Date of Award

Summer 5-18-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Counseling Psychology


Professional Psychology and Family Therapy


Daniel Cruz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Minsun Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Smith, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Michael Alcee, Ph.D.


existential psychology, positive psychology, college counseling, undergraduate students, mindfulness, meaning in life


The number of college students reporting moderate to severe mental health symptoms has steadily increased since the 1990s to the point of a “mental health crisis” occurring on the majority of American college campuses (Joyce, 2016, p. 17). Students face a number of stressors including academic pressure, developmental challenges, and the existential issues of meaning in life and identity formation. Unfortunately, many college students struggle to respond to psychological stress in healthy and adaptive ways. This study measured the relationships between positive psychological resources, existential thought, coping strategies, and mental health symptoms among a national sample of 251 undergraduate students. Results indicated that the positive psychological resources of mindfulness, hope, and meaning of life predicted relatively lower rates of maladaptive coping strategies and mental health symptoms. Positive emotions and existential reflection predicted higher levels of adaptive coping. A multivariate canonical correlation analysis demonstrated a significant and positive relationship between maladaptive coping strategies and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Existential reflection was found to be beneficial to the cultivation of adaptive coping and presence of meaning in life, but also positively correlated to maladaptive coping and increased mental health symptoms. The light and the dark aspects of existential thought are discussed. This research significantly contributes to the literature of existential and positive psychology, as well as college counseling. Positive psychological resources are internal strengths that can be cultivated throughout a student’s time at college. It is recommended that university administrators, college counselors, and faculty explore these constructs with students in order to further develop their individual strengths.