Rollo May (April 21, 1909, Ada, Ohio - October 22, 1994, Tiburon, California) was the best known American existential psychologist, authoring the influential book Love and Will in 1969.


May experienced a difficult childhood, with his parents divorcing and his sister suffering a mental breakdown. His educational odyssey took him to Michigan State University and Oberlin College for a bachelor's degree, teaching for a time in Greece, to Union Theological Seminary for a BD in 1938, and finally to Columbia University for a PhD in clinical psychology in 1949.

He spent the closing years of his life in Tiburon on the San Francisco Bay, where he died in October of 1994.


May was influenced by American humanism, and interested in reconciling existential psychology with other approaches, especially Freud’s.

May uses some traditional existential terms slightly differently than other, and invents new words for traditional existentialist concepts. Destiny, for example, could be "thrownness" combined with "fallenness"— the part of our lives that is determined for us, for the purpose of creating our lives. he also used the word "courage", to signify authenticity in facing one’s anxiety and rising above it.

He saw certain "stages" of development

  1. nnocence – the pre-egoic, pre-self-conscious stage of the infant. the innocent is only doing what he or she must do. But an innocent does have a degree of will in the sense of a drive to fulfil needs
  2. Rebellion – The rebellious person wants freedom, but has as yet no full understanding of the responsibility that goes with it.
  3. Ordinary – the normal adult ego, learned responsibility, but find it too demanding, and so seek refuge in conformity and traditional values.
  4. Creative – the authentic adult, the existential stage, beyond ego and self-actualizing. This is the person who, accepting destiny, faces anxiety with courage!

These are not stages in the traditional sense. A child may certainly be innocent, ordinary or creative at times; An adult may be rebellious. The only attachments to certain ages is in terms of salience: Rebelliousness stands out in the two year old and the teenager!

His first book, The Meaning of Anxiety, was based on his doctoral dissertation, which in turn was based on his reading of Kierkegaard. His definition of anxiety is "the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as a self" (1967, p. 72). He also he quotes Kierkegaard: "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom". In 1958, he edited, with Ernest Angel and Henri Ellenberger, the book Existence, which helped introduce existential psychology to the US.


  • The Meaning of Anxiety (1950)
  • Man’s Search for Himself (1953)
  • The Art of Counseling (1965)
  • Psychology and the Human Dilemma (1967)
  • Love and Will (1969)
  • Power and Innocene (1972)
  • The Courage to Create (1975)
  • Freedom and Destiny (1981)
  • The Discovery of Being (1983)
  • My Quest for Beauty (1985)
  • The Cry for Myth (1991)
  • Existential Psychology