What Is Humanistic Therapy? What Does It Treat?

Can humanistic therapy help you? Get the definition of humanistic therapy. Learn about humanistic therapy approach and techniques, on HealthyPlace.

Humanistic therapy has foundations in the work of influential figures in psychology and psychotherapy, including Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. It was formally launched as a movement in 1962 with the establishment of The Association of Humanistic Psychology. The approach emerged in response to the perceived limitations of existing therapies based in behaviorist, cognitive and psychodynamic theories. Humanistic therapy became increasingly influential across the 1970s and 1980s, and it is still used today. Let's explore the basics of humanistic therapy, its approaches and techniques, and who it treats.

What Does Humanistic Therapy Emphasize?

Humanistic therapy emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual. It is an empowerment-focused, self-driven therapy model that focuses on the ability of us to ‘help ourselves' given the correct circumstances. This approach is based on the belief that the actualization of self, or reaching personal potential, is the primary motivation of all human beings and critical to wellbeing.

During sessions, a humanistic therapist may work with you to explore issues and life experiences that are preventing you from reaching your full potential or causing emotional difficulty. The main goal of therapy is personal growth on all levels: emotional, psychological and spiritual.

The Humanistic Therapy Approach

A primary goal of the humanistic therapy approach is the “exploration of self.” The client, rather than the therapist, is seen as the expert and is deemed to inherently know what is best for them. The therapist aims to offer a safe, accepting and empathic environment, and to enter into the direct experience of the client. Therapist and client work together as equals.

If you have humanistic therapy, your therapist will help you set specific goals. These goals will empower you to bring about positive change in your own life. Ongoing work will focus on your current circumstances, considering the here and now rather than exploring past experiences and early life.

Humanistic Therapy Techniques

There are various techniques used in humanistic therapy, as this approach underpins a number of therapeutic forms. However, the basis of therapy is always self-exploration and empowerment of the individual in a supportive environment. Techniques of listening, accepting, understanding and sharing will be common to all forms of humanistic therapy.

Some widely practiced forms of humanistic therapy include:

Gestalt therapy and person-centered therapy are the most widely practiced forms of humanistic therapy. Dreamwork may be employed within Gestalt sessions if it is relevant to your situation or emotional state. Here, you will be supported in reliving a dream, perhaps assuming the role of people or objects appearing there. The aim of this humanistic therapy technique is to analyze the meaning of images and feelings that come up in your dreams.

“The empty chair” is another commonly used Gestalt technique in humanistic therapy. This encourages the client to explore unresolved conflict, or pain, via an imaginary conversation with another person.

In person-centered therapy, the main therapeutic technique is “active listening.” Clear boundaries will be set so that a safe, nurturing, and appropriate relationship can be established and maintained. Here, the therapist remains non-judgemental, acting as a supportive sounding board. He or she remains genuine (also known as “congruent” at all times), accepts any negative emotions that arise and always works from the standpoint of the client.

Humanistic Therapy Benefits: What Does It Treat?

The humanistic approach, in one or other of its forms, may benefit those living with a range of conditions or life issues. These include specific difficulties such as anxiety, depression, grief and loss, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictive behaviors such as substance-abuse gambling and eating disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other diagnosed mental health conditions.

Humanistic therapy can also be helpful to those experiencing family or other interpersonal difficulties. The central emphasis on empowerment and autonomy means that humanistic therapy is particularly helpful for people with low self-esteem, as well as those experiencing negative emotions tied to a specific event, such as guilt and shame.

If you think this approach would be helpful, you can use your local counseling directory to find a qualified humanistic therapist or ask your primary care provider for a referral.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, October 10). What Is Humanistic Therapy? What Does It Treat?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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