Imagine if you can, entering the strict and regimented environment of Sigmund Freud’s practice with various problems that you hope to resolve. However, once there, you discover that your life is not in your own control, but that of your past or being told you subconsciously harbour devious desires and motives of a dark sexual nature that you were unaware of. Imagine leaving Freud’s practice, how do you think you would feel immediately after a session with him? Now imagine stepping into Carl Roger’s practice, and that of Humanistic Therapy, with a focus on your full capability of controlling and / or changing your life for the better, emphasizing self-growth and potential. Which perspective or form of therapy would you choose? Would you decide on Freud’s stoic psychoanalysis perspective, or humanistic therapy and the empathetic nature of the therapist?
Humanistic therapy is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the importance of each person as a unique individual with free-will to change or improve their lives at any time. Self-actualization (the realization of an individual’s full potential) and happiness is at the centre of this perspective.
Carl Jung was part of the elite circle in the psychoanalysis school of theory however he ventured toward carving a path for humanistic psychology. Although his theories focused mainly on a spiritual element, it also focused on the identity of self; relative to the entirety of humanity.
Carl Rogers was one of the founders of humanistic therapy, and he did not believe in the previous schools of psychology such as Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis. He firmly believed these sciences took away free will and choice of the individual which he determined as being dehumanizing to the client.
Humanistic therapy consists of three disciplines:
Client Centered Therapy
This approach implemented by Carl Rogers emphasizes the empathetic nature of the therapist; it rejects authoritarian therapy, and focuses more on the client’s inner experiences relative to the problem, rather than making the problem the prime focus. Carl Rogers believed in offering his clients ‘unconditional positive regard’; support and compassion, unconditionally. His approach to this theory was aimed at boosting self-confidence, looking at the situation subjectively, and finding a new positive and more effective way of viewing the problem at hand. Rogers believed the attentiveness of the therapist while listening to the client was essential and would then paraphrase what they just said, repeating it back to the client, reinforcing their own words, thus reassuring the attentiveness of the therapist.
This approach also called ‘organismic holism’ focuses on the importance of the client accepting responsibility of themselves’ as a whole individual, as well as the importance of being in the ‘here and now’. This theory emphasizes how and exactly ‘what’ they are feeling at that moment, as opposed to ‘why’ they are feeling a certain way, ultimately increasing human potential. Gestalt therapy was founded by Fritz Perls, (1893-1970).
Key Concepts of Gestalt Therapy
- Person-centred awareness, teaching the client how to isolate the past and future from the present moment, and to remain in the ‘now’.
- Respect - The key element in gaining trust and confidence with the client, ensuring comfort in confiding with their therapist, and to engage in a willingness to discuss topics or areas that tend to have resistance.
- Experience - It is essential for the client to fully be aware of what they are experiencing from thoughts, emotions, to physical sensations, as this will offer a better understanding of themselves’.
- Social Responsibility - Encourages the client to see and understand that each person is unique in their own individual way, and to take an egalitarian approach to the way they view society.
- Relationships - A key element in the awareness of being ‘whole’, and once the client can have positive relationships with those around them, and within themselves, they are then considered ‘whole’.
This approach focuses on the individual’s free-will and self-determinism. It takes on a philosophical approach, and encourages taking responsibility for their actions as a whole. Existential therapy was introduced by Viktor Frankl (1905-1997)
There are 4 ‘ultimate concerns’ in existential therapy:
- Inevitability of death – and the acceptance of it
- Freedom and the responsibility attached to it
- Existential isolation – finding acceptance in that no-one can truly know or understand you completely
- Meaninglessness – how to find motivation in a universe that and be cruel and mortal
Existential Therapy focuses on 4 realms of experience:
- Physical realm - everything within and around the individual
- Social realm- refers to the social world, everything from work to culture to relationships
- Personal realm - Personal strengths, weaknesses and understanding of oneself
- Making realm - Focuses on the world within religion, beliefs, values and transcendence
Rolla May (1909-1994)
Existentialism focuses on ‘Ontology’, or ‘The Science of Being’.
He believed one could only experience ‘themselves’ if they assert themselves and take a stand for what they believe in.
In the therapeutic setting, he reinforced the client’s freedom, choice and responsibility; he also contributed a great amount of work on anxiety, and saw the positive side of anxiety ensuring the client that it was necessary to further individual development.
Rollo May refers to motives as ‘daimons’ (demons in today’s language) which can be good, until they take over the personality and then they become bad, ‘daimonic possessions’.
Rollo May’s Daimons:
- Eros - Love (The importance to be ‘one’ with another person)
- Will - (Determination and self-organization)
- Wishes - (Possibilities, but ‘will’ is needed to make them happen)
- Neo-Puritan - (All will, and no eros, very self-regimented to a fault)
- Infantile - (All wishes, and no will or self-discipline)
Each of May’s Daimon’s has the capability of becoming daimonic possessions, and in his existential therapy he did not believe in ‘toning down the daimonic, as it gives a sense of false comfort’. He therefore believed in tackling the daimons rather than avoiding them.
Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)
Abraham Maslow believed in ‘The Theory of Motivation”; he created a pyramid of needs:
- Physiological Needs – food, water,
- Safety Needs – shelter, health
- Love and Belonging Needs – friendship, family, intimacy
- Esteem Needs – confidence, achievement, respect for and by others
- Self-Actualization Needs – creativity, improvement of oneself,
His Hierarchy of Needs began with physiological needs at the bottom, working its way up the pyramid with the next level being Safety Needs and the top of the pyramid being ‘self-actualization’; meeting their greatest needs, and the ability to continue growing and improving. Once the basic needs are met, such as food, water, shelter, then the other levels can be reached up to this self-actualization.
Karen Horney (1885-1952)
Her contribution to the humanistic theory was The Theory of Neurosis.
She believed that everyone had neurotic needs, and this neurosis would interfere with self-realization and the attainment of their full potential.
- Need for affection and approval
- Need for a partner
- Need for power
- Need to exploit others and be manipulative
- Need for social recognition and prestige
- Need to be valued
- Need for personal achievement
- Need for independence and autonomy
- Need for perfection
- Need for inconspicuousness
Karen Horney focused on inner conflicts and the strategies of defenses used to cope with anxiety.
These defenses of neurosis explain that individuals move towards, away from, or against other people in the following manners:
- Moving towards people – seeking affection, approval or a partner
- Moving against people – seeking to exploit, seeking power, seeking recognition and using others to boost their own self-esteem, personal achievements
- Moving away from people – seeking perfectionism, fierce independence, self-restrictions and modesty
Humanistic therapy paved the way for a new and more person-centered approach, focusing on empathy and understanding of the client. Contrary to the sterile and harsh psychoanalysis of Freud, this perspective set the president for a far greater understanding of the human condition, the freedom of choice along with accepting responsibility for one’s own life, growth and improvements.
- May, Rollo, The Discovery of Being, (1983),W. W. Norton, New York
- Vardanyan, Vilen, Panorama of Psychology, (2011) Author House, UK
- Kirschenbaum, Howard; Henderson, Valerie Land, The Carl Rogers Reader, (1989), Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston