Emmy van Deurzen

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Emmy van Deurzen
Born (1951-12-13) 13 December 1951 (age 64)
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] From the moment she started working in psychiatry in the early nineteen seventies, her objective was to help people understand their lives better by enabling them to get philosophical clarity and perspective. She was dissatisfied with the way in which people’s existential crises were generally treated as medical conditions and came to the UK to work with the movement of anti-psychiatry, 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. This programme formed the foundation of the training institutes she later created, first at Regent’s College, now Regent’s University, where she was the founder of the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, then at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (www.nspc.org.uk ) which she founded in 1996, based initially at Schiller University in Waterloo, then in Belsize Road, and since 2014 at the Existential Academy in Fortune Green in West Hampstead, which she co-founded and directs with her husband Prof. Digby Tantam (www.existentialacademy.com).

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, Poul Ricoeur 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.

Structural existential analysis (SEA) is based in a mutual and collaborative effort to filter raw experience to obtain clarity and perspective about a person’s reality.[8] The method consists of several strands:

  1. The four worlds’ model, which provides a framework of 16 life categories, derived from the four dimensions of life (physical, social, personal and spiritual) set against each other.[9] Not only does it help therapist and client in formulating a person’s specific struggles, it also shows the predictable challenges of existence and therefore highlights which aspects of life are being overlooked or neglected. The model is purely descriptive of human life itself and steers clear of diagnostic, prescription, pathology or prognosis.
  2. Paradoxical tensions exist on each of these dimensions and are an essential part of the onto-dynamics of the human condition. By becoming aware of these tensions, conflicts, dilemmas and contradictions each of us has to face it becomes easier to engage with the problematic nature of existence. Old problems and patterns are shown up and put into context and perspective. By going beyond dualistic ideas, predicaments can be transcended in a dialectical progression.
  3. The emotional, sensory, mental and moral compasses are instruments that enable therapist and client to understand where their sensations, feelings, thoughts and intuitions are pointing them and how these are related to the values they are anxious about and the losses they fear or regret. The Compass model is based on the philosophical insights of Spinoza and Sartre, arranging feelings along their natural spectrum. It facilitates an embodied understanding of the paradoxes and polarities people are trying to manage, helping them to draw more effectively on their talents.
  4. The timeline model encourages people to pay greater attention to the temporal dimension of life. It considers the way in which we stand out of life in terms of our capacity for reconsidering and recollecting the past, for living the present with awareness and for anticipating the future with a sense of purpose and direction. Heidegger referred to this as the ec-stasies and considered the importance of taking charge of our own existence in ‘the moment of vision’, where we master the capacity to braid together past, present and future as we weave our way towards the final conclusion.

Van Deurzens’s work has inspired many therapists to take courage to help clients tackle the big questions that confuse people and to illuminate and challenge a person’s position in the world, helping them to realize how they want to live and be.

Van Deurzen's case studies highlight her directness and presence in the dialogue, as she rekindles people’s passionate engagement with the world. By using the phenomenological method of attunement and intentionality, new focus emerges from which people derive confidence in their ability to make a contribution to the world. Existential work frequently leads to the discovery of deeper values, which allow a person to find new freedom, courage, purpose and direction.


  • 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]

Key publications[edit]

Her books have been translated into a dozen languages.[10]

  • 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)

Translations of books

  • Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice, Third edition. (2013) Persian Translation
  • Skills in Existential Psychotherapy (2012) Polish, Greek and Russian translations
  • Eksistentiel terapi - en introduktion (2012). Danish translation of "Skills in Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy". Co-authored with Martin Adams. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag
  • Eksistentielle perspektiver på supervision (2011). Danish translation of "Existential Perspectives on Supervision" .Edited with Sarah Young. Copenhagen: Dansk Psykologisk Forlag
  • Psychotherapy and the Quest for Happiness (2011) Polish and Greek Translation
  • Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice (2010) Korean Translation.
  • Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice and Psychotherapy and the Quest for Happiness (2009), Chinese Translations.
  • Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice, (2005)Spanish translation by Mexican Association of Existential Psychotherapy.
  • Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice 2004, Russian translation by Julia Abakumov-Kochunene, Rostov-on –Don: East European Association for Existential Psychotherapy.
  • Vardagens mysterier: Existentiella dimensioner inom psykoterapi (2003), Swedish translation of "Everyday Mysteries", transl. Hagelthorn M., Stockholm: Studentlitteratur.
  • Det existentiella samtalet (1998),Swedish translation of "Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling in Practice", Stockholm: Natur och Kultur
  • Eksistentielle dimensioner i psykoterapi (1998), Danish translation of "Everyday Mysteries", Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag
  • Eksistentiel samtale og terapi (1995), Danish translation of "Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling in Practice". Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag


  • Fra psykoterapi til emotionelt velvære (2015). Danish translation of "From Psychotherapy to Emotional Well-being", transl. Anders Dræby Sørensen, In: Anders Dræby Sørensen & Kurt Dauer Keller (eds.). Psykoterapi og eksistentiel fænomenologi. Aalborg: Aalborg Universitetsforlag
  • Læring i kognitiv adfærdsterapi og eksistentielfænomenologisk psykoterapi (2015). Co-authored with Anders Dræby Sørensen & Rosemary Lodge. In: Anders Dræby Sørensen & Kurt Dauer Keller (eds.). Psykoterapi og eksistentiel fænomenologi. Aalborg: Aalborg Universitetsforlag
  • Structural Existential Analysis (SEA) A Phenomenological Method for Therapeutic Work (2015). Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, vol. 44, no. 3
  • Structural Existential Analysis (SEA): A Phenomenological Research Method for Counselling Psychology (2014): Counselling Psychology Review, Vol. 29, No 2, pp. 70–83, London: British Psychological Society.
  • Personal Recollections of Ronnie Laing (2011) International Journal of Psychotherapy, Volume15, number 2, 57-62.
  • A fully embodied life: an existential approach to therapy (2011). Capa, the Quarterly, Journal of the Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association of NSW Inc., Australia, 2011-1-8-12.
  • 'Evaluation of e-learning outcomes: experience from an online psychotherapy education programme' (2008). With Blackmore, Chris, and Tantam, Digby in Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 23:3,185-201
  • From Psychotherapy to Emotional Well-being (2006). Annalse Psichologica, 3 (XXIV), 383-392
  • Counselling philosophy: an exploration (1985). Self and Society, 12 (5)

Book chapters

  • 2016. Chapter on Existential Therapy for Feltham and Horton, Sage Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy, fourth edition, London, Sage.
  • 2015. Chapter on Love in Existential Therapy, in Divine, C. and Paul S. Love and Therapy: in Relationship, London: Karnac.
  • 2015. Chapter on Existential Therapy for the beginners’ guide to Counselling and Psychotherapy, by Stephen Palmer, Sage Publications.
  • 2014. Foreword for second edition of Howard Mingham’s collected poems Waters of the Night, London:Caparison.
  • 2014. Foreword for Digby Tantam’s book Emotional Well Being and Mental Health, London: Sage Publications.
  • 2013. Entry on Phenomenological Psychotherapy for the Encyclopedia for Counseling and Psychotherapy, Oxford University Press.
  • 2013. Chapter on Existential Therapy for Dryden, W. Handbook of Individual Therapy, 6th Edition, Sage Publications
  • 2013. Chapter on Existential Therapy for Introduction to Counselling and Psychotherapy: The Essential Guide, 2nd edition, edited by Stephen Palmer, Sage Publications
  • 2013. Chapter on Continental Contributions to our Understanding of Happiness and Suffering, p 279-291, in Oxford Handbook of Happiness, eds David, S.A., Boniwell, I, and Ayers, A.C., Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • 2012. Chapter on Personal Recollections on R.D. Laing, in Itten T and Young, C, R.D. Laing: 50 Years since the Divided Self, Ross on Wye: PCCS Books.
  • 2011. Chapter on continental philosophy and happiness, in the Oxford Handbook of Happiness, eds. Pawelsky J., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • 2011. Existential Therapy and Reasons to Live, in Existential Therapy, 50 years on, eds Barnett, L and Madison G, London: Routledge.
  • 2010. Chapter on Existential Psychology in Nina P. Azari and Anne Runehov (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions, Heidelberg: Springer.
  • 2008. Foreword for Martin Milton’s book The Consulting Room and Beyond:


  1. ^ "Emmy Van Deurzen". Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Staff Profile at University of Sheffield". 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. 
  8. ^ Deurzen, Emmy van (2014). "Structural Existential Analysis (SEA) A Phenomenological Method for Therapeutic Work". Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. 45: 59. doi:10.1007/s10879-014-9282-z. 
  9. ^ Deurzen, Emmy van (2014). "Structural Existential Analysis (SEA): A Phenomenological Research Method for Counselling Psychology". Counselling Psychology Review. 29 (2): 70–83. 
  10. ^ "Keynote Speakers at The Open University". Retrieved 2011-09-22. 

External links[edit]