly after World War II and spread to the United States, where Rollo May played a large part in popularizing it. A clinical psychologist by training, May took the view that modern people frequently run away both from making choices and from assuming responsibility.

II. Biography of Rollo May
Rollo May was born in Ohio in 1909, but grew up in Michigan. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1930, he spent three years roaming throughout eastern and southern Europe as an itinerant artist. When he returned to the United States, he entered the Union Theological Seminary, from which he received a Master of Divinity degree. He then served for two years as a pastor, but quit in order to pursue a career in psychology. He received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Columbia in 1949 at the age of 40. During his professional career, he served as lecturer or visiting professor at a number of universities, conducted a private practice as a psychotherapist, and wrote a number of popular books on the human condition. May died in 1994 at age 85.

III. Background of Existentialism
Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian, is usually considered to be the founder of modern existentialism. Like later existentialists, he emphasized a balance between freedom and responsibility. People acquire freedom of action by expanding their self-awareness and by assuming responsibility for their actions. However, this acquisition of freedom and responsibility is achieved at the expense of anxiety and dread.
A. What Is Existentialism?
The first tenet of existentialism is that existence take precedence over essence, meaning that process and growth are more important than product and stagnation. Second, existentialists oppose the artificial split between subject and object. Third, they stress people's search for meaning in their lives. Fourth, they insist that each of us is responsible for who we are and what we will become. Fifth, most take an antitheoretical position, believing that theories tend to objectify people.
B. Basic Concepts
According to existentialists, a basic unity exists between people and their environments, a unity expressed by the term Dasein, or being-in-the-world. Three simultaneous modes of the world characterize us in our Dasein: Umwelt, or the environment around us; Mitwelt, or our world with other people; and Eigenwelt, or our relationship with our self. People are both aware of themselves as living beings and also aware of the possibility of nonbeing or nothingness. Death
is the most obvious form of nonbeing, which can also be experienced as retreat
from life's experiences.

IV. The Case of Philip
Rollo May helped illustrate his notion of existentialism with the case of Philip, a successful architect in his mid-50s. Despite his apparent success, Philip experienced severe anxiety when his relationship with Nicole (a writer in her mid-40s) took a puzzling turn. Uncertain of his future and suffering from low self-esteem, Philip went into therapy with Rollo May. Eventually, Philip was able to understand that his difficulties with women were related to his early experiences with a mother who was unpredictable and an older sister who suffered from severe mental disorders. However, he began to recover only after he accepted that his "need" to take care of unpredictable Nicole was merely part of his personal history with unstable women.

V. Anxiety
People experience anxiety when they become aware that their existence or something identified with it might be destroyed. The acquisition of freedom inevitably leads to anxiety, which can be either pleasurable and constructive or painful and destructive.
A. Normal Anxiety
Growth produces normal anxiety, defined as that which is proportionate to the threat, does not involve repression, and can be handled on a conscious level.
B. Neurotic Anxiety
Neurotic anxiety is a reaction that is disproportionate to the threat and that leads to repression and defensive behaviors. It is felt whenever one's values are transformed into dogma. Neurotic anxiety blocks growth and productive action.

VI. Guilt
Guilt arises whenever people deny their potentialities, fail to accurately perceive the needs of others, or remain blind to their dependence on the natural world. Both anxiety and guilt are ontological; that is, they refer to the nature of being and not to feelings arising from specific situations.

VII. Intentionality
The structure that gives meaning to experience and allows people to make decisions about the future is called intentionality. May believed that intentionality permits people to overcome the dichotomy between subject and object, because it
enables them to see that their intentions are a function of both themselves and
their environment.

VIII. Care, Love, and Will
Care is an active process that suggests that things matter. Love means to care, to delight in the presence of another person, and to affirm that person's value as much as one's own. Care is also an important ingredient in will, defined as a conscious commitment to action.

A. Union of Love and Will
May believed that our modern society has lost sight of the true nature of love and will, equating love with sex and will with will power. He further held that psychologically healthy people are able to combine love and will because both imply care, choice, action, and responsibility.
B. Forms of Love
May identified four kinds of love in Western tradition: sex, eros, philia, and agape. May believed that Americans no longer view sex as a natural biological function, but have become preoccupied with it to the point of trivialization. Eros is a psychological desire that seeks an enduring union with a loved one. It may include sex, but it is built on care and tenderness. Philia, an intimate nonsexual friendship between two people, takes time to develop and does not depend on the actions of the other person. Agape is an altruistic or spiritual love that carries with it the risk of playing God. Agape is undeserved and unconditional.

IX. Freedom and Destiny
Psychologically healthy individuals are comfortable with freedom, able to assume responsibility for their choices, and willing to face their destiny.
A. Freedom Defined
Freedom comes from an understanding of our destiny. We are free when we recognize that death is a possibility at any moment and when we are willing to experience changes, even in the face of not knowing what those changes will bring.
B. Forms of Freedom
May recognized two forms of freedom: (1) freedom of doing, or freedom of action, which he called existential freedom, and (2) freedom of being, or an inner freedom, which he called essential freedom.
C. Destiny Defined
May defined destiny as "the design of the universe speaking through the design of each one of us." In other words, our destiny includes the limitations of our environment and our personal qualities, including our mortality, gender, and genetic predispositions. Freedom and destiny constitute a paradox, because freedom gains vitality from destiny, and destiny gains significance from freedom.
D. Philip's Destiny
After some time in therapy, Philip was able to stop blaming his mother for not doing what he thought she should have done. The objective facts of his childhood had not changed, but Philip's subjective perceptions had. As he came to terms with his destiny, Philip began to be able to express his anger, to feel less trapped in his relationship with Nicole, and to become more aware of his possibilities. In other words, he gained his freedom of being.

X. The Power of Myth
According to May, the people of contemporary Western civilization have an urgent need for myths. Because they have lost many of their traditional myths, they turn to religious cults, drugs, and popular culture to fill the vacuum. The Oedipus myth has had a powerful effect on our culture because it deals with such common existential crises as birth, separation from parents, sexual union with one parent
and hostility toward the other, independence in one's search for identity, and,
finally, death.

XI. Psychopathology
May saw apathy and emptiness-not anxiety and guilt-as the chief existential disorders of our time. People have become alienated from the natural world (Umwelt), from other people (Mitwelt), and from themselves (Eigenwelt). Psychopathology is a lack of connectedness and an inability to fulfill one's destiny.

XII. Psychotherapy
The goal of May's psychotherapy was not to cure patients of any specific disorder, but to make them more fully human. May said that the purpose of psychotherapy is to set people free, to allow them to make choices and to assume responsibility for those choices.

XIII. Related Research
May's theory of personality does not lend itself to easily testable hypotheses,
and, therefore, it has not generated much research. Nevertheless, Jeff Greenberg
and his colleagues have investigated the concept of terror management, which is based on the notion of existential anxiety. In general, Greenberg's findings are consistent with May's definition of existential anxiety as an apprehension of threats to one's existence. However, this research can also be explained by other psychological theories.

XIV. Critique of May
May's psychology has been legitimately criticized as being antitheoretical and unjustly criticized as being anti-intellectual. May's antitheoretical approach calls for a new kind of science-one that considers uniqueness and personal freedom as crucial concepts. However, according to the criteria of present science, May's theory rates low on most standards. Currently, his theory is very low on its
ability to generate research, to be falsified, and to guide action; low on internal consistency (because it lacks operationally defined terms), average on parsimony, and high on its organizational powers due to its consideration of a broad scope of the human condition.

XV. Concept of Humanity
May viewed people as complex beings, capable of both tremendous good and immense evil. People have become alienated from the world, from other people, and, most of all, from themselves. On the dimensions of a concept of humanity, May rates high on free choice, teleology, social influences, and uniqueness. On the issue of conscious or unconscious forces, his theory takes a middle position.