Also known as humanism, humanistic therapy is a positive approach to psychotherapy that focuses on a person’s individual nature, rather than categorizing groups of people with similar characteristics as having the same problems. Humanistic therapy looks at the whole person, not only from the therapist’s view but from the viewpoint of individuals observing their own behavior. The emphasis is on a person’s positive traits and behaviors, and the ability to use their personal instincts to find wisdom, growth, healing, and fulfillment within themselves.
When It's Used
Humanistic therapy is used to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, addiction, and relationship issues, including family relationships. People with low self-esteem, who are having trouble finding their purpose or reaching their true potential, who lack feelings of “wholeness,” who are searching for personal meaning, or who are not comfortable with themselves as they are, may also benefit from humanistic therapy.
What to Expect
Humanistic therapy is talk therapy that encompasses a gestalt approach, exploring how a person feels in the here and now, rather than trying to identify past events that led to these feelings. Additionally, the humanistic therapist provides an atmosphere of support, empathy, and trust that allows the individual to share their feelings without fear of judgment. The therapist does not act as an authority figure; rather, the relationship between client and the therapist is one of equals.
How It Works
In the late 1950s, humanism grew out of a need to address what some psychologists saw as the limitations and negative theories of behavioral and psychoanalytic schools of therapy. This was a new, more holistic approach that focused less on pathology, past experiences, and environmental influences on a person’s behavior, and more on the positive side of human nature. Around this time, psychotherapist Abraham Maslow developed a human hierarchy of needs and motivations, and fellow therapist Carl Rogers developed his person-centered approach. Humanistic therapy evolved from these theories. Humanistic therapists believe people are inherently motivated to fulfill their internal needs and their individual potential to become self-actualized. Self-actualization can take many forms, including creative endeavors, spiritual enlightenment, a pursuit of wisdom, or altruism.
What to Look for in a Humanistic Therapist
A humanistic approach may be incorporated into various therapies. A humanistic therapist must be a warm, empathetic, understanding, and non-judgmental person. Look for a licensed, experienced mental health professional with humanistic values and a humanistic approach to their practice. In addition to finding someone with the appropriate educational background and approach, as well as relevant experience, look for a humanistic therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.
- Association of Humanistic Psychology website. Historic Review of Humanistic Psychology.
- Association for Humanistic Psychology in Britain website.
- Kirk J, Schneider J, Pierson F. ed. The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice. Second Ed. 2015, Sage Publications, Inc.