Humanistic Therapy — An Alternative Approach

Humanistic Therapy

Whenever we think of therapy, we think of lying down on the infamous Freudian couch, analyzing our dreams, talking about childhood problems, and making free associations. The prospect of humanistic therapy, which is distinctly different from psychoanalytic therapy. Publicization of the psychoanalytic method has been done amply as it is commonly shown in movies. However, there is a broad range of therapeutic techniques that are substantially different from Freud’s manner, and require some amount of attention.

Humanistic therapy is one such form of therapy. To understand the basic tenets that constitute humanistic therapy, its emergence must also be kept in mind. Humanistic thought within psychology had sprouted in opposition to psychodynamic thought popularized by Freud. Psychoanalytic understanding largely portrayed human beings in a directly ‘negative’ way. That is to say, it focused on the darker aspects of being human, and emphasised on the basic impulses of man, which is fundamentally no different than that of an animal. Humanistic psychologists, in contrast, countered this view strongly by asserting a person’s capability to reach his/her highest potential, and focusing on the ‘positive’ aspects. A human being, in the opinion of humanistic thought, strives to reach her maximum potential, and is completely different, in this respect, from the psychoanalytic human being who is constantly finding ways to repress or satisfy her basic urges.

The largely popularized idea of a human being achieving ‘self-actualization’ was actually brought on the forefront by a humanistic psychologist known as Abraham Maslow. Carl Rogers, another humanistic psychologist, believed this tendency to ultimately lead to us becoming ‘fully functional persons’, similar to Maslow’s idea of a self-actualized individuals. However, most of us find it difficult to reach this goal because of external factors within our environment, and when these become especially demanding, we experience several inadequacies that can cause mental problems. The humanistic approach for therapy is based on this idea, and was outrightly formulated by Rogers himself.

The most significant tenet of humanistic therapy is the idea of ‘unconditional positive regard’. This idea emphasized on the therapist creating an environment of ultimate acceptance wherein the individual would not feel like she will be judged for her actions. Providing this level of comfort was especially important to evoke some sense of security within the affected individual. Identification of problems could never happen if the patient felt insecure in revealing things. Rogers placed great emphasis on the affected person, and refused to call them ‘patients’, and replaced this term with ‘clients’.

The idea of ‘non-directive guidance’ was a consequence of Rogers believing in giving the most attention and agency to the client. This idea propounded that the therapist would act passively, and let the client take the upper hand in steering therapy. Unlike psychoanalytic thought where the patients were led by the therapists, told where they were going wrong, and how they should strive to fix it, a humanistic therapist would let the client direct the therapy. It would focus on letting the patient realize where they need to work, and helping them adopt a strategy that they believed is best for them. This approach is primarily why humanistic therapy is also referred to as ‘client-centered’ therapy.

Additionally, humanistic therapy also believed in genuineness and openness as far as the client was concerned. This meant categorically maintaining a level of honesty with the patient, and focusing on as much transparency as possible. This was essential for two reasons- firstly, to develop a situation where the client could trust the therapist and know there was no deception or manipulation involved; and secondly, because hiding or deceiving could affect detrimentally affect the therapy itself.

While there are additional complexities within humanistic therapy, the basic ideas of unconditional positive regard, non-directive guidance and openness continue to remain as one of the most important. The effectiveness and quality of different modes of therapy is still being debated; there is no conclusive evident that can definitely prove one to be better than another. Regardless, exploring an arena outside of what is common, constitutes merit of its own kind. All schools of psychology, with their contrasting ideas and approaches regarding the human mind, have made it holistic as a subject. In such a situation, broadening the horizon for therapy, one of the most significant areas of applied psychology, should never be compromised, if for nothing else, then for the spirit of psychology as a discipline.

– Contributed by Tinka

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