Humanistic therapy is based on the theoretical and philosophical base of the humanistic school of psychology. The “humanistic” bent of thought focuses purely on self discovery and knowledge. This form of therapy leads the way to self inquiry1. The basic premise of most humanistic therapies includes:
- An understanding subjective experiences
- Belief that each individual inherits potential for self-growth and actualization
- Forming a non-judgemental, authentic, and collaborative relationship between the therapist and the client is encouraged
- Avoid labelling clients with diagnostic inferences
Contemporary humanistic therapy includes the following practice traditions1:
Formulated and devised by Carl Rodgers in 1951, person centred approach in therapy focuses on a positive, and self accepting stance with the following goals2:
- Goals of therapy are decided by the client, not the therapist.
- The client must experience and understand various facets of one’s life to live it constructively
- Developing openness to experiences
- Develop trust for oneself and others
According to Rogers, following six elements burgeon and bolster therapeutic change3:
- Effective Psychological contact between the therapist and client
- Addressing incongruence experienced by the client, between perception of oneself and real life experience.
- Congruence (being in touch with oneself) and genuineness from the therapist’s side
- Unconditional positive regard towards the client.
- Maintaining an empathetic stance towards the client
- Maintaining positive regard and empathy towards the client
Rollo May, one of the leading authors in the field of existential therapy stated that the goal of this therapy is “to set clients free”.1 In this context freedom refers to the possibility of making personal choices without imposed limits. Other primary goals2 of this therapy are authenticity, and experience of one’s existence. The essential themes that are focussed upon are2:
- Freedom: By focusing on present issues and seldom dwelling on the past, the freedom to face personal concerns and challenges of life is provided.
- Responsibility: Responsibility for one’s actions is inherent to such a therapeutic alliance. Essentially, a therapist will attempt to extract the client from the “blame game” and instead recognize one’s role in issues faced.
- Choice: Making active choices encourages clients to focus on action and initiative.
The therapeutic relationship in the existential framework also focuses on exploring existential themes; such as isolation, meaninglessness, etc.
Constructivist therapies don’t have specific developmental or personality theories to their credit. Rather this approach allows a therapist to devise a plan of action based on a client’s independent description of problems4.
- Solution Based Therapy: Based on information elicited, the therapist sets small, achievable goals that highlight possible solutions of the described problems and issues. Some strategies applied include forming a collaborative relationship with the client, complimenting client actions, developing coping skills and a novel phenomenon known as the “miracle question” (focused on an imaginative scenario of a miracle solving the client’s issues).
- Narrative Therapy: Narrative therapists focus on stories narrated by their clients. Problems described in the stories are given due attention by assisting clients in sorting them out5. Two specific methods of narrative therapy are:
Personal Construct Therapy
Epton and White’s Narrative Therapy
- Client issues and problems are discussed in the form of a story unfolding gradually with the client as protagonist.
- As the story unfolds, different themes come to light and are focused on in therapy
- Client issues are focused on from the perspective of how the client views the world around oneself.
- Stories narrated by the client are retold by using techniques related to devising alternate solutions
The strength of humanistic therapies lies in the way they prioritize client expression and behaviours. This framework also allows clients to obtain better insight in their lives. Therefore, these therapies hold an independent position in the field of psychotherapy.
1.Scheider, K., & Leitner, L. (2002). Humanistic psychotherapy. Encyclopedia of psychotherapy. (pp. 949-957). USA;Elsevier Science.
2.Sharf, R. (2012). Theories of psychotherapy and counselling-concepts and cases. Belmont, CA:Brooks/Cole.
3.Rogers, C. R. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21, 95–103.
4.Neimeyer, R. A. (2009). Constructivist psychotherapy: Distinctive features. New York: Routledge.
5.Deurzen, E. Van. (2009). Psychotherapy and the quest for happiness. London: Sage.