Emmy van Deurzen  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Emmy van Deurzen is an existential therapist in the United Kingdom. She initially came to the UK to work with the anti-psychiatrists, but soon created her own school. She founded the Society for Existential Analysis and the International Society for Existential Psychotherapists and Counsellors and created the two most important training institutes for the approach: at Regent's College, London and Schiller International University, London.

Her work is based strongly in existential philosophy and focuses on enabling people to reflect on their lives with equal attention to past, present and future. There are some similarities between this form of existential therapy and philosophical counselling.



She was born in The Hague, Netherlands, on 13 December 1951, the second daughter of Arie Marinus van Deurzen and Anna Lamina Hensel. She had a classical education at the Dalton Lyceum in the Hague. After finishing her Gymnasium she went to Montpellier, France, to study French, and then transferred her studies to philosophy. Her master's degree was in Moral and Political Philosophy and her thesis considered the relationship between loneliness, solipsism and schizophrenia. She began working in the revolutionary psychiatric hospital of Lozere in 1973, as Emmy Fabre, by now married to the psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Fabre. She worked as a group psychotherapist using techniques from psychodrama and psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

She moved to work in the psychiatric community of La Candelie, in Agen in 1975, whilst completing a 'Maitrise en Psychologie', then training in clinical psychology at the University of Bordeaux. It was here that she began to work with couples and individuals from an existential perspective, combining her philosophical training with psychotherapeutic principles. She met several of the anti-psychiatrists at a conference in Milan and was invited to come and work in London.

She moved to an anti-psychiatric community with the Arbours Association in London in 1977. In 1978 she separated from her then husband and started working for Antioch University in London, becoming Associate Director of their Masters programme in Humanistic Psychology, and Director of the new MA in the Psychology of Therapy and Counselling in 1982.

She married David Livingstone Smith II in 1980 and had a son, Benjamin Yuri Smith, in 1981. A daughter, Sasha Daniella Smith, was born in 1985.

She transferred the Antioch programme to Regent's College, London, in 1985. It grew into the School of Psychotherapy and Counseling; together with the then President of Regent's College, John Payne, it was founded as limited company in 1990. She became Director of the School and Dean a few years later, and was given a personal chair at the College in 1993.

In 1984 she contributed a chapter to the first Dryden Handbook of Psychotherapy, delineating her existential approach in writing for the first time. In 1988 she published Existential Counselling in Practice, which became a bestseller-- it was reprinted each year and re-edited as Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice in 2002.

In 1993 van Deurzen became the first Chair of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, and also became active in European political work to establish psychotherapy as an independent profession and was external relations officer to the European Association for Psychotherapy and 'ambassador' for that organization to the Council of Europe and the European Commission for many years.

In 1996 she separated from her second husband, David Smith. She left Regent's College in the same year, and created the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling together with Prof. Digby Tantam, at the London campus of Schiller International University, by whom she was awarded an honorary Professorship. NSPC was specifically conceived for the training of existential therapists.

In 1997 Emmy van Deurzen moved to Sheffield, and married Digby Tantam in 1998. They created the Centre for the Study of Conflict and Reconciliation at the University of Sheffield, where Emmy became an Honorary Reader, then an Honorary Professor. Her books Everyday Mysteries and Paradox and Passion were published in these two years.

Van Deurzen and Tantam created Dilemma Consultancy Ltd., in Sheffield, a private practice run entirely on existential principles. They also became co-chairs of the European Association of Psychotherapy Training Standards Committee and were largely responsible for the creation of the European Certificate of Psychotherapy in 1998. They worked together with the European Commission and the Council of Europe to further the status of psychotherapy in Europe. They set up an internet based training programme in psychotherapy, 'SEPTIMUS', funded by the European commission. They founded the International Community for Existential Counsellors and Psychotherapists (ICECAP) in 2006 at the Tenth Anniversary Conference of NSPC.

Deurzen completed a doctorate in philosophy with City University in London in 2003, on Heidegger's approach to Self-Deception and its relevance to Psychotherapy.

More details about van Deurzen's approach can be found at [1].

Major contributions

Deurzen has been instrumental in establishing the existential approach in the United Kingdom in the nineteen eighties and nineties, through her publications, through the creation of the Society for Existential Analysis (SEA) in 1988 and the creation of the International Collaborative of Existential Counsellors and Psychotherapists (ICECAP) in 2006. She has also secured the training of hundreds of existential therapists in the UK by founding the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent’s College along existential principles and by setting up the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling specifically for the purpose of existential training.

She further encouraged the recognition of the approach in the UK when she was chair of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy 1993-1995 and at a European level when she was co-Chair of the training standards committee of the European Association for Psychotherapy.

Principal Ideas

Van Deurzen’s work is based on Sartrian and Heideggerian ideas, but she has altered these philosophical concepts to fit the pragmatic framework of therapeutic intervention. She has contributed many original ideas to the existential literature, including that of the emotional cycle or the emotional compass. She has also introduced the idea of an onto-dynamic approach to psychotherapy as opposed to a psychodynamic one. She has coined various new terms, including the notion of virtue-ability or morability, emphasizing the person’s continuous search for a way of life that is not rigidly bound by values and rules, but rather based in freedom and a willingness to consider what the best and most principled way forward is at any one time in the specific situation. She is probably best known for her four worlds model which maps a person’s life experience and world orientation on four dimensions. She uses this in relation to dream analysis as well as in the diagnostic interview. She describes each dimension of existence as containing a paradox that the person has to come to terms with throughout life in different ways: the Physical dimension (Umwelt), the Social dimension, the Psychological dimension, and the Spiritual dimension


  • Deurzen, E. van (2002) Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy in Practice, 2nd edition, London: Sage Publications.
  • Deurzen, E. van (1997) Everyday Mysteries: Existential Dimensions of Psychotherapy, London: Routledge. (2nd edition 2006)
  • Deurzen, E. van (1998) Paradox and Passion in Psychotherapy, Chichester: Wiley.
  • Deurzen, E. van, and Kenward, R. (2005) Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling, London: Sage Publications.
  • Deurzen, E. van and Arnold-Baker, C., eds. (2005) Existential Perspectives on Human Issues: a Handbook for Practice, London: Palgrave, Macmillan.
  • Deurzen, E. van (2008) Psychotherapy and the Quest for Happiness, London:Sage Publications.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Emmy van Deurzen" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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