What is Humanistic Psychotherapy?

Also referred to as Person-Centred Therapy, Humanistic Psychotherapy is centred in the subjective experiencing of the client, without judgement, bias or authoritative position. Rather than being an explicit approach, Humanistic Psychotherapy is rather a series of principles and core beliefs that many other approaches absorb as a foundational component of their methodology such as Existentialism or Gestalt, although it can be considered an approach in its own right in simply exercising therapeutic practice based on these core ideas. Humanistic Psychotherapy believes that every individual has an innate and natural potential to grow and to heal, and key to the therapeutic exchange is helping the client uncover and nurture these inner forces through provision of a facilitating environment. Humanistic psychotherapy saw the gradual shift from people seeking treatment being referred to as ‘patients’ being analysed by an expert in a dyadic exchange, to people being referred to as ‘clients’ reinforcing the equality of the therapeutic relationship. Humanistic psychotherapy is concerned with potentiality and growth, rather than the ideas of freeing an individual from their neurosis through analysis and understanding of their subconscious functioning.

History of Humanistic Psychotherapy

The Humanistic Psychotherapy movement arose from perceived limitations in the dominate approaches of the 1950s, being psychoanalysis and behaviourism. Abraham Maslow was pivotal in establishing the foundations for a new approach that emphasised positivity and potential in the therapeutic exchange. Maslow developed the concepts surrounding the hierarchies of human needs and the individual responsibility for growth and fulfilment. Carl Rogers was also considered to be one of the founding fathers of Humanistic Psychotherapy, providing the platform for the framework of humanistic practice that challenged the dominate view of psychoanalysis as to what was required for effective treatment of individuals. He defined three ‘Core Conditions’ that a therapist must develop in order to work effectively with a client in order to facilitate change, in Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathic Understanding. Other therapists such as Fritz-Perls developed the Gestalt methodology through the underlying principles of Humanistic Psychotherapy.

Key Terms in Humanistic Psychotherapy

  • Self-actualisation
  • Congruence
  • Unconditional Positive Regard
  • Empathic Understanding
  • The Facilitating Environment
  • The Hierarchy of Needs
  • Peak Experience
  • Attunement

Where Humanistic Psychotherapy is useful

The core functions of psychotherapy are essential in creating the foundations for beneficial therapy and often this can be enough for an individual. Being reminded of their innate potentials and being held in an attuned and contained space can have a hugely transformative effect, particularly if this is an experience, until therapy, an individual has not been exposed to.

Where Humanistic Psychotherapy may not be useful

Humanistic Psychotherapy relies on principles that the human is responsible for their own growth and potential, and merely in providing the correct and attuned environment, change can and will be facilitated. This could be considered to be an inadequate assumption, as it implies that all that is required from therapy is an appropriate environment and an individual’s ‘process’ will simply unfold. While in some instances this may be the case, this principle can relegate the hugely powerful defensive structures of the ego and subconscious to a secondary drive, suggesting that an individual’s negative feelings will dissapate and transform simply from consistent care from the therapist and being reminded of their own potential. This can often unfold in therapy as frustrations of the client going round in circles, with the therapist simply providing an empathic and attuned space without the addition of constructive and directive analytic intervention.