Emmy van Deurzen

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Emmy van Deurzen
Born (1951-12-13) 13 December 1951 (age 65)
The Hague, Netherlands
Nationality Dutch
Occupation Existential therapist, professor

Emmy van Deurzen (born 13 December 1951 in The Hague, Netherlands)[1] is an existential therapist and honorary professor at the University of Sheffield.[2] Emmy van Deurzen developed a philosophical therapy based in existential-phenomenology, which has provided a radical new departure for therapists interested in the therapeutic search for value, meaning and purpose.


Of Dutch origin, Emmy van Deurzen trained as a philosopher in France, before qualifying as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist.[3] She was dissatisfied with the way people’s existential crises were generally treated as medical conditions and moved to the UK to join the anti-psychiatry movement, living and working in an Arbours therapeutic community in 1977 and 1978.

Van Deurzen's experience convinced her that a much more sensitive therapeutic approach was required, neither based in psychoanalysis, nor based in cognitive behaviour therapy, though she valued elements of both. She began to teach her alternative form of existential therapy, derived from Edmund Husserl’s method of phenomenology first at the Arbours Association, then at Antioch University, London, where she became associate director of the MA in Humanistic Psychology in 1978, then created her own existentially based programme in 1982. She later on founded the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent’s College, now Regent’s University, and the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling in 1996, initially at Schiller University in Waterloo, then at Belsize Road, and since 2014 at the Existential Academy in Fortune Green in West Hampstead, which she co-founded and manages with her husband Prof. Digby Tantam.

Van Deurzen founded the Society for Existential Analysis (SEA) and its Journal of Existential Analysis in 1988 and she has been instrumental in the creation of the World Confederation for Existential Therapy (WCET) and the Federation of Existential Therapists in Europe (FETE), both founded at the first World Congress for Existential Therapy,[4] which took place in London in 2015 and which was organized by the Existential Academy and the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Contributions to existential therapy and psychotherapy[edit]

Emmy Van Deurzen’s therapeutic work is characterized by a close engagement with clients in a direct and personal way and by its dialogic method in the pursuit of a philosophical exploration of the client’s mode of being in the world.[5] The interaction is centred on a meeting of equals in a philosophical conversation, which pays careful attention to the manner in which people experience things and make sense of their world. She claims that by systematic description and scrutiny of these experiences, sensations, feelings, thoughts and intuitions, people learn to self-reflect and come to know their own situation, their worldview, their mode of being and the consequences of their actions. As they achieve growing awareness of their own position, their bias, values, assumptions and beliefs, they are able to perceive and tackle the contradictions and dilemmas that hold them back. Van Deurzen has argued that she uses many philosophical methods, including maieutics and Socratic dialogue, hermeneutic interpretation (i.e. interpretation that explores the client’s own framework of meaning), heuristics (the tracing of values based in personal experience), dialectics (based in working with the tensions of human paradoxes and dilemmas, in order to work with all sides of an issue and transcending its tensions towards new purpose) and of course the method of phenomenology, which she learnt in Montpellier, France, under the mentorship of phenomenologist Michel Henry.

Van Deurzen developed her philosophical method by drawing on a wide range of philosophers and therapists. Her method is inspired by Socrates’ model of dialectical debate and on Baruch Spinoza’s framework of ethics, but also on the philosophies of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche and the existential insights of Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Gabriel Marcel, Paul Ricœur and Maurice Merleau Ponty.[6] She also integrated some elements of other existential therapies, for instance Medard Boss’ Daseinsanalysis, Rollo May’s humanistic existential therapy, Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and Ronald D. Laing’s existential psychiatry.[6]

Van Deurzen created the method of Structural Existential Analysis (SEA) to make her work more systematic.[7] This is a heuristic device to help people make sense of their personal narratives and their descriptions of reality. It leads to a hermeneutic enquiry, where the final authority of interpretation rests firmly with the client herself rather than with the theoretical framework of the therapist. The method can be applied to dreams, personal stories or life history as well as to the investigation of specific experiences as part of a programme of qualitative research. Van Deurzen has written about this in many of her published books and the method is now widely used in counselling psychology phenomenological research.


  • 2013 - Nomination for a Life Time Achievement Award with the British Psychological Society (BPS)
  • 2013 - Honorary membership Latin American Association for Existential Therapy (ALPE)
  • 2012 - Lifetime Achievement Award, International Network for Meaning, Toronto, Canada
  • 2010 - Member of UKCP Psychotherapy Council
  • 2009 - Professional Registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC) as a counselling psychologist
  • 2008 - Visiting Professor, Middlesex University

As listed by the University of Sheffield.[2]


  • Skills in Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy, 2nd Edition (2016). Co-authored with Martin Adams, London: Sage.
  • Paradox and Passion in Psychotherapy, Second Edition (2015). Chichester: Wiley
  • Existential Perspectives on Relationship Therapy (2013). Edited with Susan Iacovou, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling in Practice, Third Edition (2012), London: Sage Publications
  • Existential Perspectives on Coaching (2012). Co-edited with Monica Hanway, London: Palgrave, Macmillan
  • Skills in Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy (2011). Co-authored with Martin Adams, London: Sage Publications
  • Everyday Mysteries: A Handbook of Existential Psychotherapy, Second Edition (2010), London: Routledge
  • Existential Perspectives on Supervision (2009). Co-edited with Sarah Young, London: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Psychotherapy and the Quest for Happiness (2008), London: Sage Publications
  • Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling (2005). With Raymond Kenward, London: Sage
  • Existential Perspectives on Existential and Human Issues (2005). Edited with Claire Arnold-Baker, Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillan
  • Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling in Practice, Second Edition (2002), London: Sage
  • Paradox and Passion in Psychotherapy (1998), Chichester: Wiley
  • Everyday Mysteries: Existential Dimensions of Psychotherapy (1997), London: Routlegde
  • Existential Counselling in Practice (1988), London: Sage
  • Das Kapital: Existential Perspectives (1987)


  1. ^ "Emmy Van Deurzen". Archived from the original on 2011-10-20. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Staff Profile at University of Sheffield". Archived from the original on 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  3. ^ Deurzen, Emmy van. "Biography". http://www.emmyvandeurzen.com. Retrieved http://www.emmyvandeurzen.com/?page_id=50.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help); External link in |website= (help)
  4. ^ Van Deurzen, Emmy (2014). "Structural Existential Analysis (SEA): A Phenomenological Method for Therapeutic Work". Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. 45: 59. doi:10.1007/s10879-014-9282-z. 
  5. ^ Deurzen, Emmy van (2012). Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling in Practice, Third Edition. London: Sage. 
  6. ^ a b Deurzen, Emmy van (2010). Everyday Mysteries: A Handbook of Existential Psychotherapy, Second Edition. London: Sage. 
  7. ^ Deurzen, Emmy van (2015). "Structural Existential Analysis (SEA) A Phenomenological Method for Therapeutic Work". Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. 44 (3): 59. doi:10.1007/s10879-014-9282-z.