Humanistic Therapy

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

If you’re considering beginning therapy to address life’s challenges or specific mental health difficulties, you may wonder what type of therapy to pursue. One therapeutic approach used by many mental health professionals is humanistic therapy, sometimes referred to as client-centered therapy. Humanistic therapy is different from traditional approaches and can help individuals recognize their strengths and use them to overcome challenges and find self-actualization.

Research confirms that online therapy with a licensed mental health professional may be an effective treatment modality for many mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. Connecting with a supportive online therapist may help you overcome difficulties and move forward from unhealthy habits and limiting behaviors.

Ready to harness your inner strength to solve life’s challenges?

What is humanistic therapy?

Humanistic therapy is a type of talk therapy generally based on the concept that humans have the power to make healthy decisions. A therapist may use empathy and non-judgmental support (often referred to as unconditional positive regard) to help individuals recognize their inner strengths and their innate capacity to meet their own needs. In this therapeutic modality, therapists may also encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions (or lack of action) to bring about positive change.

There can be several types of humanistic therapies, including:

  • Person-centered therapy: This client-center therapy, often uses active listening to help individuals lead themselves toward solutions. In client-centered therapy, the therapist generally helps people determine what will make them happy in life and identify the approaches they should take to get there.
  • Gestalt therapy: Gestalt therapy techniques can help individuals focus on their present circumstances and set goals for making changes. The Gestalt approach is focused on orienting the client in the present moment and may involve role-playing, bodywork, and dream work. In general, Gestalt therapy operates on the general idea that humans can be greatly impacted by their current environment.
  • Rogerian therapy: Carl Rogers developed Rogerian therapy which typically assumes that the individual receiving therapy treatment is an expert on their own life. Carl Rogers believed that the therapist should be supportive but let the client guide the therapy sessions.
  • Existential therapy: Existential therapy frequently challenges individuals to confront their responsibility for their life’s circumstances and to use free will to make different decisions.
  • Narrative therapy: This therapy has individuals determine their values, skills, and strengths by telling their own stories in their own words. Attending narrative therapy sessions often helps to separate a person from their problems.

Each of these therapies may be helpful for different people depending on their challenges and goals, and each type of humanistic therapy usually includes the aspect of unconditional positive regard.

How does humanistic therapy work?

Humanistic therapy is a holistic approach to therapy that includes techniques that often use several key focus areas to empower individuals to transform their own lives. Humanistic therapy sessions generally focus on the individual and developing personal meaning within a variety of environmental influences.  

Positive traits and behaviors

Rather than emphasizing the ways individuals may be dysfunctional or the disorders with which they may be living, humanistic approaches usually focus on an individual’s positive attributes, which is a core belief of humanistic therapists. The right therapist may guide you toward developing healthy behaviors by focusing on your positive characteristics instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of your life. This was described by Carl Rogers as unconditional positive regard, where the therapist shows complete support for the client, no matter what they say or do. As you learn to recognize the creative ways you have solved problems in the past, you may learn to use those same strengths to manage your current challenges.

Personal intuition

Humanistic therapy generally assumes you have the wisdom and tools to manage problems yourself and make positive choices. While the therapist may help you find answers to your mental health challenges, any decisions made are usually based on your intuition and innate sense of right and wrong.

Meeting needs

In this form of counseling, therapists may act as guides as you identify unfulfilled needs in your own life. Once you’ve identified what you need, they may facilitate your quest to meet those needs for yourself. A therapist may not directly push you or tell you what to do. Instead, they may use active listening, empathetic support, and unconditional positive regard to help you realize your power to make changes and meet your needs.


Accomplishing goals

A central tenet of humanistic psychology is generally that all individuals want to achieve personal growth and become their best selves. While many types of therapy may focus on the treatment of specific emotions or symptoms through a structured approach, this approach usually views personal growth as the only goal. The humanistic therapy approach may not be a problem-oriented approach but a growth-oriented one. While it usually doesn’t ignore specific mental health challenges, it may recognize them as an indication that your needs are unmet.

Mental health challenges addressed in humanistic therapy

Because humanistic therapy is not normally designed to address specific problems or behaviors, you may wonder what mental health symptoms can be effectively addressed with a humanistic therapy approach. There are many mental health disorders and challenges that humanistic therapy may help improve, including the following:

  • Depression

  • Panic disorders

  • Anxiety

  • PTSD

  • Personality disorders

  • Schizophrenia

  • Addiction

  • Relationship issues, including those with an authority figure

  • Family conflict

  • Personal development

  • Self-esteem

  • Life meaning and personal responsibility

  • Personal growth

Techniques used during humanistic sessions

Therapists may rely on several techniques and assumptions to help individuals achieve personal goals. The underlying principles listed below can be ways of looking at yourself and your problems through the approach of humanistic psychology. These techniques can aid you in changing your behavior, emotions, and words.

Therapist listening techniques

Humanistic therapists are client-centered and often use active listening techniques to ensure they fully understand the individual’s concerns, needs, and goals. For instance, if the therapist doesn’t understand something you've said, they may ask you to talk more about it. While the therapist listens, they might also repeat what they heard to ensure they understood you correctly. Along the way, they may encourage you through their facial expressions, body language, and encouraging questions.

Therapists normally listen to individuals nonjudgmentally, with empathetic understanding. Because humanism typically recognizes you as a good person, humanistic therapists may allow you to work through your maladaptive thoughts during therapy while helping you find the good within yourself. A good client-therapist relationship may help make therapy more beneficial with this philosophical approach.

Assuming you're innately good

A central assumption in humanistic therapy can be that all individuals are inherently good. Therapists practice unconditional acceptance and often remind you that you are a good person who may be experiencing a difficult situation. In humanistic counseling, you aren't usually labeled according to the mental health problems you face but may be empowered to cope with them.

Acknowledging your power to decide

Mental health challenges may create a sense of powerlessness. For instance, you may believe that someone else or a particular circumstance needs to change before you can overcome your problems. Humanistic therapy can help you realize your power over any situation. Even though you may not be able to change those around you or their actions, you can decide how you will respond to each new situation. Your essential power to decide can be foundational to this approach to therapy.

Treating you as a whole person

Humanistic therapy often treats you as a whole person who perceives, thinks, behaves, believes, and has specific human needs. In humanistic therapy, your past experiences and individual characteristics can play an active role in your treatment. Therapists usually see you as a unique combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual factors. This can contrast with some other popular types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which typically primarily addresses only your individual thoughts and behaviors.

Recognizing you as an individual

Humanistic psychology often recognizes that no two people may be exactly alike. You are a unique individual, and you alone may be best suited to solve your problems with the humanistic approach. 

iStock/SDI Productions
Ready to harness your inner strength to solve life’s challenges?

Coping with issues in the here and now

Some therapy types may focus on resolving issues, thoughts, choices, or events from the past. If you have experienced trauma, addressing these events may be an important part of your therapeutic journey. However, humanistic therapy methods typically examine problems as they are currently being experienced.

Accepting responsibility

Accepting responsibility is challenging and can seem contrary to human nature. In humanistic therapy, everyone may be encouraged to accept responsibility for meeting their own needs instead of blaming others. Accepting responsibility often encourages individuals to recognize their role in their own lives, whether that role involves creating the problem at hand or refusing to manage it. This can give individuals power and control over life’s problems.

Finding solutions

Humanistic therapists don’t usually provide individuals with solutions to their problems. Instead, they may help clients discover the power to find their own solutions through questions that help them recognize their creative problem-solving abilities. Therapists typically believe you know yourself best, so you may be the best person to make the right decision for you. Additionally, because you alone may live with the consequences of your decisions, it can be important that the decisions are made by you. 

Does humanistic therapy work?

Humanistic therapy is an evidence-based treatment that can produce a significant change in individuals over time. In a literature review summarizing the effectiveness of humanistic therapy approaches, humanistic therapy was shown to have equivalent effectiveness to other types of therapy, such as CBT.

Exploring the benefits of online therapy

Online therapy can give individuals living with mental health challenges the opportunity to conveniently get help from licensed mental health professionals from the comfort of their homes. If you or your family are interested in trying several different therapeutic approaches, such as humanistic therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or CBT, online therapy may give you the flexibility to meet with multiple mental health professionals while you determine which therapy type may work best for you. Additionally, online therapy can enable you to connect with mental health professionals outside of your geographic area, which can be helpful for those looking to explore several different therapeutic approaches before beginning formal therapy.

As this study explains, online therapy can be effective in treating a variety of mental health disorders. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you deserve.


Humanistic therapy may work well for individuals experiencing many types of mental health challenges. By empowering individuals to recognize their strengths and make positive life changes, humanistic therapy may help people create healthier lives, even after therapy has ended. If you’re interested in humanistic therapy techniques, scheduling an online appointment with a licensed therapist practicing humanistic techniques can be a great place to start.
Explore mental health and healing in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started