University of Twente Student Theses


Irvin Yalom’s Existential Issues in Letters from the Future

Herrmann, S. (2012) Irvin Yalom’s Existential Issues in Letters from the Future.

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Abstract:The aim of this qualitative research paper is to examine if and how the four existential issues, based on the theory of Irvin Yalom are found in letters from the future. For this purpose, an already existing dataset, called ‘letters from the future’ was used. This dataset was collected in the ongoing study “Narrative future imagination and mental health” at the lifestory lab at the University of Twente. This study gives the possibility to examine how the four existential issues by Irvin Yalom are found in everyday writing in contrast to explicit elicitation and exploration of existential issues as in the case in existential therapy. Although the letters do not explicitly ask for those existential issues, but are rather open to any content writers might find relevant in their lives, the short form of the letters demands making a choice for what matters most. Therefore, the letters from the future as data collection method might trigger thinking about existential issues. The analysis consists of three steps. First, all 86 letters were analyzed to explore the frequency of Yaloms existential issues. Second, an analysis of the writing mode in relation to the existential issues was conducted. Third, a deeper analysis of the existential issue of freedom based on three different dimensions (frequency, stable-dynamic and degree of existentialism) and two prototypic letters of the existential issue of freedom were shown to the reader and analyzed in detail to demonstrate the analytical tool developed for the study. The analysis showed that many existential issues can be found in the letters from the future. There are both direct and indirect references to existential issues. Freedom and the search for meaning were the most frequent themes. Furthermore, writing mode appeared to be important for the occurrence of the existential issues, the more reflective the writing mode, the higher the frequency of the existential issues. Dimensioned analysis of ‘freedom’ showed, that in 42% of the letters from the future containing the existential issue of freedom, this issue is also high existential. Finally, the frequent occurrence of ‘freedom’ and particularly ‘autonomy’ is interpreted in light of the cultural background of the participants in the study. Future study into differences between participants from western individualistic and from non-western collective cultures could reveal different autonomy-freedom patterns.
Item Type:Essay (Bachelor)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:77 psychology
Programme:Psychology BSc (56604)
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