International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Hell Is Other People: A Sartrean View of Conflict Resolution

Ernesto Spinelli


This presentation focuses upon the critical consideration of the possibilities and limitations of therapeutic interventions designed to reduce, remove or resolve conflict from the standpoint of a number of key ideas presented in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s (in)famous statement that “hell is other people” is considered as a central aspect of the therapeutic relationship itself, whether viewed from the standpoint of the client or the therapist. Further, Sartre’s descriptive notions of being-in-itself, being-for-itself, and being-for-others are reconsidered as useful means with which to investigate the varied disturbances presented by conflict issues. The paper argues that the application of Sartre’s ideas leads the practice of psychotherapy away from notions of a dissolution of human conflict and, instead, places such dilemmas within the confines of more adequate possibilities of “living with conflict” in one’s relations with self and others. The presentation concludes with an overview of an innovative training programme developed and run by a team of psychotherapists and lawyers based at the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent’s College, London, UK which provides trainees with a Sartrean-inspired existential approach to mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

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