Humanistic psychology, now also widely known as phenomenological psychology, is much more a therapeutic approach than a scientiﬁc theory. Phenomenological psychologists aren’t interested in reaching general conclusions about humanity, preferring to work with each person as a unique individual whose problems require a unique approach. Rather than perceiving basic physical instincts as the primary motivating force in human behavior like psychoanalysts do, humanistic psychologists see humans as motivated by an innate drive toward growth, ultimately toward what Abraham Maslow called self-actualization; essentially, becoming the best “you” that you can be. Since each person interprets the world in his or her own unique way and therefore deﬁnes self-actualization differently, helping a person to achieve it will always be different.
Several other basic assumptions run through most humanistic/phenomenological psychology.
- Treatment is an encounter between equals, intended to help clients with their own natural growth. The therapist is not there as an expert to provide a cure.
- Under the right conditions, people will get better on their own. The therapist’s job is to create those conditions.
- Ideal conditions require making the client feel accepted and welcomed as a human being without any judgment, no matter how undesirable or problematic the client’s behavior may be. Carl Rogers, one of the best-known humanistic psychologists, called this unconditional positive regard.
- The therapist is not there to tell the client what to do. It is ultimately up to the client to decide how to think and behave. Rogers called this client-centered therapy. It requires empathy, trying to develop an emotional understanding of what the client is thinking and feeling. Rogers advocated active listening— making eye contact, nodding, giving other signs of attentiveness—to accomplish this. It also often involves reﬂection, paraphrasing what the client has said in order to conﬁrm what the client has said and to express interest in it.
Like psychoanalysis, humanistic therapy can be very time-consuming, and little evidence exists of its actually helping anyone with serious psychological problems, but it is an interesting tool of self-discovery for those with the time and money to devote to it.
- Rogers, C. R. On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. New York: Houghton Mifﬂin (Mariner), 1972.