What is Humanistic Therapy?
Humanistic therapy was first created by Carl Roger and Abraham Maslow during the 20th century. Humanistic therapy founded on the belief that people have an ordered set of needs that must be fulfilled in order to achieve personal growth. In other words, your needs are hierarchical. Your most basics needs include: air, food and shelter. Once you have satisfied those basic needs then you can concentrate on your need to feel safe and secure. This may include a need to have money to pay bills or a need to have a stable job. Once you has fulfilled the need to feel safe and secure, then you can focus on your need to have companionship. Once you have satisfied your need for companionship then you can concentrate on fulfilling your need for self-esteem and self-actualization.
Humanistic therapy centers on the belief that you are inherently good and that you will naturally gravitate towards goodness. The assumption is that deep down you truly want to improve your life, understand yourself better and reach your ultimate potential.
Humanistic therapy asserts that you are more than the sum of your parts. In other words, there is more to you then your childhood experiences. You have the ability to alter your life story, change your thoughts and behaviors and improve your life. This form of psychotherapy is called holistic because it looks at you as a complete human being instead of the sum of your experiences. Humanistic therapists believe that you have the ability to learn from your mistakes and make wise decisions.
How Do Humanistic Therapists Approach Psychological Issues?
Humanistic therapists believe that it is essential that you take an active role in the therapy process. Taking an active role in therapy allows you to better understand yourself. It also improves your self-confidence and fosters independence with the hope that you will eventually be able to resolve your future problems with little to no guidance from your therapist. This form of therapy focuses on the here and now. Humanistic therapists teach you how to look beyond your past experiences and biases and concentrate on how your present thoughts and behaviors are contributing to your problems.
Humanistic therapists believe that therapy is beneficial for all people, not just those who have psychological issues and/or mental illness. They typically use a variety of psychological approaches to help you find alternative solutions to your problems.
A key concept in humanistic therapy is empathy. It is important your therapist see the world through your eyes. If your therapist cannot empathize with what you are going through then there is a significant risk that he/she will include his/her own biases and prejudices into the therapy session. If this occurs then therapy will be unsuccessful.
Another key concept in humanistic therapy is unconditional positive regard. For therapy to be successful, your therapist must make you his/her first priority while you are with him/her. In other words, your therapist must actually care for you. Your therapist’s unconditional positive regard for you prevents him/her from becoming the “ominous authority figure.” This approach fosters a safe, secure and supportive environment and it gives you the freedom to express how you really feel.
What Happens During Humanistic Therapy Sessions?
During humanistic therapy sessions, your therapist may use role playing as a way to open up the channels of communication. Role playing gives you an opportunity to express yourself in a non-threatening manner. During the role play, your therapist will assess your unspoken cues as a way to determine your actual thoughts and feelings.
It is important to note that your humanistic therapist must be willing to actively listen to what you have to share with him/her. He/she must also provide you with a safe, secure and supportive environment so that you can freely express your inner most thoughts and feelings. If you do not feel comfortable with your therapist then therapy will be unsuccessful. The main role of your therapist is to make sure that your feelings are being respected, that you feel accepted and that he/she has an authentic understanding of your problems.
When a therapist is authentic, you will develop a comfortable and supportive client-therapist relationship. You will be more likely to share your inner most thoughts and feelings, if you feel that your therapist has your best interests at heart. Your therapist will foster this relationship by focusing on your positive attributes and experience and downplaying your problems and issues. The goal of humanistic therapy is to help you become a stronger and healthier version of yourself (self-actualization).
During therapy sessions, your therapist does not guide the conversation or force you to talk about things that are uncomfortable or sensitive, rather he/she allows you to take control of the sessions. Your therapist also does not try to analyze your behaviors or decipher what you tell him/her.
Carlson, N. R. (2010). Psychology the science of behavior. Canada: Pearson Canada Inc.
Taylor, E. (2009). The zen doctrine of “no-method”. The Humanistic Psychologist, 37(4), 295-306.