An Existential View of Adolescent Development

By Fitzgerald, Bill | Adolescence, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

An Existential View of Adolescent Development

Fitzgerald, Bill, Adolescence

The above quote out of Yalom's "Existential Psychotherapy" (1980) is a good summary of the approach one needs when working with others in a therapeutic alliance from an existential perspective. This seems particularly true when working with adolescents. Adolescents often hear from adults that the adult knows best or that they should behave in a certain way, often according to what the adult knows or dictates. Thus, the perspective and experience of the adolescent is often devalued, if appreciated at all.

There are many different approaches to working with and understanding adolescent development. Beginning early on with Erikson's idea of an identity crisis occurring during this period and continuing with more recent theories, many of the theories themselves include assumptions that are imposed on the adolescent by an authoritative external, primarily adult perspective. There is a great deal of merit to this view because in general the adult has the ability to look back on his/her own growth and draw on knowledge that can come only from firsthand experience. But at the same time it is a sure way to put off the naturally oppositional adolescent who is getting directives from numerous adults.

There has been an upsurge in the literature that addresses the uniqueness of adolescents. In part this is done by highlighting the commonalties between adolescent development and existential concepts (Austrian, 2002; Chessik, 1996; Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003; Ellsworth, 1999; Hacker, 1994). Included in much of this literature is the argument that adolescents do have sufficient abilities and wisdom to persevere during this difficult period.

Rooted in the work of early philosophers such as Sartre, Kierkegaard, Hiedegger, and Neitzsche, existentialism came about as an approach to addressing the fundamental questions of man's existence (Corey, 2000; Ellsworth, 1999; Todd & Bohort, 1999). To a large extent, much focus was on the finding of purpose and meaning in one's life. Part of this process was becoming aware of the freedom to choose and the ability to create one's own life. This can be done rather than succumb to the external pressures of conformity and meanings that are thrust upon one by objects or circumstances encountered in the environment (Hacker, 1994).

Adding to the uncertainty that comes along with freedom and responsibility is that it is solely up to the individual in order to create meaning and purpose in life. This uncertainty arises in part because what one sees as being relevant to life's questions is often quite different from what others see (Adamson & Lyxell, 1996). As a result, the individual cannot always rely on others to provide solutions to life's many riddles.

Although there are many different components to existential psychotherapy, and each therapist who subscribes to this discipline may define them uniquely, in the above quote (Yalom 1980) emphasizes that the therapist must appreciate the phenomenology of the patient; that is, the therapist must enter the patient's perceived reality without any presuppositions based on his/her own experiences that may distort this understanding.


The Random House Unabridged Dictionary (1993) defines adolescence as "the transitional period between puberty and adulthood in human development, extending mainly over the teen years and terminating legally when the age of majority is reached" (p. 27).

Although a fairly concise definition of this period of development, perhaps more accurate is Austrian's (2002) description of the period in which she describes it by borrowing a line from a book saying that it is "the best of times, the worst of times."

Adolescence can be seen as a time during which the individual must go through a process of rebalancing the old with the new (Kegan, 1982). In emphasizing how difficult this time can be, Oldham (1978) notes that throughout the literature there is concern for any adolescent who does not progress through this time without showing some sort of disruption and turmoil. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

An Existential View of Adolescent Development


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.