Humanistic therapy emerged in the 1950s, and although behavioural therapy and psychoanalytic methods were available, a humanistic approach offered individuals another alternative. This approach focuses on recognising human capabilities in areas such as creativity, personal growth and choice. Two major theorists associated with this approach are Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.
The main goals of humanistic psychology are to find out how individuals perceive themselves here and now and to recognise growth, self-direction and responsibilities. This method is optimistic and attempts to help individuals recognise their strengths by offering a non-judgemental, understanding experience.
On this page
- Person-centred therapy
- Gestalt therapy
- Transactional analysis
- Transpersonal psychology and psychosynthesis
Person-centred therapy, also sometimes known as person-centred counselling or client-centred counselling, is an approach that sees human beings as having an innate tendency to develop towards their full potential. But this is inevitably blocked or distorted by our life experiences, in particular those who tell us we are only loved or valued if we behave in certain ways and not others, or have certain feelings and not others. As a result, because we have a deep need to feel valued, we tend to distort or deny to our awareness those of our inner experiences that we believe will not be acceptable.
The counsellor or psychotherapist in this approach aims to provide an environment in which the client does not feel under threat or judgement. This enables the client to experience and accept more of who they are as a person, and reconnect with their own values and sense of self-worth. This reconnection with their inner resources enables them to find their own way to move forward.
The counsellor or psychotherapist works to understand the client's experience from the client's point of view, and to positively value the client as a person in all aspects of their humanity, while aiming to be open and genuine as another human being. These attitudes of the therapist towards the client will only be helpful if the client experiences them as real within the relationship, and so the nature of the relationship that the counsellor and client create between themselves is crucial for the success of therapy.
Gestalt therapy focuses on the whole of an individual's experience; their thoughts, feelings and actions, and concentrates on the 'here and now' - what is happening from one moment to the next. Roughly translated from German, gestalt means 'whole' and was developed in the 1940s by Fritz Perls. The main goal of this approach is for the individual to become more self-aware, taking into account their mind, body and soul.
A therapist will constantly promote the client's awareness of themselves and often uses experiments that are created by the therapist and client. These experiments can be anything from creating patterns with objects and writing to role-playing. Promoting self-awareness is the main objective of gestalt therapy but other areas such as improving the ability to support ones emotional feelings are also important. Gestalt therapy is influenced by psychoanalytic theory and therapists will concentrate on 'here and now' experiences to remove obstacles created by past experiences.
Transactional analysis is a theory that involves an individual's growth and development. It is also a theory related to communication and child development explaining the connections to our past and how this influences decisions we make. Transactional analysis was developed during the late 1950s by psychiatrist, Eric Berne.
Berne recognised three key “ego-states” - parent, adult and child. The parent ego state is a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours we learn from our parents and other important people. The adult ego state relates to direct responses to the 'here and now' that are not influenced by our past. The child ego state is a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our childhood. The ego-states are useful for analysing unconscious scripts and "games" people play.
Transactional analysis seeks to identify what goes wrong in communication and provide opportunities for individuals to change repetitive patterns that limit their potential. It encourages individuals to analyse previous decisions they have made to understand the direction and patterns of their life for themselves. It also helps clients to trust their decisions and think/act as an individual improving the way they feel about themselves. TA is a humanistic approach and like person-centred counselling focuses on the here and now concept.
Transpersonal psychology began within humanistic therapies, however today it is gaining recognition by many psychologists and a number of professional organisations. It is now often seen as its own separate psychological theory (along with the other three main categories: behavioural, psychoanalytical and psychodynamic and humanistic).
Transpersonal psychology literally means "beyond the personal" and involves encouraging the individual to discover the deep core of who they really are (the real person that transcends an individual’s body, age, gender, physical space, culture, appearance etc). It involves building and expanding on an individual's qualities, their spirituality and self development.
Abraham Maslow's research on self-actualisation was a key factor in the development of transpersonal psychology, which has since been refined by the work of many others. Transpersonal psychology encompasses three major areas: beyond-ego psychology, integrative/holistic psychology, and transformative psychology.
Psychosynthesis was developed by psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli and involves an integration of the psychological and transpersonal elements. Psychosynthesis accepts the idea of a higher, spiritual level of consciousness, sometimes referred to as the "higher self". Techniques such as meditation and visualisation are often used for self-exploration and personal growth.
Existential therapy focuses on exploring the meaning of certain issues through a philosophical perspective, instead of a technique-based approach. It is appropriate for those wishing to increase their self-awareness and broaden their views on their surrounding world.
The principles of existential therapy are based on the theories of 19th and 20th century influential philosophers, such as Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, who were in conflict with the predominant ideologies of their time and committed to exploring human existence in a personal manner. Existential therapy favours the idea that we are all directly responsible for our own lives, over the idea of meaningful existence and predetermined destiny. Many other philosophers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Gabriel Marcel and Ludwig Binswanger, also contributed to the exploration of these ideas and the therapy is aimed at making sense of human existence.
Existential therapy is generally not concerned with the client's past, but emphasises the choices to be made in the present and future.
Human Givens psychotherapy
The Human Givens approach or Human Givens psychotherapy is a type of psychotherapy developed by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell. The idea behind this approach is that humans have developed a set of innate needs. When these needs are met, we flourish - and when they are not met, mental distress can follow.
Examples of these needs, or 'givens', are: security, a sense of autonomy, friendship, a sense of achievement, privacy and a sense of status within social groupings. Therapists who practice this approach aim to help individuals identify which of these needs aren't being met and work on proactive ways to change this.
Joe Griffin also proposed a theory on dreams; the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming suggests that our dreams metaphorically act out any expectations that were not met the previous day. The theory states that excessive worrying increases our need to dream, which deprives us of regenerative sleep. Human Givens psychotherapy uses techniques to help people use their imagination in a healthier way to restore a more balanced sleep pattern.
Solution focused brief therapy
As its name suggests, solution focused brief therapy is a time-limited approach that focuses on solutions rather than analysing problems. The therapy was developed in America by husband and wife team Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg along with their team at the Brief Family Center.
Basic assumptions of the therapy are:
- clients want change
- change is both constant and inevitable
- clients have resources to solve problems
- history is not essential
- clients are the experts when it comes to defining goals.
While solution focused therapy does acknowledge past distress, the focus is on the success of the individual. The therapy involves a variety of techniques, including questioning the individual to help them uncover their own strengths. A key element within this questioning technique is the 'miracle question', a question that promotes solution focussed thinking (developed by Steve Shazer). The nature of the techniques used within solution focused therapy is context driven and is therefore dependent on the individual and their circumstances.
Further exploration into the individual's past experiences can help the individual study times when their problems were less severe in order to understand what was different at this time. While the nature of the therapy is time-limited, it is considered effective by many and elements are often incorporated into long-term therapies as part of an integrated approach.
Reality therapy was developed in Los Angeles in the early 60s by William Glasser and his mentor, G. L. Harrington. Considered a person-centred approach to psychotherapy, reality therapy focuses on psychiatry's three Rs: realism, responsibility and right-and-wrong.
Glasser believes that those experiencing mental distress are doing so because they haven't had basic needs met. The basic needs in question are:
- love and belonging
- freedom or independence
In order to help the individual attain these basic needs, the therapist will look to create an environment where they feel connected. Together the therapist and the client will look at which needs are not being met and will focus on realistic goals to remedy the issues.
Reality therapy draws from Glasser's choice theory, which is composed of four different aspects: thinking, acting, feeling and physiology. While we struggle to choose our feelings and physiology, Glasser's theory says that we are able to directly choose our thoughts and actions. This idea is at the crux of reality therapy and helps clients to change their behaviour in a practical way.
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