Clinical Social Work Journal

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 297–313 | Cite as

Existentialism and Constructivism: A Bi-Polar Model of Subjectivity

  • David Klugman


The philosophical systems of existentialism and constructivism have generated distinct clinical approaches based on seemingly incompatible conceptions of subjectivity and its role in clinical work. The premise of this paper is that, taken together, existential and constructivist perspectives provide an essentially dialectical view of personal identity, suggesting that a bi-polar model of subjectivity may yield a broader therapeutic gain than either/or positions. I demonstrate this premise by illustrating the central tenets of each approach using clinical vignettes, then further elucidate each position by drawing upon its philosophical underpinnings. Finally, I present a longer clinical illustration that contains both an existential and a constructivist phase.

subjectivity constructivism existentialism identity 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allport, G. W. (1955). Becoming: Basic considerations for a psychology of personality. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis. New York: Viking Press.Google Scholar
  3. Assagioli, R. (1973). The act of will. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  4. Beck, A., Shaw, B., & Emery, G. (1980). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  5. Beck, A. (1988). Love is never enough. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  6. Braaten, C. (Ed.). (1967). A history of christian thought. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, M. (1983). The unfolding self. Los Angeles: Psychosynthesis Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bugental. (1992). The betrayal of the human: Psychotherapy's mission to reclaim our lost identity. In J. Zeig (Ed.), The evolution of psychotherapy, The Second Conference (pp. 155–167). New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  10. Ellis, A. (1971). Growth through reason: Verbatim cases in rational-emotive therapy. Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books.Google Scholar
  11. Ellis, A. (1988). Rational emotive therapy with alcoholics and substance abusers. Elmsford, New York: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  12. Ellis, A. (1992). The revised ABCs of rational-emotive therapy (RET). In J. Zeig (Ed.), The evolution of psychotherapy, The second conference (pp. 79–92). New York: Brunner/Maazel.Google Scholar
  13. Ferrucci, P. (1982). What we may be. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.Google Scholar
  14. Firman, J. (1991). I and self: Revisioning psychosynthesis. Palo Alto: Psychosynthesis Palo Alto.Google Scholar
  15. Fish, S. (1991). A firing line debate: Freedom of thought is in danger on American campuses. September (111): pp. 1–40.Google Scholar
  16. Flaskas, C., & Humphreys, C. (1993). Theorizing about power: Intersecting the ideas of Foucault with the ‘problem’ of power in family therapy. Family Process, 32, 35–47.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Glasersfeld, E. v. (1984). An introduction to radical constructivism. In P. Waltzlawick (Ed.), The invented reality (pp. 17–40). New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  18. Hardy, J. (1987). A psychology with soul. New York: Touteledge & Kegan Paul, Inc.Google Scholar
  19. Ivey, Allen., Ivey, Mary Bradford & Simek-Downing, Lynn. (1987). Counseling and psychotherapy. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  20. Jaspers, K. (1955). Reason and existenz (William Earle, Trans.). New York: The Noonday Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kelly, G. (1963). A theory of personality: The psychology of personal constructs. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  22. Kierkegaard, S. (1944). Concluding unscientific postscript (David F. Swenson, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lachman, F., & Beebe, B. (1992). Reformulations of early developmental and transference: Implications for psychic structure formation. In J. Barron, Eagle, M & Wolitzky, D. (Ed.), Interface of psychoanalysis and psychology (pp. 133–153). Washington, DC: The American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lichtenberg, J. (1989). Psychoanalysis and motivation. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lichtenberg, J., & Schonbar, R. (1992). Motivation in psychology and psychoanalysis. In J. Barron, Ealge, Morris., Wolitzky, David (Ed.), Interface of psychoanalysis and psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  26. Lock, J. (1995). Acting out and the narrative function: Reconsidering Peter Blos's concept of the second individuation process. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 49(4), 548–557.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Maslow, A. (1971). The further reaches of human nature. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  28. Maslow, A. (1964). Religion, values and peak experiences. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton: Van Nostrand.Google Scholar
  30. May, Rollo. (Ed.). (1969). Existential psychology. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  31. May, Rollo, Angel, Ernest & Ellenberger, Henri. (Eds.). (1958). Existence: A new dimension in psychiatry and psychology. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  32. Mishara, A., Ph.D. (1995). Narrative and psychotherapy: The phenomenology of healing. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 49(2), 180–195.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Pare, D. (1995). Of families and other cultures: The shifting paradigm of family therapy. Family Process, 34, 1–19.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Rowan, J. (1990). Subpersonalities: The people inside us. New York: Routeledge.Google Scholar
  35. Russell, D. (1981). Psychosynthesis in western psychology. Psychosynthesis Digest, 1(1), 39–53.Google Scholar
  36. Sartre, J.-P. (1947). Existentialism (Bernard Frechtman, Trans.). New York: Philosophical Library.Google Scholar
  37. Sartre, J.-P. (1956, 1994). Being and nothingness (Hazel Barnes, Trans.). New York: Philosophical Library.Google Scholar
  38. Sartre, J.-P. (1957). Existentialism and human emotions. New York: Philosophical Library.Google Scholar
  39. Schafer, R. (1992). Retelling a life. New York: BasicBooks.Google Scholar
  40. Searle, J. (1995a). The mystery of consciousness. The New York Review of Books, XLII(19), 60–66.Google Scholar
  41. Searle, J. (1995b). The mystery of consciousness: Part II. The New York Review of Books, XLII(18), 54–61.Google Scholar
  42. Schore, A. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  43. Solas, J. (1995). Deconstruction and clinical social work. Clinical Social Work Journal, 23(2), 151–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sliker, G. (1992). Multiple mind. Boston: Shambhala Publications.Google Scholar
  45. Stern, D. (1985). The interpersonal world of the infant. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  46. Stettbacher, K. (1991). Making sense of suffering. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
  47. Tarnas, R. (1991). The passion of the western mind. New York: Harmony.Google Scholar
  48. Tillich, P. (1952). The courage to be. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Weingarten, Kathy, & Cobb, Sara. (1995). Timing disclosure sessions: Adding a narrative perspective to clinical work with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Family Process, 34, 257–269.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. White, Michael, & Epston, David. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  51. Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology, spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  52. Wilson, C. (1957). Religion and the rebel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.Google Scholar
  53. Yalom, I. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Klugman

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations