Overview of May’s Psychotherapy Style

Rollo May’s psychotherapy goal was to make people who are empty and lonely more aware of themselves and show them that they have the potential for growth. May focused on how patient’s past experiences helped to explain the present and what will come in the future. May emphasized the importance of the patient-therapist relationship, stating that the therapist must be able to relate the patient. (Ryckman, 2012)

May also focused on helping patients recover their repressed “Dasein”, take responsibility for their own lives and make good choices that will lead to life satisfaction and fulfilment.

Dasein is an innate need that we all have. It is the need to exist in the world, having a conscious and unconscious sense of ourselves. Developing dasein involves a lot of effort and courage. May believed everyone must proclaim his or her being in the world even when faced with social pressure to conform. One must discover their own potentials in life. (Ewen, 2010)

May’s Criticisms of Modern Day Psychotherapy

In an interview with Rollo May at his retreat home in New Hampshire, 1987, Kirk Schneider, John Galvin, and Ilene Serlin ask May about his Existential Psychotherapy approach.

May gave his views on modern day psychotherapy describing it as a “gimmick”, stating that the principles of the fathers of psychotherapy – Freud, Jung, Rank and Adler have all been lost. May stated that modern day new techniques only want to cure a certain isolated symptom, a very different approach than real psychotherapy as founded by the fathers. May said the real purpose is to make the unconscious conscious.

According to May modern therapists don’t perform real therapy, they just “patch a person up and send him on again”, whereas real therapy “enlarges our view, enlarges our experience, makes us more sensitive…” (Schneider, Galvin & Serlin, 2009, p. 420). May then went on to say that therapists today are trained wrong, saying they need to go back and learn about the classics.

May looked at common therapy issues such as depression in a different way to modern therapists. He “takes depression as a symptom of a life that is not being lived”. (Schneider, Galvin & Serlin, 2009, p. 428). May stated the first thing he does is build a relationship with the person instead of focusing on the depression right away.