DynaPsych Table of Contents


A Meta-Analysis of Meaning


Neil Alan Soggie

Atlantic Baptist University

Moncton, New Brunswick

December 2005





This paper identifies the importance of existential mythopoeics in forming mental health. Through a meta-analysis of studies dealing with mythopoeics and mental health across a wide range of circumstances a mean effect size was calculated. The result is a quantifiable value of existentialism and mental health across the breadth of life circumstances. The mean effect size of 11% therefore emphasizes the importance of existentialism in the mental wellness of a patient/ client.



It seems that there once were some fish that spent their days swimming around in search of water. Anxiously looking for their destination, they shared their worries and confusion with each other as they swam. One day they met a wise fish and asked him the question that had preoccupied them for so long: “Where is the sea?” The wise fish answered: “If you stop swimming so busily and struggling so anxiously, you would discover that you are already in the sea. You need look no further than where you already are.”


-- Moon (2002)





The question to be discussed in this article is whether or not the theoretical existential construct can actually be shown in empirical research to play a factor in mental health and life satisfaction. In essence this article will develop a description of the importance of the existential role in human experience.


Operational Definitions


This article will use the general value of life meaning and satisfaction as the basic standard for “mental health” within this study. This means, the measure by which a person is able to adjust to his/her circumstance. If subjective or objective social experiences are not beyond the “normal” range of the general population then this is to be considered, “mental health”[1]. Therefore, from an operational point of view we will consider that if the individual does not report a problem, nor does society, then there is no problem and this will function as a general guide of normal mental health. This will be compared with the basic existential value of knowing where one fits and why within life. This will therefore include a range of existential values that carry mythopoeic[2] terms that vary depending upon individual/researcher bias. These terms include tones of religion or spirituality within them, but are from the perspective of this paper are simply mythopoeic constructs. In general this project will accept research articles that examine the “way people live and find meaning in existence” no matter the term applied to it. 


Such a decision is in line with the standard existential psychometric tools that recognize (Ellison, 1993) mythopoeics and existential wellness as two interrelated yet distinct aspects of human functioning and meaning making. Therefore while evaluating the general main effect size of existentialism we shall include journals that speak of mythopoeics in terms of religious well being as well as those that speak exclusively of existential well-being. In addition, since mythopoeics and existentialism are both part of the human functioning experience, they can be included in the general modern catholic term of spirituality[3]. Such a concept includes both mythic and existential orientations within its concept, and since both are interdependent and interrelated this term will also be included in the general understanding of existentialism.


These terms will be included in the general operational definition of our understanding of existentialism. However there will be a sub-categorisation of these various terms during the further refinement of the meta-analysis. The logic for the inclusion of these terms can be argued from the mythopoeic perspective already clarified in chapter one. In addition, studies about the quality of life and issues of life satisfaction also affirm that such factors are part of the subjective well being of people (McNamara, 1979).


Some researchers for example (Campbell, 1981) suggest that well-being depends on the satisfaction of three basic kinds of needs: 1. The need of having; 2. The need of relating; 3. The need for being. To this end, the mythic religious framework is considered to be extremely important in the lives of many people (Campbell, Converse, & Rodgers, 1976).




The meta-analytic[4] approach utilized in this study is an attempt to synthesize the results of previous studies. This will be done by transforming the information of these various studies into a common metric, the effect size, which is then categorized across studies. From this work, this project shall therefore present a mean effect obtained from all reviewed studies in order to answer the question of the importance of the existential within mental health.[5] 


In addition to the description of the main effect there is of course the more specific issues as to what aspects of human existence does the existential influence the most. This more specific investigation requires that all the studies be organized into sub-categories for further analysis. Therefore this project will also report the important sub-categories of existentialism and their resulting relationship with other issues. This also takes into account the fact that studies vary in their outcomes and the subcategories will seek to suggest some of the moderators in these variable outcomes. Primarily this is a descriptive study that will utilize the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient as the basis of the main mean effect size.


This meta-analysis shall progress with predictable precision through its analysis. It has already begun with the development of operational definitions and the formulation of research questions. The next stage is then of course logically the presentation of relevant research and its categorization/ coding of the studies. From this coding process there will be the calculation of the mean main effect and the effect size of each sub-category.


In order to ensure the integrity of the studies relationship with existentialism it is important to establish a clear standard for inclusion and exclusion of studies. The goal will be to provide a representative cross-section of quantitative analysis of existentialism that employs reliable methods. In order to ensure that there is some balance for both researcher bias and method integrity within the studies examined, only those studies published within peer-reviewed journals will be included. The only exception to this rule is papers presented to peers at professional psychological association conferences. In addition, the age group of concern within this study is between the ages of 12 and 90 years. Therefore, those studies with subjects outside of this range will be excluded.


Based upon these parameters, there is an obvious research bias that must be mentioned, for since this project will only deal with peer-reviewed published journal studies, the issue of publication bias must be a cause for deliberation. That is, there may be a reluctance of editors or reviewers to accept for publication studies with non-significant results coupled with, the hesitation on the part of authors to submit such non-significant findings. This may mean that a publication bias will sway the findings towards a positive support of the existential component of human experience. While such a publication bias is possible, and must be considered in the larger scope of this project, for practical reasons such a problem must be set-aside for the moment.


In dealing with calculation of the mean effect of the general existential category and its more specific subcategories this study will calculate the mean across studies. This means that each published study will contribute its main effect score to the calculation of the mean for the general category of existentialism. Therefore each studies’ score will be weighted the same, regardless of the number of subjects within the study.


In the cases where a study results were only described as, or could be inferred to be, “non-significant”, an effect size of zero was assigned; if results were only described as “significant”, p<0.10 significance level was assumed and the corresponding effect size was calculated. 


Of further consideration is the observed effect by the existential variable. The observed effects of variable may be positive, neutral or mixed, or negative. In order to provide a clear picture of the positive effects of existentialism only those studies that demonstrate a positive effect will be included in the calculation of the general mean effect. However if indeed mixed, neutral or negative findings are found, these will be noted in order to balance the further discussion on this issue.


In calculating the main effect size this project acknowledges that there are many ways of achieving this. For the Effect Size is itself a general name applied to a whole family of indices that measure the magnitude of treatment effect. In general there are two ways of measuring the effect size as either the standardized difference between two means as Cohen does for two independent groups (Cohen, 1988), or from correlations. In this case the effect size can be measured as the correlation between the independent variable classification and the individual scores on the dependent variable.  In such a case as with the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient then the square of the r-value is the effect size, meaning it is the percentage of the variance in the dependent variable that is accounted for by membership in the independent variable groups.



This project has identified nine empirical studies (N=9) that fit its operational definition of an analysis of General Existentialism. Each report evaluates some aspect of General Existentialism in relation to some issue of mental health. This in turn will provide the data for the description of the common material between General Existentialism and mental health. Of these studies, three were placed in the sub-category of Mythic, due to their mythic/ religious emphasis. In addition, three were placed in the sub-category of Existential, due to their emphasis upon meaning/ self actualisation yet without the mythopoeic overtones. Finally, three studies were not placed in either of the sub-categories since they deal with existential issues but have either a mythopoeic or clearly religious tone in their evaluation.


The primary issue is of course the general influence of general existentialism. This incorporates the mythopoeic (often religious) aspect of personal and community stories that interact with one another to form an existential structure. In addition, this general existentialism incorporates the sense of personal life-satisfaction and fulfilment. The logic of combining these two aspects is of course supported by psychometric studies that affirm a relationship between these conceptual sub-categories, r = 0.62 (p<0.001)(Ellison, 1993).


On the issue of General Existentialism and its relation to General Mental Health nine studies were analysed. The effect size of each study was calculated from the correlation coefficient and the mean was calculated (see figure 1). The data from this analysis is that 11% of the variance in general mental health (across contexts) can be accounted for by its relationship to general existentialism.




Figure 1

General Existentialism



Author                         Sub-category               Main Effect Size


Gibbs, H.                    Mythic                                     ES=0.348


Hackey, C.                  Mythic                                     ES=0.01


Laurencelle, R.            Mythic                                     ES=0.026


Graham, S.                  General Existential                  ES=0.084


Camprise, R. (study 1) Existential                               ES=0.24


Camprise, R. (study 2) Existential                               ES=0.096


Paloutzian, R. (note 3) Existential                   ES=0.194


McClain, C.                 General Existential                  ES=0.168


Fry, P.                         General Existential                  ES=0.423


                                                                                    Mean Effect = 0.111






As the tale of the fish suggests and as this analysis verifies we are all existential creatures, whether we imagine ourselves to be so or not. The existential stories are at the very essence of how we relate to ourselves within ourselves and how we relate to our constructed universe (Evans 1990). The guiding principle that organizes how we create ourselves in these relationships is through this process of stories, both overarching mythic stories and concrete personal stories of relating to our natural world.


However this meta-analysis also makes clear that while a significant portion of mental health is the stories we create and how we choose to relate to our universe this is not the entire picture. The existential is important but this does not negate a proper therapeutic diagnosis to identify other issues that may be influencing the mental health of the client. Basic underlying issues of biochemical imbalances, psychiatric issues or neural damage must also be recognized as important issues to be identified by the therapist. For while we may favour the role of an existential guide in the therapist/ client relationship, as a professional psychologist/ psychotherapist we must be mindful of the fact that the evidence suggests that this is only a fraction of the overall picture. In service of the client we must therefore have the diagnostic ability to recognize if this existential factor is the aetiology of the client’s suffering or if some other portion of the 89% of the client’s mental life is involved. Only then can we begin to service our client’s as a true existential psychotherapist.










[1] The American Psychiatric Association’s Psychiatric Glossary (1985) defines Mental Health as A state of being, relative rather than absolute. The best indices of mental health are simultaneous success at working, loving, and creating with the capacity for mature and flexible resolution of conflicts between instincts, conscience, important other people, and reality.


[2] This term refers to how the human mind creates myth’s and then how these personal myths eventually form societal myths that then become the context for personal myths. This basic mythic structure and the myth making process are naturally related to existential analysis and counselling as these are the psychological schemas in which individual’s process and interpret reality. Mythos (Greek: Mythos) plus Poiein (Greek: Poiein) gives us the term Mythopoeic meaning “Myth-making” or “Myth-creation”.


[3] The work of researchers such as C.E. Ellison and G.W. Moon have done much to clarify how what has historically been referred to as spirituality is in essence a mode of psychological existentialism and therefore must be included within this type of quantitative research.

[4] The meta-analysis approach was chosen within this study due to its perceived ability to provide a relatively unbiased and statistically powerful picture of the issue to be discussed. This is of crucial concern to a project that is so weighted with philosophy and qualitative therapeutic issues in order to clarify the true role and importance of the existential component of mental health and its role within psychotherapy.


[5]  The effect size for a Pearson r is the square of the r-value. This is the percentage of variance in the dependent variable that is accounted for by membership in the independent variable groups. For a d value of .8, the amount of variance in the dependent variable by membership in the treatment and control groups is 13.8%.