Phenomenological-Existential Therapy for Children and Young People

Written by Nur Yanyali

An event organised by the Society for Existential Analysis, Saturday 29th July 2023 presented by Branca Sá Pires, clinical psychologist and research student at the University of Roehampton, and fellow existential psychotherapist from Portugal.

In her talk on phenomenological-existential therapy for children and young people, Branca Sá Pires emphasised the importance of understanding that existence is a process that does not solely begin at the age of eighteen. As a therapist, she believes that her role is to facilitate and ease this existential process for her young clients. The talk aimed to address the question of how existential therapy could be effectively applied to children and young people.

Core Existential Elements in Psychotherapy: Branca highlighted that there should be no significant divide between therapy for adults and young individuals, as there are core existential elements that are applicable to all modalities of psychotherapy.

  1. Therapy Attuned to Human Development: The therapist automatically adjusts their approach to meet the needs and skills of the child or young person. For example, Branca adapts her therapy room by using brighter colours to create a child-friendly and welcoming environment.
  2. Existence and Coexistence: The therapeutic relationship is a crucial aspect where the therapist engages fully with their own experiences. They are not merely facilitators but active participants in the therapeutic journey.
  3. Exploring Experiencing Choice: Branca encourages active exploration of choices with her young clients, supporting both the child and their family in achieving personal empowerment. She used questions like “this crayon or chalk?” to engage them in decision-making.
  4. Providing a Reflective Sense of Life: Existential therapy allow children and young people to reflect on their lives, fostering a deeper understanding of their experiences and emotions.
  5. Maintaining an Unknowing Attitude: The therapist adopts an open and accepting stance towards the client’s experiences, meanings, and co-created meaning with them. This approach fostered a safe space for the child to explore their identity and choices as an independent thinker.

Benefits of Existential Therapy for Children and Young People:

  • Breaks down limiting labels: Young clients come with preconceived labels, and existential therapy helps remove these barriers, allowing them to express themselves freely.
  • Encourages self-expression and growth: The therapy space becomes an opportunity for children and young people to voice their thoughts, reflect on their experiences, and grow personally.
  • Framework for Working with the Client’s Community: Branca shared a unique framework that facilitated collaboration with the client’s community, including families and schools.

Branca Sá Pires’s talk shed light on the applicability and effectiveness of phenomenological-existential therapy for children and young people. By incorporating core existential elements into her practice, she emphasised the importance of fostering a reflective and empowering environment for her young clients to explore their identities and choices. The talk also highlighted the significance of working collaboratively with the client’s community to ensure comprehensive support for the child’s development and growth and how systemized frameworks helped along the way.

Written by Nur Yanyali -Early Years Practitioner