What is Humanistic Psychology and Humanistic Therapy?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 19, 2023
3 min read

Humanistic psychology believes that people are good and focuses on helping people reach their potential by exploring their uniqueness. It is based on the assumption that people have free will and are motivated to reach their full potential through self-actualization.

Humanistic psychology and humanistic therapy go together as the latter focuses on people’s capacity to make rational choices and reach their full potential. This therapy approach focuses on the client and allows them to take lead in the conversation. It also allows them to discover their true authentic selves and find solutions for their concerns in the process.

The therapist acts as a non-judgmental, respectful listener who guides the therapeutic process. They acknowledge your experiences without trying to shift the conversation in another direction.

Important assumptions of humanistic psychology include:

  • Feelings, thoughts, perception, and more are central to how you feel about yourself, which is the main indicator of your behavior.
  • Your need to reach your full potential is a natural process.
  • All people have free will, and you need to take responsibility for your behaviors for personal growth and fulfillment.
  • People can be good with the right set of conditions, especially during childhood.
  • A psychologist should treat each case individually as each person is different with unique experiences.

Humanistic psychologists use methods such as unstructured interviews, observation, and open-ended questionnaires.

In unstructured interviews, the therapist seeks to understand how you think and feel, without focusing the session on any particular topics or ideas. They also observe you during sessions, making it easy for you to be open and give direct feedback.

Psychologists who use this form of therapy tailor treatment to the individual, since they understand that every person is different with unique needs and motives.

Humanistic therapy adopts a holistic approach that focuses on free will, human potential, and self-discovery. It aims to help you develop a strong and healthy sense of self, explore your feelings, find meaning, and focus on your strengths.

There are two approaches to humanistic therapy:

Empathy. The therapist seeks to understand you. Empathy allows the therapist to relate to your experiences from their perspective.

Unconditional positive regard. This means that the therapist shows warmth, is receptive, and is nonjudgmental.  They avoid coming across as an authoritative figure.

Client-centered therapy‌: The client-centered theory uses the active listening technique. The therapist listens, acknowledges, and paraphrases your concerns. This therapy technique believes in the idea of providing a supportive environment in which you can feel free to be yourself in a non-judgmental space.

The ability to get in touch with your true self helps you to understand yourself as you truly are. Client-centered therapy relies heavily on unconditional positive regard and empathy.

Gestalt therapy: Gestalt therapy focuses on the skills and techniques that allow you to be aware of your feelings and emotions. It seeks to encourage you to be aware of the here and now, and accept responsibility for your actions and behavior.

Existential therapy: This approach focuses more on free will, self-determination, and the search for meaning.

Some studies suggest that humanistic therapy can be successful compared to other types of psychotherapy to influence positive changes for clients who engage in this type of treatment.

Humanistic therapy can be effective for people who have:

If a person has verbal communication and comprehension issues, this approach might limit them in creating a working relationship with their therapist.