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What is Humanistic Therapy?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 July 2014
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Humanistic therapy is often called the third major wave of development in the practice of therapy. The first wave was Freud and the many psychoanalysts influenced by him, even when they changed major points of thought. The second wave belonged primarily to the school of behaviorism, which emerged at approximately the same time. It was not until these schools were established that humanist psychology was born to present an opposing view to both, in the mid point of the 20th century.

The approach of humanistic psychology was more positively directed in some respects, and drew on philosophy like those of the existentialists. The principal proponents in early days were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. One of the ideas articulated in early humanistic psychology, by Maslow was that people had a hierarchical set of needs. Everyone begins by needing basics like food, air, shelter, then needs things that make them feel secure, such as a decent bank account or a good job. People also require other people as companions. Maslow’s last two needs are self-esteem and self-actualization, the latter being a desire for personal growth.

The humanist movement in general also focuses on the idea that people are innately good and tend toward goodness. In a humanistic therapy context, there is presumption that the true nature of the human is to want to improve, understand himself, and reach high levels of self-perception. This type of thinking influences many methods of therapy today.

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Another important concept in humanistic therapy is that people are more than the sum of their parts. It is called a holistic therapy because it tries to embrace the whole human, who is not just a sum of childhood experiences, but who has free will, an actual desire to improve, and ability to learn and choose.

Surprisingly, though humanistic therapy is often seen as antithetical to behavioral thinking, the approach of cognitive behavioral therapy blends the two very well. It presumes that the person involved in therapy is taking an active interest in better understanding of self, and it trusts that person to do this work with just a little instruction, that also helps create a better understanding of behavior and prove to recondition some ways of thinking.

A big change occurring with humanistic psychology is the idea that people don’t have to be sick, crazy or damaged to require therapy. All people might benefit from it. Though not entirely successful in erasing this stigma, it made “going to therapy” much more acceptable for many people and began the work of ending stigma associated with seeking help from a counselor.

There are still humanist psychologists, and therapists that least incorporate some aspects of its thinking into humanistic therapy. The American Psychological Association maintains a division of humanistic psychology. Just as psychoanalytical and behavioral methods continue to influence, this particular branch is likely to remain influential too.

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Discuss this Article

helene55
Post 4

@BambooForest, you make a point I hadn't thought about, though it is a little far-fetched. Like I said, the idea that people not be stigmatized for receiving therapy is excellent; especially if they need things like anger management therapy or therapy for depression. At the same time, I worry that in recent years people have lost sight of the fact that therapy is, after all, a medical issue, not just something people decide to do, and should be treated as such. While not a bad thing, it is not something everyone "needs".

BambooForest
Post 3

@helene55, I agree with you. On a related, though perhaps paranoid note, the concept of everyone getting therapy puts a huge amount of power in the hands of therapists; while many are indeed great people and wise doctors, some might abuse that power for anything from monetary to even political gain, leading to serious risk of exploitation. In a world where everyone thinks they need therapy, there is less general self-sufficiency, I think.

helene55
Post 2

While I appreciate that humanistic psychology helped erase the stigma of "going to therapy", the feeling that followed in its place, which this article mentions, that everyone might benefit from it, strikes me as a huge problem. Not everyone needs to, or should feel they need to, go to a counselor to talk about the "problems" in their lives.

I don't say this because I think we don't all have problems, but because it seems like just one more symptom of our highly hypochondriac society that we might feel every needs therapy to feel better about themselves or learn about themselves.

vogueknit17
Post 1

I find it refreshing any time I read about any of the views which oppose psychoanalytical theory. While Freud was a very intelligent man who had many interesting ideas, the medical and scientific public too easily forgets that he was not in fact trained as a scientist; in fact, he was not even trained as a doctor. Freud was simply a many who decided to do experiments, similar to if a random politician or other well-educated and reasonably well-known person decided to do so today.

Despite his many ideas, nearly all of his research falls under the category of case study, meaning that by definition it does not apply well to people in general. That said, it does of course apply in some ways to current study, and Humanistic and behavioural study also have their flaws.

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