What is humanistic therapy?
Humanistic therapy is a positive approach to psychotherapy which focuses on a person’s individual nature and emphasizes the importance of being true to yourself in order to lead the most fulfilling life possible.
It is based on the principle that everyone looks at the world in a unique way, which impacts our choices and actions. It is also based on the core belief that people are good at heart and capable of making right choices for themselves.
Most therapists who do humanistic therapy believe that if you don’t hold yourself to a high regard, it would be harder to reach your full potential. This means that they place emphasis on a person’s positive traits and behaviours, and a person’s ability to use personal instincts to find wisdom, growth, health and fulfilment within themselves.
Humanistic therapy includes a number of approaches. The most common of which are:
Gestalt therapy is based on the client’s personal experiences. The client would be asked to describe what they are going through in their own words. This is based on the theory that unresolved conflicts, with both family and romantic partners, can lead to distress.
Gestalt therapy provides a space where the client can explore things that are bothering them. Therapists would also create the “here and now” atmosphere by asking how certain emotions make them feel.
A range of techniques can be used, such as:
Exaggerating a behaviour
Reenacting a scenario
(e.g. a client is asked to visualise a person they are having a conflict with and are told to carry out a conversation as if the person were sitting across from them)
Client-centered therapy is also known as person-centered therapy or Rogerian therapy. This can also be known as the main type of humanistic therapy and is based on the idea that absorbing criticism or disapproval from others can change the way one sees themselves.
Client-centered therapists believe that absorbing criticism or disapproval from others blocks personal growth and prevents you from living a fulfilling life, which can lead to mental distress. This would lead them to develop a strong client-therapist relationship, and would unconditionally accept the client even if they do not agree with the client’s behaviour.
This is because feeling accepted in therapy can help the clients avoid holding back out of fear or disapproval. Usually the therapist would allow the client to guide the direction of the therapy, as opposed to the therapist guiding the sessions as they would in other types of therapy.
Existential therapy draws more from philosophy than other types of therapy. The goal of this type of therapy is to help the client understand how their existence might affect their worldview. This can allow the client to understand and explore the meaning that they give to things that happen in their lives.
In existential therapy, clients learn to take responsibility for the choices made by them and help them realise the freedom they have in making changes in their lives to give it a greater meaning.
The therapist would mainly be concerned with issues the client is currently facing rather than things from the past and will consider how thoughts might affect the client’s mental health and establish goals.
Psychological problems that humanistic therapy can help with
Coping with chronic health issues
Low self esteem
In the therapy sessions, the therapist would help the client better understand their worldview, and help the client develop self acceptance. This is done through the development of unconditional positive regard from both the client and the client’s peers.
Therapists believe that it is easy for a client to constantly feel like they are not enough if they believe that others would only respect them if they act a certain way. They also believe that those feelings can negatively impact how the client views themselves and the world around them, which can therefore have negative impacts on thoughts and actions.
Through the therapy sessions, clients would be able to develop self acceptance and learn to overcome criticism or disapproval from others due to the safe space this therapy offers.
The positivity of the therapy sessions can lead to personal growth for clients. It also allows for a non-judgemental space to process emotions and experiences which can help in treating various mental health conditions.
The individualistic focus of the therapy sessions also helps clients learn problem solving and self soothing skills, which can help with those who are struggling with stress and anxiety. This can also help increase self-esteem.
A review from 2002 of 86 studies found that humanistic therapy is very effective at helping people make lasting change over time. Those who received humanistic therapy showed much more change than those who were in no therapy at all.
While humanistic therapy is very effective in promoting change over time, it also has its limitations. It can be very overwhelming for individuals with complex problems and the benefits are not as easily researched as some other types of therapy. This means that there is not a lot of clinically backed data in support of humanistic therapy compared to other types of therapy, for example, cognitive behavioural therapy.
Therapists understand that cognitive behavioural therapy is not for everyone. Therefore, there is a range of alternative treatments that a therapist might talk about during your assessment before any sort of therapy.
Some of these alternatives might include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Despite these alternatives, some may choose to only take medication, and some may not even choose to seek professional help.