Humanistic Psychology


Dr. Annette Schonder
Marriage Counselor (American Board)  
Phone: 00971-4-4574240

The important theoretical movement of humanistic psychology sprung up in the 1950s and 1960s. Often psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors refer to this as the “third force” in psychology. It evolved in response to perceived limitations of psychoanalysis (1st force) and behaviorism (2nd force). The origin of humanistic psychology is attributed to the psychologist Abraham Maslow, who in his groundbreaking work emphasized the idea of self-actualization and developed a developed a five-tier model of human needs called “ Hierarchy of Needs,” which are often depicted within a pyramid. He and contemporary psychologists like Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Marc Rollo felt these existing theories did not address the meaning of behavior and the nature of healthy growth.

According to these psychologists, humans are not pushed by unconscious motives (Freudian psychoanalytic view), or passively shaped by their learning experiences (Watson’s behavioristic view). Humanistic psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors believe human beings determine their own fates through the decisions they make. In other words, people have a powerful inborn tendency to grow, improve, and take control of their own lives. These psychologists believed outside forces influence humans, but their own free will determines their behavior.

Humanistic psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors realize that this branch of psychology is the least scientific. This is because many of the issues with which they are concerned do not lend themselves to scientific scrutiny. These topics revolve around the ideas of free will, values, the essential goodness of people, the motives that inspire the creation of art and philosophy and the uniqueness of every human personality.

There are 3 branches of humanistic psychology and humanistic therapy
1. Client Centered Therapy associated with Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.
2. Gestalt Therapy associated with Fritz Perls
3. Existential Therapy most prominently associated with Marc Rollo, Viktor Frankel, and Irving Yalom

Maslow proposed that the goals of psychotherapy and counseling are directed toward helping people achieve freedom, hope, self-fulfillment, and strong identities. Psychologists and psychotherapists guide a person to become more self-actualized through self-directed change, while building self-esteem, along the way. Abraham Maslow posited that fundamental needs (biological and safety) must be satisfied before an individual is able to progress to psychological needs (love and esteem), which in turn must be met before the person can meet self-actualization needs.
The original, five stage Hierarchy of Needs model includes:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – to satisfy hunger, thirst, and sex drives
2. Safety needs – to feel secure, safe, and out of danger
3. Love and belongingness needs – to affiliate with others; to be accepted and belong
4. Esteem needs – to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences
Client Centered Therapy:

According to Carl Roger’s humanistic client centered psychotherapy, the emphasis lies on helping people achieve and fulfill their potential. Rogerian trained psychotherapists and counselors believe that insight, bringing what is unconscious into conscious awareness, is the core of therapy. Through this insight, clients will realize what it will take to help themselves. This happens when counselors create an atmosphere that is so emotionally safe for the clients that they will feel free to express to the psychotherapist and themselves the feelings they have repressed. The client, in the safety of the counseling session, can then explore hidden emotions and desires.

A qualified psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor providing client centered humanistic psychotherapy must be:
1. Warm
2. Genuinely able to like the clients and unconditionally accept everything they think, feel, or do without criticism and
3. Have empathy

The closest one can come to describing a specific technique in client centered psychotherapy is to have unconditional positive regard for the client and to use reflection to facilitate insight. Reflection is when the therapist reflects the emotions of the client in order to help clients become aware of the meanings of their statements.

Roger developed a theory of “the self” that explains nicely how positive change comes out of humanistic psychotherapy.

He believed that “the self” had 3 components to it.
1. Perceived Self (how person sees self & and others see them)
2. The Real Self (how a person really is).
3. And the Ideal Self (how person would like to be).
When a person has a conflict between his perceived self and his real self a state of incongruence occurs. It is this incongruence that can cause symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, or feeling stuck and discontent. The focus of therapy is to help the client self-actualize into his ideal self. Dr. Rogers often used the following phrase during his counseling sessions, “So, you find it hard to believe that they would love and accept you if they knew who you really were” (Rogers, 1959).
Gestalt Therapy:
Gestalt therapy is a complex psychological system that stresses the development of client self-awareness and personal responsibility. The psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor takes an active role (questioning and challenging the client) to help the client become aware of his or her true feelings. The word Gestalt is German means whole.
The focus of Gestalt Therapy is on the whole person. Psychologists, counselors and psychotherapists look at how the mind (e.g. thoughts) and body (e.g. body language, physiological sensations) are integrated and how the person integrates into the environment (e.g. workplace, school, friends). During counseling Gestalt Therapy facilitates clients’ integrating themselves as whole persons and restoring balance in their environment.
In psychotherapy, clients become aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they change themselves, and at the same time, learn to accept and value themselves. Individuals, according to this approach, define, develop, and learn about themselves in relationship to others, and that they are constantly changing.
Awareness is a key element in Gestalt Therapy, as it is seen as the essence of a healthy person and the goal of treatment. When people are aware, they can self-regulate in their environments. Self-regulation skill is necessary for reliable emotional well-being. Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values. (Violation of one’s deepest values causes guilt, shame, and anxiety, which undermine well-being.) Emotionally, self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down (Stosny, 2011).
According to Gestalt Therapy underlying causes of a lack awareness are:
1. When there is a preoccupation with the past, flaws or strengths, or fantasies etc. that the person no longer sees the whole picture.
2. Low self-esteem
There are three ways people may achieve awareness:
1. Contact with the environment (family, school, friends, work etc.) through seeing, listening, touching, speaking, moving, smelling, and tasting individuals can grow. This happens when they react to the environment and change.
2. Here and now: Gestalt therapy focuses on reaching awareness of the present moment and the present context. Through counseling and psychotherapy, clients learn to discover feelings that may have been suppressed or masked by other feelings. Further in counseling therapy, these previously suppressed emotions are acknowledged and a person learns how to accept and trust them. Needs and emotions that were previously suppressed or unacknowledged can surface as well. Through this process, a person gains a new sense of self when the overall awareness increases. In the here and now the clients learns to avoid dwelling on the past or anxiously anticipating the future. Past experiences can be explored during counseling sessions, but the counselor or psychotherapist and client will focus on exploring what factors made a particular memory come up in this moment, or how the present moment is impacted by experiences of the past.
3. Responsibility: Here people take responsibility for their own life instead of blaming others.
Counselors and psychotherapists during counseling facilitate the clearing of Unfinished Business: Unfinished business refers to people who do not finish things in their lives and as a result of this stop their personal development. Examples of unfinished business are resentment, rage, hatred, pain, anxiety, grief, guilt, and abandonment. People with unfinished business often resent the past and because they can’t focus on the here and now. One of the major goals of Gestalt Therapy is to help people work through their unfinished business and bring about closure.

Existential Therapy:
Existential therapy is more a way of thinking than a neatly defined model with specific techniques. It is a philosophical approach to therapy, which assumes we are free to choose and are responsible for our choices. At its best, existential psychotherapy realistically confronts the ultimate concerns including the difficult facts of life, such as death, loss, responsibility, loneliness, freedom, meaningless and suffering. Psychotherapists and counselors who practice existential psychotherapy, or are influenced by this school of thought, believe that mental health disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, depression, panic attacks, and their symptoms, anger, sleeplessness, meaninglessness, are a result of existential angst (fear) and imbalance. During psychotherapy and counseling, the goal is to understand and relieve the symptoms of mental health disorders. Through this client centered approach, the client can discover his/her actual subjective experience or “being” (Dasein/German). The focus of the treatment is on the here-and-now, but anything that emerges from the past will be processed and dealt with. Coming to terms with reality—the things we struggle with– without denying, avoiding, distorting or downplaying it is key to existential therapy.
Logotherapy is a meaning centered form of psychotherapy developed by Viktor Frankl. The word logos is a Greek word and translates to meaning. He was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who developed logotherapy in response to being imprisoned in a concentration camp. During this horrific experience he made observations and gained insights that led to his developing logotherapy.
The Viktor Frankle Institute of Logotherapy (2017) states:
“Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy is based on the premise that the human person is motivated by a “will to meaning,” an inner pull to find a meaning in life. The following list of tenets represents basic principles of logotherapy:
1. Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
2. Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
3. We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.” (VFIL, 2017)

Victor Frankl said, …”the meaning of life always changes, but … it never ceases to be. According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2 ) by experiencing something or encountering someone; (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.” (Frankel, 1984, p. 133)

List of References:
Carley, S. G. (2015). Abraham Maslow: holistic-dynamic theory. Fall River, MA: SGC Production.
Diamond, S.(2011) What is existential psychotherapy., retrieved June 10, 2017
Dryden, W., & Mytton, J. (1999). Four approaches to counselling and psychotherapy. London: Routledge.
Frankl, V. (1985). Man’s Search for Meaning. Washington Square , New York, New York
Rogers C. R. (1959), A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework , In (Ed.) S. Koch. Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3, Formulations of the person and the social context, USA, McGraw Hill Publications
Shub, N. (1990). Gestalt therapy: perspectives and applications. Cleveland: Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press, retrived June 17, 2017
Stosny, S (2011), retrieved June14, 2017
Viktor Frankle Institute of Logotherapy, retrieved June 10, 2017
Zanden, Crandell & Crandell (2000). Human Development. McGraw Hill, San Francisco, California