What Is Humanistic Therapy, And Will It Work Well For Me?

Updated December 5, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you’re considering beginning therapy to address life’s challenges or specific mental health struggles, you may wonder what type of therapy to pursue. One therapeutic approach used by many mental health professionals is humanistic therapy. Humanistic therapy helps individuals recognize their inner strengths and use them to overcome challenges.

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

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What Is Humanistic Therapy?

Humanistic therapy is based on the concept that humans have the power to make healthy decisions. A humanistic therapist may use empathy and non-judgmental support to help individuals recognize their inner strengths and their innate capacity to meet their own needs. Humanistic therapists may also encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions (or lack of action) in order to bring about positive change.

There are several different types of humanistic therapy, including:

  • Person-centered therapy: This type of therapy uses active listening to help individuals lead themselves towards solutions. 

  • Gestalt therapy: Gestalt therapists help individuals focus on their present circumstances and set goals for making changes.

  • Rogerian therapy: Rogerian therapy assumes that the individual receiving therapy treatment is an expert in their own life. As such, the client leads the therapy sessions while the therapist provides support.

  • Existential therapy: This therapy type challenges individuals to confront their responsibility for their life’s circumstances and to use free will to make different decisions.

How Does Humanistic Therapy Work?

Humanistic therapy techniques use several key focus areas to empower individuals to transform their own lives. 

Positive Traits And Behaviors

Rather than emphasizing the ways individuals are dysfunctional, humanistic approaches may focus on an individual’s positive attributes. The right therapist may guide you toward developing healthy behaviors instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of your life. From a humanistic perspective, every individual is inherently good, powerful, and creative. As you learn to recognize the creative ways you have solved problems in the past, you will learn to use those same strengths to manage your current challenges.

Personal Intuition

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

Meeting Needs

Humanistic therapists may act as a guide 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 humanistic therapist may not directly push you or tell you what to do. Instead, they may use active listening and empathetic support to help you realize your power to make changes and meet your needs.

Accomplishing Goals

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

Mental Health Challenges Addressed In Humanistic Therapy

Because humanistic therapy is not 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 can help with, including:

  • 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

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

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Therapist Listening Techniques

Humanistic therapists use active listening techniques to ensure they fully understand the individual’s problems, needs, and goals. For instance, if the therapist doesn’t understand something you've said, they may ask you to talk more about it. 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.

Humanistic therapists listen to individuals 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. A good therapist-client relationship may help make therapy more beneficial with this philosophical approach.

Assuming You're Good

A central assumption in humanistic therapy is that all individuals are inherently good. Humanistic therapists work to remind you that you are a good person dealing with a difficult situation. In humanistic counseling, you aren't labeled according to the mental health problems you face but are empowered to cope with them.

Acknowledging Your Power To Decide

Mental health challenges may make individuals feel powerless. For instance, you may feel that someone else or a particular circumstance needs to change before you can overcome your problems. Humanistic therapy helps you realize your power over any situation. Even though you may not be able to change those around you or their actions, you decide how you will respond to each new situation. Your essential power to decide is foundational to the humanistic approach to therapy.

Treating You As A Whole Person

Humanistic therapy 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 play an active role in your treatment. Humanistic therapists see you as a unique combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual factors. This contrasts with some other popular types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which considers only your individual thoughts and behaviors.

Recognizing You As An Individual

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

Dealing With Issues In The Here And Now

Some therapy types 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 examine problems as they are currently being experienced.

Accepting Responsibility

In humanistic therapy, everyone may be encouraged to accept responsibility for meeting their own needs instead of blaming others. Accepting responsibility encourages individuals to recognize their role in their own life, whether that role involved creating the problem at hand or refusing to manage it. This gives individuals power and control over life’s problems.

Finding Solutions

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

Does Humanistic Therapy Work?

Humanistic therapy is an evidence-based treatment shown to produce 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.

The Benefits Of Online Therapy

Online therapy gives individuals living with mental health challenges the opportunity to conveniently get licensed mental health professionals, all from the comfort of their home. If you’re interested in trying several different therapeutic approaches, such as humanistic therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or CBT, online therapy gives you the flexibility to meet with multiple mental health professionals while you determine which therapy type will work best for you. Additionally, online therapy allows you to get 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.

BetterHelp Therapist Reviews

BetterHelp’s licensed online counselors have helped many individuals move through mental health challenges. Here are a few reviews from BetterHelp users who have gotten support online.

"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."


Humanistic therapy may work well for individuals experiencing many different types of mental health symptoms. By empowering individuals to recognize their own strength and make positive life changes, humanistic therapy may help people create a healthier life, even after therapy has ended. If you’re interested in humanistic therapy techniques, scheduling an online appointment with a licensed therapist practicing humanistic techniques is a great place to start. To schedule your first appointment online, take our brief questionnaire and be matched with a therapist.

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