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Humanistic Therapy

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Humanistic Therapy

All of us desire to feel seen and heard, and when we do, we feel empowered. However, it can be intimidating to open up to people due to fears of rejection or judgment. But what if there was a space we could enter into that fully and wholly accepts all of us?

  • In this article, we will define humanistic therapy and its primary goals.
  • Then, we will discuss common techniques used in humanistic therapy followed by some types of humanistic therapy.
  • We will explore some examples of humanistic therapy.
  • Finally, we will discuss the effectiveness of humanistic therapy.

Humanistic Therapy Definition

The humanistic perspective in psychology emphasizes that people are innately good and have the potential for self-fulfillment. Humanistic therapy focuses on promoting a person's development and growth rather than fixating on their problems. Therefore, many humanistic therapists choose to use the term "client" or "person" rather than "patient."

Humanistic therapy aims to improve psychological functioning by helping an individual explore one's feelings, develop a healthy sense of self, find meaning, and focus on one's strengths through self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

Humanistic theorists believe that inner conflict and disorder block a person's natural growth. This blocking may be brought about by a person's distorted perceptions, negative self-image, and lack of awareness of one's feelings. Humanistic therapies aim to reduce this blocking by helping people access their internal resources for self-healing.

Goals of Humanistic Therapies

Humanistic therapies have several goals that differ from other insight therapies such as psychoanalysis. Humanistic therapies, for example, focus more on the conscious mind than the unconscious mind and do not put as much emphasis on uncovering childhood issues that may be causing the conflict. The primary goals of humanistic therapies are to:

  • Promote growth rather than cure an illness
  • Help clients grow in self-awareness and self-acceptance
  • Reduce inner conflicts or disorders interfering with one's growth and development
  • Provide insight
  • Focus on the present and the future and less on the past
  • Encourage clients to take responsibility for one's actions and feelings
  • Boost feelings of self-fulfillment

Humanistic Therapies, man meditating with sunset, StudySmarterHumanistic therapies promote self-healing. Pixabay.com

Humanistic Therapy Techniques

Humanistic therapy takes a non-directive approach, meaning that the therapist does not offer guidance or instruction. The therapist should aim to be a mirror for the client to remain non-directive (though no one can do so perfectly). Instead, humanistic therapists strive to create an accepting, caring, non-judgemental space where a client can find a path to self-actualization.

It is vital for this space to feel safe in order to promote greater transparency between the client and the therapist. An effective way for a humanistic therapist to create this space is by engaging in active listening.

Active listening requires a person to listen attentively by echoing, restating, or seeking clarification while a person speaks or expresses themself.

By taking this approach, humanistic therapists can improve communication with their clients. Another technique used in humanistic therapies is to treat the client as a whole person, focusing on the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aspects that make us who we are.

Additionally, humanistic therapies help people find solutions to promote growth. However, in the spirit of being non-directive, the therapist will set strong professional boundaries and never instruct the client about their situation. Instead, they will provide an environment for self-reflection so the client can decide what's best for them.

Types of Humanistic Therapy

There are several forms of humanistic therapy, including client-centered (or person-centered) therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy, to name a few.

Client-Centered Therapy

Client-centered therapy is the most popular form of humanistic therapy. First developed by Carl Rogers, this type of therapy allows the client to lead the discussion rather than the therapist. This structural shift fosters a sense of trust by communicating to the client that they can work through their problems. Client-centered therapy should help promote self-worth and acceptance, leaving the client feeling free and open to change.

The therapist needs to maintain certain attributes while facilitating client-centered therapy. First, they should consistently display empathy toward their clients by viewing the world through their eyes. A therapist must also be genuine while engaging with the client by expressing one's feelings honestly - both positive and negative. Finally, in this form of humanistic therapy, the therapist should communicate unconditional positive regard by showing genuine care and accepting the client without judgment.

Gestalt Therapy

European psychoanalyst Frederick (Fritz) Perls developed another humanistic therapy called Gestalt therapy. The Gestalt perspective in psychology focuses on perceiving the whole rather than the sum of its parts. Gestalt therapy applies this concept to a humanistic approach to therapy by encouraging clients to focus on the whole of their emotions, ideas, and experience (ground) rather than its parts (figure).

To learn more on Gestalt psychology, click here!

Gestalt therapy is often carried out in groups and can be more active and confrontational than client-centered therapy. By using more imaginative techniques, it can help clients get more in touch with their inner selves. An example of this is the empty chair technique.

Humanistic Therapies, empty blue chair near lamp, StudySmarterThe empty chair technique requires clients to imagine someone in an empty chair. Freepik.com

In the empty chair technique, the client is asked to imagine a person with unresolved issues sitting in a chair across from them. They are to then engage in conversation by alternating between themselves and role-playing that person. The goal is to resolve the issues by allowing them to express their feelings about the relationship honestly.

Existential Therapy

Existential therapy is a type of humanistic therapy primarily focused on helping people understand their place in the universe. Therapists using this form of therapy strive to maximize client potential by helping them recognize their power to make rational choices and positive changes in their life. Clients can re-create themselves by consistently discovering meaning in their life and taking responsibility for their choices. This form of humanistic therapy can be especially helpful in supporting people through feelings such as guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, addiction, or resentment.

Examples of Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy can be used to treat several mental health conditions, including:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Substance use

  • Panic disorder

  • Personality disorders

  • Psychosis

  • Relationship problems

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Trauma

The therapist may take a different approach to humanistic therapy depending on the client's conflict. For example, to treat depression, the therapist may try to encourage the client to consider what might bring greater meaning into their life rather than uncover the cause of depression. Deflection may even be used to help the client focus on something besides depression. The therapist may encourage the client to find ways to experience awe and wonder in their lives as well as identify their unique strengths and talents.

On the other hand, a therapist may take a different approach to treating anxiety. Humanists believe anxiety is an inevitable part of life, so they will focus on helping the client learn how to live courageously despite anxiety. The goal is for the clients to realize their potential by recognizing they are capable of facing their fears.

Humanistic Therapies, confident woman flexing smiling, StudySmarterHumanistic therapies help people live courageously. Freepik.com

Finally, it is important to note that humanistic therapy is not only for people with a mental health conditions but can also be helpful for people who want to maximize their potential and grow in self-confidence.

Effectiveness of Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy allows clients to play a role in their treatment. Regardless of a person's condition, humanistic therapy can help a person learn effective coping skills and problem-solving for everyday challenges. Elliot (2016) summarized the effectiveness of humanistic therapy (primarily client-centered therapy) to include the following:

  • Humanistic therapy is more effective than no therapy.

  • Humanistic therapy can be as effective as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in promoting positive change.

  • Humanistic therapy can help people with chronic medical conditions cope with their reality.

  • Humanistic therapy can help reduce habitual self-sabotaging activities.

  • Humanistic therapy is less effective than CBT when treating anxiety.

Humanistic Therapy - Key takeaways

  • Humanistic therapy aims to improve psychological functioning by helping an individual explore one's feelings, develop a healthy sense of self, find meaning, and focus on one's strengths through self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

    • Humanistic therapy focuses on promoting a person's development and growth rather than fixating on their problems.

  • The humanistic therapist should aim to be a mirror for the client to truly remain non-directive. Therapists strive to create an accepting, caring, non-judgemental space where a client can find a path to self-actualization.

  • There are several forms of humanistic therapy, including client-centered (or person-centered) therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy, to name a few.

  • Humanists believe anxiety is an inevitable part of life, so the therapist will focus on helping the client learn how to live courageously despite anxiety.

  • Humanistic therapy can help a person learn effective coping skills and problem-solving for everyday challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions about Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy aims to improve psychological functioning by helping an individual explore one's feelings, develop a healthy sense of self, find meaning, and focus on one's strengths through self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

The main goal of humanistic therapy is to promote a person's development and growth rather than fixating on their problems.

Humanistic therapy emphasizes self-fulfillment, meaning, self-awareness, and self-acceptance.

Existential therapy is a type of humanistic therapy primarily focused on helping people understand their place in the world.

Humanistic therapy focuses more on the conscious than the unconscious mind and does not put as much emphasis on uncovering childhood issues that may be causing the conflict. 

Final Humanistic Therapy Quiz

Question

____________ requires a person to listen attentively by echoing, restating, or seeking clarification while a person speaks or expresses themself.

Show answer

Answer

Active listening

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a technique used in humanistic therapies?

Show answer

Answer

Direct guidance

Show question

Question

What attributes are especially important for a therapist to have in client-centered therapy?

Show answer

Answer

  • Empathy
  • Genuine
  • Unconditional positive regard

Show question

Question

Who developed Gestalt therapy?

Show answer

Answer

Frederick "Fritz" Perls

Show question

Question

What is the empty chair technique?


Show answer

Answer

In the empty chair technique, the client is asked to imagine a person, with whom they have unresolved issues,  sitting in a chair across from them. They are to then engage in conversation by alternating between themselves and role-playing that person.  The goal is to resolve the issues by allowing the person to honestly express their feelings about the relationship.

Show question

Question

___________ is a type of humanistic therapy that is primarily focused on helping people understand their place in the universe.

Show answer

Answer

Existential therapy

Show question

Question

Who developed client-centered therapy?

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Answer

Carl Rogers

Show question

Question

What is unconditional positive regard? 

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Answer

Unconditional positive regard is the commitment to showing genuine care and acceptance of the client without judgment.

Show question

Question

Therapists using existential therapy strive to __________ by helping them recognize their power to make rational choices and positive changes in their life.

Show answer

Answer

maximize client potential

Show question

Question

_____________ aims to improve psychological functioning by helping an individual explore one's feelings, develop a healthy sense of self, find meaning, and focus on one's strengths through self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

Show answer

Answer

Humanistic therapy

Show question

Question

True or False? Humanistic therapies focus on curing an illness rather than promoting growth. 


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False? Humanistic therapy focuses on the present and the future and less on the past. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

How might a humanistic therapist treat depression? 

Show answer

Answer

The therapist may try to encourage the client to consider what might bring greater meaning into their life, rather than uncover the cause of depression.

Show question

Question

True or False? Humanistic therapy is not more effective than having no therapy at all. 


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False? Humanistic therapy can be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in promoting positive change.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What does the humanistic perspective in psychology believe?

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Answer

All people are good and can achieve self-fulfillment 

Show question

Question

What does humanistic therapy focus on?

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Answer

Fixing the client's problems

Show question

Question

What is not a goal of humanistic therapy?

Show answer

Answer

Work through the problems of the past

Show question

Question

What is a main difference between humanistic therapy and psychoanalytic therapy?

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Answer

Psychoanalytic therapy focuses on uncovering unconscious feelings and repressed memories and humanistic therapy focuses more on the present and bettering oneself for the future 

Show question

Question

What is the goal of the therapist in humanistic therapy?

Show answer

Answer

To be non-directive and not lead the client to any answer. They are there to be a mirror to the client's thoughts. 

Show question

Question

What do humanistic therapists focus on?

Show answer

Answer

The emotional side of the client

Show question

Question

Which form of humanistic therapy is the most widely used?

Show answer

Answer

Client-centered

Show question

Question

What is unique about client-centered therapy?

Show answer

Answer

The client leads the discussions

Show question

Question

How is Gestalt therapy different from client-centered therapy?

Show answer

Answer

It happens in groups, is more confrontational, and is more directed by the therapist

Show question

Question

What does Gestalt therapy focus on?

Show answer

Answer

The whole (all emotions, ideas, experiences) rather than the parts

Show question

Question

What types of feelings does existential therapy do well at treating?

Show answer

Answer

Guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, addiction, resentment

Show question

Question

What mental health disorder do humanistic therapies not help treat?

Show answer

Answer

Substance abuse

Show question

Question

True or False? Humanistic therapy is used the same way across all mental health disorders. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false? Humanistic therapy is as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy when treating someone with anxiety. 

Show answer

Answer

False - it is less effective

Show question

Question

How do humanistic therapists help their client grow if they can't tell them what to do?

Show answer

Answer

They create a safe space for the client's exploration so the client will eventually grow on their own

Show question

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