Who Is an Existential-Humanistic Therapist?

Part 2: Being in the present moment.

Posted Jan 22, 2019

You’re interested in therapy. A friend mentioned the existential-humanistic perspective. You are curious – what does that kind of therapy entail? What is unique about Existential-Humanistic Therapy?

In my previous blog, ‘Why See an Existential-Humanistic Therapist’, I explored six core values, qualities, and skills which an existential-humanistic therapist embraces. This includes using congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard, which is a paradigm pioneered by Carl Rogers, Ph.D.

In this blog, I'll explore five more core values, qualities and skills of an existential-humanistic (E-H) therapist. They are:

1) The E-H therapist intends to be fully engaged in the present moment. They recognize when vital elements of the client's past and future are contained in the present moment. They explore what emerges from the present moment, which can facilitate change that ranges from subtle to dramatic.

2) The E-H therapist believes their clients know themselves better than the therapist can ever know them. The therapist’s task is not to give answers to the client, but to provide the container for the client to discover their own answers.

3) The E-H therapist is comfortable with ‘not knowing.’ They have the ability to remain present and be patient with the client’s process until the mystery of ‘not knowing’ transforms into increased clarity.

4) The E-H therapist is patient with silence until the therapist or client has something relevant to say, thus drawing the client deeper into their immediate experience.

5) The E-H therapist trusts that any awareness which emerges in the present moment, within the client, the therapist, and between them, will lead to the exact intervention that will best move the client’s process forward.

I want to acknowledge Jim Bugental, PhD., for teaching me the vital importance of being in the present moment with the client and exploring what unfolds from that moment. Jim was a pioneer in developing existential-humanistic therapy in the United States and I was honored to have him as my mentor for many years. When I interviewed him in 2002, he passionately emphasized the importance of being fully present in the moment by saying, "And now . . . and now . . . and now . . . this is all we have."

Stay tuned for my next blog, where I will explore the third set of values, qualities, and skills of an existential-humanistic therapist.