Humanistic therapy is a psychological treatment based on the personality theories of Carl Rogers and other humanistic psychologists. Rogers' focus was to ensure that the developmental processes led to healthier, if not more creative, personality functioning. The term 'actualizing tendency' was also coined by Rogers, and was a concept that eventually led Abraham Maslow to study self-actualization as one of the needs of humans. Rogers and Maslow introduced this positive, humanistic psychology in response to what they viewed as the overly pessimistic view of psychoanalysis. Humanistic therapy typically holds that people are inherently good. It adopts a holistic approach to human existence and pays special attention to such phenomena as creativity, free will, and human potential. It encourages viewing ourselves as a "whole person" greater than the sum of our parts and encourages self exploration rather than the study of behavior in other people. Humanistic psychology acknowledges spiritual aspiration as an integral part of the human psyche. It is linked to the emerging field of transpersonal psychology.
Goals of Humanistic Therapy
The aim of humanistic therapy is usually to help the client develop a stronger, healthier sense of self, also called self-actualization. It is also to help individuals access and understand their feelings to help to gain a sense of meaning in life. Humanistic theory sees each individual's personality as being composed of physical, intellectual, emotional, behavioral, creative, and spiritual elements. In order to help the client reach self-actualization, humanistic therapists help clients remove and replace the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that do not produce a positive state of being, and integrate the various components of their unique personalities so that each individual is more self-aware, mature, and authentic.
Foundations and Therapeutic Approach
Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that developed in response to psychoanalytic theory and behaviorism. This approach emphasizes an individual's inherent drive towards self-actualization and creativity. Humanistic psychology includes several approaches to counseling and therapy. Among the earliest approaches are the developmental theory of Abraham Maslow, emphasizing a hierarchy of needs and motivations, and the person-centered or client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers, which is centered on the client's capacity for self-direction and understanding of his or her own development. The therapist should ensure that all of the client’s feelings are being considered, and that the therapist has a firm grasp on the concerns of the client while ensuring that there is an atmosphere of acceptance and warmth. Humanistic therapy focuses on the individual’s strengths and offers non-judgmental counseling sessions.
Empathy is one of the most important aspects of humanistic therapy. This idea focuses on the therapist’s ability to see the world through the eyes of the client. Without empathy, the therapist is no longer understanding the actions and thoughts of the client from the client's perspective, but is understanding strictly as a therapist, which defeats the purpose of humanistic therapy. Included in empathizing, unconditional positive regard is one of the key elements of humanistic psychology. Unconditional positive regard refers to the care that the therapist needs to have for the client, which is characterized by warmth, acceptance, and non-judgment. This ensures that the therapist does not become the authority figure in the relationship, and allows for a more open flow of information, as well as a kinder relationship between the two. A therapist practicing humanistic therapy needs to show a willingness to listen and ensure the comfort of the patient where genuine feelings may be shared but are not forced upon someone.
Types of Humanistic Therapies
In humanistic therapy, there are two widely practiced techniques: gestalt therapy and client-centered therapy.
Gestalt therapy focuses on the skills and techniques that permit an individual to be more aware of their feelings. According to this approach, it is much more important to understand what patients are feeling and how they are feeling rather than to identify what is causing their feelings. Previous theories are thought to spend an unnecessary amount of time making assumptions about what causes behavior. Instead, gestalt therapy focuses on the "here and now."
Client-centered therapy provides a supportive environment in which clients can reestablish their true identity. The world that we live in is judgmental, and many of us fear that if we shared with the world our true identity it would judge us relentlessly. Experience with these judgments results in people establishing a public identity to navigate the judgmental world. The ability to reestablish their true identity will help the individual understand themselves as they truly are, which is important as people suppress their feelings about issues because they are not supported, socially acceptable, or lead to unwanted judgment. The task of reestablishing one's true identity is not an easy task and the therapist must rely on the techniques of unconditional positive regard and empathy. These two techniques are central to client-centered therapy because they build trust between the client and therapist by creating a nonjudgmental and supportive environment for the client (Figure 1).