Understanding humanistic therapy: A person-centered approach

Therapy works to help heal individuals mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, but some types of therapy are even more focused on the individual than others. Humanistic therapy works by focusing on specific issues while maintaining focus on the person and accepting them as they are.

By using the character and experiences of each individual as its own framework to build treatment around, humanistic therapies can help people reach their own conclusions about what needs to be addressed within themselves in order to heal and grow.

What Is Humanistic Therapy?

Humanistic therapy is a type of therapy technique that has a central focus on seeing each individual or client as a human with their own wants, needs, qualities, and unique challenges. Humanism looks past any existing archetypes and stereotypes tied to specific demographics in order to see the person behind all of those characteristics and see each client as they are.

In humanistic therapy, you are just you — there’s no need for generalizations. Obviously, the characteristics we have do shape who we are to a degree, but with humanism, they aren’t allowed to take up the whole picture. 

Humanism asks what you need, not what people think you need as a collection of characteristics. It also assumes that you already know what’s wrong, either consciously or subconsciously, and works to guide you toward the answer that’s already within you and bring awareness to your own personal capacities.

Each problem or issue encountered is treated as if they are unique to you, because the way they will affect you personally is unique, and those consequences need to be treated accordingly.

What Is an Example of Humanistic Therapy?

One example of a type of humanistic therapy is Rogerian therapy, also known as person-centered therapy. Carl Rogers created humanism, engineering it around the idea that people already know what they need and are inherently driven toward improving their psychological functioning.

What Does a Humanistic Therapist Focus On?

The main focus of a humanistic therapist is all of the things that make you, you. Humanistic therapists know that you are the expert on your own life, emotions, and experiences. By getting to the core of who you are, they can create a roadmap of who you are, and will thereby be able to make treatment as effective as possible.

Humanism doesn’t completely separate these qualities from societal constraints or influence — it simply doesn’t make assumptions about what makes you, you, based on those constraints.

Another important aspect of humanistic therapy is acceptance. It’s imperative that therapists and providers offer their clients unconditional positive regard and empathetic acceptance. 

Principles of Humanistic Therapy

Some of the most central ideas of humanistic therapy are:

  1. Freedom: Humanism allows individuals to be just who they are, and allows them to have and explore their own beliefs, values, and identity. Therapists are there to guide clients in their journey toward their center, asking clarifying questions and listening to their client’s answers. It gives clients the space to explore themselves and let the internal roadmap they discover lead them to what they seek.
  2. Self-discovery: Clients need to be willing to be introspective — to look inward. Humanism works on the assumption that each person already knows what’s wrong, so the only way to find answers and achieve growth is to self-reflect, examining their past and who they are now. Willingness to accept oneself and be open to whatever is found (and acceptance from the therapist) is an important part of making the journey of self-discovery healthy and effective.
  3. Potential: Humanism helps people realize their potential by using a framework of selfhood. The rules and assumptions are solely based on the qualities, personality, and experiences. This approach allows individuals to feel seen, understood, and accepted, which is an excellent catalyst for change and growth.

Humanistic therapy assumes that you are innately who you are and that you know you best — the job of a therapist is simply to help you discover it and cultivate a compassionate relationship with yourself. With help from an experienced mental health professional, you will be able to decipher the secrets within yourself and break free of whatever is holding you back from your potential.

What Is the Most Common Technique Used in Humanistic Therapy?

One of the most common techniques used by humanistic therapists is active listening. It’s a way of leading and guiding the conversation by reiterating what the other person has said, asking follow-up questions, and overall showing that you are listening carefully and understanding what they are saying.

Oftentimes, when the client makes a statement about themselves, a therapist practicing active listening might say something like, “That makes sense, tell me more.” It’s important to note that, when a therapist is asking follow-up questions or commenting on what the client says, they will avoid administering any kind of judgment. They will instead offer acceptance, support, and encouragement through their active listening to help clients reach their own conclusions and reach their goals.

What Is Humanistic vs. Behavior Therapy?

Behavioral therapy works to change and adjust negative patterns in order to improve one’s functioning and help them reach their goals. However, humanistic therapy focuses less on patterns and behaviors and more on who a person is as a whole, using the framework of who they are to help get them where they want to be. It’s less about pointing out negative patterns and more about guiding them to come to those conclusions themselves.

What Is the Difference Between Cognitive Therapy and Humanistic Therapy?

Cognitive therapy and humanism are similar in that they both use a client’s curiosity to help them reach certain conclusions. This involves asking targeted questions and asking them to elaborate on their answers, which can help them make discoveries they didn’t know existed within themselves. 

Cognitive therapy uses curiosity to help change one’s thought patterns, adjusting them to become more accurate and helpful so that any negative thought patterns stop impacting their functioning. 

Humanism, though, uses this idea of curiosity in every aspect. People can have more concerns or issues impeding growth beyond their thought patterns. Humanism asks individuals to explore the whole of themselves, using that curiosity to pull on any loose threads, let them lead to different parts of themselves, and eventually help them learn more about who they are.

Are There Different Types of Humanistic Therapy?

Humanism is a type of therapy, but it is also something of a school of thought. As such, there are many types of therapy that fit within humanism. Some examples are:

  • Rogerian: As stated above, Carl Rogers created humanistic therapy. As such, the Rogerian framework — also known as person-centered therapy — holds the belief that all human beings are innately capable of creating positive change within their lives. This framework relies on self-discovery and personal will to foster growth and change.
  • Gestalt: This approach maintains a focus on the individual as a whole, not their parts. Though it’s more concerned with the here-and-now rather than past events, the emphasis on looking at people as more than a sum of their parts keeps it within humanism.
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: This view sees everyone as a human with the same intrinsic needs. The hierarchy of needs allows one to address one’s needs through a basic linear framework of shared human experience. However, it also doesn’t disregard any societal or cultural differences that could impact one’s needs, as they can also be contained within the hierarchy.

Humanistic therapy can be used intermittently throughout one’s therapy journey or it can be used consistently to address concerns that come up, depending on what a mental health professional might deem most beneficial for their client.

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Benefits of Humanistic Therapy

Because of its person-centered framework, the acceptance and empathy individuals receive in humanistic therapy can be a huge benefit. Finding acceptance for the innermost parts of ourselves can help us begin to accept ourselves, greatly improving our self-esteem and contentedness with our lives.

Specific benefits of humanistic therapy are: 

People often also find that these benefits can lead to better relationships, improved communication, and other interpersonal skills. Overall, humanistic therapy builds a stronger sense of autonomy, control, power, and acceptance in individuals, allowing them to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

Questions to Ask Potential Therapists

If you are looking for a therapist who practices humanism or uses humanistic therapy in their treatment, there are many clarifying questions you can ask potential therapists. Here are some examples:

  • Describe your training/specializations.
  • What tools or modalities do you normally use?
  • Do you have training in any humanist modalities?

These can give you a better sense of how they practice and what types of therapy they tend to use. Other helpful questions to ask potential providers are:

  • Can you describe how you practice?
  • How do you define success?
  • How many sessions should I expect to work with you?
  • Do you take insurance? 

Today, even if some therapists don’t implement humanistic therapies directly, much of the therapeutic process now revolves around individualism and humanistic assumptions (i.e. that you know yourself best or valuing the individual more than their parts). Because of this, it’s likely that most therapists implement humanistic therapy techniques to some degree.

Finding a Humanistic Therapist

If you’re searching for a new therapist, look to Thriveworks to find the help you need. We make booking appointments quick and easy, with most of our clients seeing providers less than a week after booking. Just go online to use our online booking tool or call an office to speak with one of our friendly booking specialists to choose a therapist who’s right for you.

Other Thriveworks benefits include: 

  • Affordability: Thriveworks takes most major forms of insurance, accepting 575+ insurance plans, covering 1 in 2 insured Americans across the country.
  • Convenience: We offer quick scheduling, with the option to hold your sessions in-person or online via secure video counseling — whichever works best for you.
  • Human-to-human care: You’ll get personalized mental health care from a trusted provider.

Stop waiting and start getting the support you need — contact Thriveworks and book a session today.

Table of contents

What Is Humanistic Therapy?

What Does a Humanistic Therapist Focus On?

Principles of Humanistic Therapy

What Is the Most Common Technique Used in Humanistic Therapy?

What Is Humanistic vs. Behavior Therapy?

What Is the Difference Between Cognitive Therapy and Humanistic Therapy?

Are There Different Types of Humanistic Therapy?

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