Existential Psychology and the Search for Meaning

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 21, 2021 - July 21, 20216/21 - 7/214 WeeksOnlineWaitlistedOnlineJennifer Miller

Course Description

Whatever else may motivate people to behave as they do (e.g., money, fame, status), beneath it all is a very human need to find a more fundamental meaning and purpose to their lives. By searching for a sense of “being,” grounded in purpose and significance, many hope to discover something of greater value than these external rewards. Unfortunately, this effort is often impeded by such dilemmas of existence (aka existential dilemmas) as loneliness, anxiety, emptiness, and struggling to be. This term “existential” is often one that elicits either confusion or curiosity; bantered about by philosophers and those partaking of more erudite pursuits. Yet, it is the term best suited to address the experience of being and the threat of non-being pervasive to all of human existence.

This course is an exploration of existential psychology (an integration of existential philosophy and the principles of psychology, i.e. a pragmatic philosophy) as developed and presented by Rollo May. It will explore meaning, freedom, courage, and consciousness of self as remedies for the existential dilemmas plaguing modernity.

Utilizing his book, “Man’s Search for Himself,” we will first delve into the threats to being before turning our attention to their potential remedies. Despite this text being written nearly 60 years ago, its contents ring true to the point of appearing prophetic for our time. Application of its concepts and arguments will be examined at both a personal and community level through active self-reflection and deep analysis. Despite its philosophical undertones, this is not a course for philosophers. This is a course of practical application; an expedition for real solutions to these intangible, but real problems of everyday life. It integrates the essence of existence with the practicality of living. As Rollo May (1960) wrote, “As I sit here [with a person in crisis], if I am chiefly thinking of the why's and how's concerning the way the problem came about, I will grasp everything except the most important thing of all...this person now existing, becoming, emerging; this experiencing human being immediately in the room with me.” The goal of this course is to begin grasping this “most important thing of all.”

This online course will utilize a combination of interactive and reflective activities, such as exploring and analyzing online videos and resources, engaging in small group discussions, and diving into personal reflection and analysis.

As a result of completing this course, students will be able to:
• Describe key concepts of existential psychology
• Discuss the philosophical ideas that inform existential psychology
• Generate solutions to existential problems encountered in real-world settings
• Demonstrate an increased awareness of the importance of reflective practices

Prerequisites: This course has no formal prerequisites; students interested in self-examination and discussion of the existential concepts covered in the course are welcome.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPY0969

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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