Humanistic Therapy: Definition And Techniques
Updated November 20, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Humanism is a school of thought that recognizes the good in people as individuals. While that sounds wonderful in theory, it may be hard to imagine how it translates into a therapy situation. If you need to solve a personal or mental health problem, you might want to consider talking to a humanistic therapist. Understanding the humanistic therapy definition and its components and techniques is a good starting point.
What Is Humanistic Therapy?
So, what is humanistic therapy? What does it emphasize and what kinds of problems can it help you solve? The following brief look at a humanistic therapy definition and the ideas behind that definition can help you understand.
Humanistic therapy is a psychological treatment that's based on the theory that humans are good and have the power to make their own decisions. It also recognizes that humans have certain needs that need to be met and that each can benefit from accepting responsibility for meeting those needs.
Focus On Positive Traits And Behaviors
Rather than emphasizing the ways a person is dysfunctional or "less than," humanistic therapy focuses on your positive attributes. The therapist guides you in developing healthy behaviors instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of your life. You are seen as a good, powerful, and creative person. As you learn to view yourself from this positive perspective, you become more capable and successful in solving your problems.
Focus On Personal Intuition
Humanistic therapy assumes that you have the wisdom and can gain the knowledge to deal with your problems yourself. Certainly, the therapist is there to help you find the answers to your mental health challenges. However, you make these decisions based on your intuition and sense of right and wrong.
Focus On Meeting Your Own Needs
When you talk to a humanistic therapist, they guide you as you find out which of your needs are unfulfilled. Then, they facilitate your quest to meet those needs for yourself. The therapist isn't there to push you or tell you what to do. They're only there to listen to you, provide a sounding board for you, and help you realize that you have the power to make the changes you need to make to meet those needs.
Focus On Accomplishing Your Own Goals
While many people begin therapy to overcome a problem, others go because they want to become more successful or happier. Abram Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, stated that self-actualization isn't just a want, but it's a need that's common to all humans. Self-actualization means becoming your best self. Humanistic therapists acknowledge that self-actualization is something you must accomplish for yourself.
Issues Addressed In Humanistic Therapy
You might be surprised at the range of issues that can be treated through humanistic therapy. This type of therapy doesn't ignore these problems. Instead, it recognizes them as indications that you have needs you must meet to be mentally healthy and happy. The following list is not complete, and there are other issues that can benefit from humanistic therapy.
- Panic disorders
- Personality disorders
- Relationship issues
- Family issues
- Personal development
Humanistic Therapy Techniques
Humanistic therapists rely on a positive perspective rather than a lot of gimmicky techniques. The techniques listed below are ways of looking at you and your problems. They aid you in finding your solutions for your struggles.
Therapist Listening Techniques
By using active listening techniques, the therapist keeps you engaged in the therapy session. They show that they're listening to simple phrases and facial expressions. If they don't understand something you've said, they might ask you to talk more about it. They might also tell you what they heard and asked if they understood you correctly. They encourage you all along the way.
In addition to listening actively, the humanistic therapist listens nonjudgmentally. Because humanism recognizes you as a good person, humanistic therapists allow you to work through your maladaptive thoughts during therapy while helping you find the good within yourself.
Assuming You're Good
Yes, humanistic therapy does operate under the assumption that you're good. You are good enough to overcome any problems or challenges you have or, at the least, learn to cope with them healthily. In humanistic therapy, you aren't labeled according to the mental health challenges you face. That isn't who you are to a humanistic therapist. Instead, you are a good person dealing with a difficult situation.
Acknowledging Your Power To Decide
When you're facing a mental health problem or crisis, you might feel powerless to overcome it. You might feel that someone else or some circumstance needs to be changed for you before you can get relief. However, humanistic therapy acknowledges and helps you realize your power in any situation. Even if you can't change the person or the situation, you can decide how you will respond to it. This power to decide is a foundation of humanistic therapy.
Treating You As A Whole Person
Some types of therapy deal with one aspect of who you are. Cognitive behavioral therapy works just with your thoughts and behaviors. Virtual reality therapy emphasizes your responses to perceived threats. Humanistic therapy, though, is a Gestalt therapy in that it treats you as a whole person - a person who perceives, thinks, behaves, believes, and has specific human needs. You are a combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects that make up the totality of who you are.
Recognizing You As An Individual
Humanistic therapy doesn't seek to categorize you. It recognizes that no two people are exactly alike. Building on your uniqueness, you can blossom into a beautiful expression of human goodness that exists nowhere else but within you. Not only are you a unique individual, but you are the one best suited to solving your problems.
Dealing With Issues In The Here And Now
Some therapies are focused on resolving issues from the past. This may be important to you, and if so, you may need to choose another type of therapy to deal with past traumas or abuse. Humanistic therapy deals with problems in the here and now, as they are happening. If what you are doing now is an expression of a problem from the past, you can choose differently where you are, in the present moment.
Identifying Your Needs
One of the most important things you need to do in humanistic therapy sessions is to get to the bottom of what you need in life. Your therapist might ask you open-ended questions to encourage you to talk out your problems and find the unfulfilled needs behind those challenges. It isn't always easy to recognize your needs, but a therapist can prompt you to look deeper at your mental health issues until you find your underlying need.
In the humanistic tradition, everyone must accept responsibility for meeting their own needs. When you do this, you free yourself to find solutions where none seemed to exist before. Instead of blaming others for your problems, you recognize the part you play, whether that is in creating the problem or not dealing with it in a positive, productive way. The wonderful thing about accepting responsibility is that when you do, you gain control and power over your responses to the problem.
Your therapist won't tell you what to do about your situation. That's partly because they recognize that you are the one who is going to live with the consequences of your choices. It's also because you know yourself better than anyone else, so you're in the best position to decide what's right for you.
A humanistic counselor is typically very cognizant of their professional boundaries. This is important in humanistic therapy because therapy is intended to help you find your solutions. So, rather than offering solutions, the therapist is more likely to ask questions that help you access your creative problem-solving abilities.
Connecting With A Humanistic Therapist
If humanistic therapy makes sense to you as a helpful way to deal with your mental health challenges, you might want to begin therapy with a therapist who practices that style of therapy. You can choose from hundreds of therapists at BetterHelp for online therapy. Many of the Better Help therapists practice humanistic methods. You can find out about each therapist by reading their profile on the BetterHelp website. Below you can read some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people who have been helped.
"I've been working with Maria for a couple months now and found this time so worthwhile. I feel like she's very good at understanding where I'm coming from and supports me in a loving and compassionate way. She has a way of guiding me to feel more empowered and to think for myself. I look forward to her messages and phone calls because she more often than not offers another insight I can reflect on. I would highly recommend her to my friends who is looking for support towards a healthy and compassionate self."
"I'm not sure I have the adequate words to express how much Dr. Drew has helped me. She is supportive, and has given me so many different outlets and tools to work through our therapy together. I have had therapists who have tunnel vision in where they'd like to direct the conversation, and it was a relief to not have that with Dr. Drew. She lets me organically go where I need to in the session. She also has been able to connect with my personality and direct therapy in a fashion that is conducive to my learning. I couldn't recommend her enough."
As you come to understand yourself in a more positive light, you can take charge of your responses to stress and bad situations. By the time you've been in therapy for a short while, you'll already be starting to make the changes you need to improve your thoughts, your behaviors, and your physical health. Your issues are manageable, all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.