What is Humanistic Therapy?

Updated November 22, 2022 · 2 Min Read

Explore this resource by Best Counseling Degrees to learn all about humanistic therapy.

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Humanism or humanistic therapy isn’t precisely a new concept, but it emphasizes different philosophical and practical concepts in the realm of psychology. In fact, humanism is a well-known concept in philosophical circles that has made its mark on the lay community. Because of this, it often helps patients be more accepting and open to therapeutic work. In the article below, we’ll outline the major features of this approach, how it differs from more classical psychoanalytical interpretation and therapies, and provide a bit of context for the interested student reader.

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History of Humanistic Therapy

While traditional approaches to therapy tend to parse people with common disorders, behaviors, or traits into groups in order to apply a tested behavioral or psychoanalytic approach, humanism is different. Heavily influenced by 20th century existentialist philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Soren Kirkegaard, and Martin Buber, the approach emphasizes the individual.

Its divergence from more traditional approaches doesn’t end there. As if to borrow from the field of Anthropology, it also abandons the premise that the therapist is an authority on the internal, subjective experience of the individual. This is a paradigm roughly equivalent to the etic/emic dichotomy in ethnology. The former represents the scholarly, outsider perspective, taking a more scientific and standardized approach. The latter relies on the perspectives of the culture or individual being interviewed, and uses the frameworks of their perception or cultural understanding to explain phenomena.

How Does Humanism Work?

Humanistic therapy can be separated into three differing therapeutic styles. While they all rely on the experiences of the individual, there are subtle differences that can help therapists to more aptly assist their patients. The first, which we touched upon above, is client-centered therapy. This type of humanism utilizes personal interest and compassion as its main tools for improvement.

The second type of humanism is existential therapy. This approach utilizes the search for meaning—in the patient’s life, their personal path, and a larger context—as its main focus. If a therapist uses this sort of therapeutic approach, it’s likely that the use of major philosophers of that particular school will come into play. This can often help patients who are seeking to understand their place within society and as human beings. It can also assist those who feel lost within the rush and bustle of modern culture.

The last distinct type of this therapeutic approach is Gestalt therapy. It focuses on the present moment, the circumstances at hand, and demands personal accountability for actions and choices within a flexible framework. While it is quite successful, many therapists utilize it as a part of a holistic approach, which blends all three types to meet the needs of their individual clients.

Humanism is quite effective as a therapeutic paradigm, especially in western societies that emphasize the individual but often fail to provide a framework for them. Rather than seeking a root cause, it helps individuals to explore the present circumstances, express and explore emotional and intellectual responses to the Present, and assume an appropriate or healthy level of responsibility for their responses. Humanistic therapy is successfully utilized to treat an array of disorders and disorders including anxiety disorders, personality and emotional disorders and patients of many types.

See also: The 50 Best Low-Cost Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

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