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What Are the Different Types of Humanistic Therapy?

By Soo Owens
Updated May 17, 2024
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Humanistic psychology was developed in the 1940s and 50s as an alternative to traditional psychoanalytic and behavioral methods. A new technique for treating patients, humanistic therapy, emerged with it. This form of therapy focuses on the individual and how he or she perceives the world and the environment. Numerous variations have been developed since the inception of humanistic psychology, but in each method, the therapist approaches the individual with optimism and without judgment.

Whereas psychoanalytic psychology emphasizes the unconscious and the behavior that stems from the conditioned nature of human existence, humanistic psychology turns its attention to the conscious individual. It appraises a person's concept of self-actualization and considers the individual’s mastery and examination of self. Humanistic therapy provides treatment, partially, through the patient's own creative processes. At its core is the notion of free will and self determination, including such philosophical principles as phenomenology and existentialism.

One form of humanistic therapy is person-centered counseling, or Rogerian therapy, named after one of humanistic psychology's founders, Carl Rogers. Rogerian therapy is very subjective in nature, requiring the therapist to understand the patients, their experiences, and the world from their point of view. It assumes that a person will naturally come to realize their ultimate potential if unhindered by environmental factors and personal experiences. The goal of such a personal and open approach is to allow patients to determine their own self-worth. They are encouraged to set goals based on personal values and not those forced upon them by society, the environment, or personal experience.

Gestalt therapy shifts the focus to the individual solely in the present moment. The therapist helps the individual to view his or her actions and thoughts as they occur and to identify emotional responses. This practice forces patients to become more aware of themselves in the present. The therapist uses experiments unique to each patient, facilitating improved self-awareness and a desire to feel confident in one’s emotional state and responses.

Transactional analysis is a form of humanistic therapy centered around the three stages of development, the parent, adult, and child stages, called ego-states. It works on the notion that a person experiences and interprets life events differently in each stage, and that events in one stage, such childhood, can have lasting implications on another. In an informal atmosphere, the therapist attempts to resolve dependency on the child stage. The patient identifies and improves how he communicates with himself and others. This realization allows a person to alter, using willpower and effort, negative repetitive trends that have developed throughout his life.

Humanistic therapy encourages therapists and patients to look beyond the purely medical aspect of psychological practice. Instead of diagnosing and pointing out negative tendencies, a humanistic therapist focuses on the positive areas of a person's life and point of view. Existential therapy, one form of humanistic therapy, carries this principle beyond psychological technique to the philosophic arena. It focuses on the patient's present and future states, with the past being largely inconsequential. An existential therapist helps the patient to realize that he is the only force in absolute control of his life.

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