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International Journal of Existential

Psychology & Psychotherapy

Challenges and Opportunities:


Response to Paul T.P. Wongs
Editorial, Existential Psychology for
the 21st Century
Gary T. Reker1

I found Paul Wongs (2004) editorial to be


uplifting, refreshing, and unifying. He is
right to say that we must step out of the long
shadows of doom and gloom advocated by
well known and respected existential
philosophers. Contemporary existence also
requires us to embrace the growth and
potential of the human experience as
advocated by existential psychologists,
particularly those of us who endorse the
values of positive psychology. As one of the
latter, I have been a long time campaigner
and advocate for the importance of positive
psychology, particularly as it pertains to the
constructs of personal optimism and
personal meaning in life (see, for example,
Reker & Chamberlain, 2000; Reker &
Wong, 1985). Paul, through his editorial,
expresses a very similar conviction and
provides a much-needed refocus on the
tenets and meaning of existential
psychology.
As Paul (Wong, 2004) points out, life is
full of paradoxes. Paradoxes are, by
definition, bi-polar. We need to be careful,
however, not to get over-zealous in
emphasizing only the positive; the negative
is also important in promoting the human
potential for growth. Each pole of the
paradox must be acknowledged for the
simple reason that one defines the other. Can
we really fully experience good, hope, or

Gary T. Reker is a Professor and Chair of the


Department of Psychology at Trent University.
Correspondence regarding this article should be
directed to greker@trentu.ca.

www.existentialpsychology.org

Volume 1, Issue 1, July 2004

love without ever having experienced evil,


despair, or hate? For me the answer is no.
Pauls (Wong, 2004) four fundamental
questions and their respective subsets raise
conscious awareness of our existence to a
level that we dont often contemplate in our
busy lives. Indeed, our challenge is to reflect
on and attempt to understand the what, while
at the same time trying to activate the how.
The what questions impel us to take stock,
set goals, and identify values. The how
questions give us guidance, provide
direction, and perhaps identify a process for
addressing the what.
Pauls formula for creating a body of
knowledge that incorporates, without
prejudice, both quantitative and qualitative
research methods is something I heartily
endorse and have been advocating for quite
some time (see Reker, 1995). From the
perspective of a researcher, the ultimate goal
is to conduct good science. The concurrent
use of quantitative and qualitative methods
provides more complete answers to research
questions and may add new and deeper
insights and understandings of human
development.
Finally, I was somewhat surprised that
Pauls editorial pertained primarily to
existential psychology and did not address
the equally relevant practical side, that of
existential psychotherapy. What I am most
concerned about is what I perceive to be a
lack of empirical evidence on the
effectiveness of existential therapies. The
challenge for existential psychotherapists is
to become more accountable for the
outcome of their therapy. They must begin
to
demonstrate
that
existential
psychotherapy makes a difference; that it is
a unique and distinct form of therapy that
can complement and/or supplant alternative
approaches. Personal testimonies, intuition,
or a deep conviction that existential
psychotherapy works do not constitute
acceptable evidence. Potential new members

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International Journal of Existential


Psychology & Psychotherapy

Volume 1, Issue 1, July 2004

to our cause are pushing for accountability


and I fear that if their cry goes unheeded,
existential psychology and psychotherapy
might not survive the 21st century. I share
my concerns with advocates of existential
psychotherapy, not to be overly and unjustly
critical, but because of a strong desire to
help nurture and further the ideals expressed
in Paul Wongs editorial (Wong, 2004). In
my opinion, not addressing the issue of
responsibility and accountability constitutes
an important oversight in an editorial
designed to introduce the reader to a new
journal on existential psychology and
psychotherapy.
References
Reker, G. T. (1995). Quantitative and
qualitative methods. In Kimble, M.A.,
McFadden, S.H., Ellor, J.W., & Seeber,
J.J. (Eds.), Aging, spirituality, and
religion (pp. 568-588). Fortress Press:
Minneapolis, MN.
Reker, G. T., & Chamberlain, K. (Eds.)
(2000). Exploring existential meaning:
Optimizing human development across
the life span. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Publications.
Reker, G. T., & Wong, P. T. P. (1985).
Personal optimism, physical and mental
health: The triumph of successful aging.
In J. E. Birren and J. Livingston (Eds.),
Cognition, stress, and aging (pp. 134173). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall.
Wong, P. T. P (2004). Editorial: Existential
psychology for the 21st century.
International Journal of Existential
Psychology and Psychotherapy, 1, 12.

www.existentialpsychology.org

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