Humanistic Therapy – London Guide
Humanistic therapy focuses on your inherent potential, and the belief that ultimately, you have all the answers. It works on the assumption that every individual possesses an intrinsic capacity for growth, self-awareness, and self-actualization – the highest level of psychological development.
Humanistic psychotherapy was pioneered by the likes of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, and emphasises the ‘here and now’. It encourages you to develop and harness your innate strengths and capabilities on the path to your fulfilment.
As a private psychotherapist with a practice in Central London, I’m trained in many theories and modalities including humanistic psychotherapy. In our sessions, I see you, the client, as an equal partner in your therapeutic journey.
A Modern Focus in Psychology
The humanistic therapies trace their origins back to American psychologist Carl Rogers, who placed their emphasis on holistic approaches to human development. They believed in the significance of self-development, growth, and free will. Humanistic therapy recognises that you have innate strengths and a well of creativity which you can harness to make your own choices in your journey of self development.
Unlike some therapeutic methodologies that centre on a client’s past, humanistic psychotherapy focuses more on the current reality of the client, including their thoughts, feelings and relationships.
Over the years, humanistic counselling has been known by several names including non-directive, client-centred, person-centred, or Rogerian therapy. The widespread adoption and inclusion of humanistic psychotherapy into other therapeutic models, makes it one of the most influential models in counselling and psychotherapy.
The philosophy behind Humanistic Therapy
In the 1950s, the emergence of humanistic psychotherapy and client-centred therapy represented a broader movement within psychological trends in America. Referred to as the ‘third force’, it sought to offer a humanistic alternative to the prevaling psychological theories of the time – psychoanalysis and behaviourism.
Aside from Carl Rogers, early contributors to humanistic psychology include Abraham Maslow, Charlotte Buhler, and Sidney Jourard. Together, they envisioned a therapy that celebrated the human capabilities of creativity, growth, and choice. They were influenced by the European traditions of existential and phenomenological philosophy, as well as teachings of Eastern religions.
Key approaches within Humanistic Therapy
While the Person Centred approach is perhaps the most well-known, there are other prominent humanistic psychotherapies such as gestalt, human givens therapy, emotion-focused therapy, solution focused brief therapy, transactional analysis, and psychosynthesis. All of these humanistic psychotherapies share the core principles of:
- Valuing the uniqueness of each individual
- Recognising each person’s subjective experience
- Free will in the individual’s choices and behaviour
Sometimes termed ‘experiential therapy’, humanistic psychotherapy focuses on the current, real-time experiences of the client. Rooted in the phenomenological approach to understanding, humanistic therapists refrain from imposing any theoretical framework onto the client’s experience. They prefer to listen, understand and uncover the client’s true self, and their personal experience.
Maslow, Rogers, and self-actualization
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Even if you haven’t heard of the American psychologist Abraham Maslow, it’s likely that you’ve heard of his ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory of 1943, which laid the foundations for humanistic psychotherapy.
Maslow postulated that humans are driven to satisfy basic needs, and once they’re met, can progress towards personal growth and what he called self-actualisation – your highest potential. He believed that at the pinnacle of the journey, some clients may experience a ‘peak moments’, described as a creative, altered state, where there’s no perception of time and space.
It’s worth noting that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is just an idea, with no real evidence, but did become very popular. He updated it several times throughout his life, adding more stages, and admitting that it wasn’t necessary to complete one stage before moving onto another.
Carl Rogers and Client-Centred Therapy
Carl Rogers, inspired by Maslow’s ideas, took humanistic psychotherapy even further. He believed that individuals are the true authority on their own psychology. According to Rogers, achieving ‘self-actualisation’ requires a balance between one’s self-worth, self-image, and ideal self. He thought that this state of balance, (which he called ‘congruence’), was essential for realising one’s full potential.
Recognising the challenges of achieving this congruence on their own, Rogers developed ‘person-centered therapy‘ to guide them. In person centred counselling, the therapist doesn’t take on a role of authority, but listens fully, and without judgment. In turn, the client plays an active role in their own therapeutic journey, while the therapist facilitates the process.
Encouraging individuality and responsibility
One of the core tenets of humanistic therapy is the focus on the individual. Every person has their unique experiences, feelings, and worldview, which are given precedence in the therapeutic process. Humanistic psychotherapy avoids a one-size-fits-all approach and humanistic therapists don’t believe in labelling clients with mental health or personality disorders.
Humanistic therapy encourages clients to take personal responsibility for their actions and choices. It’s an empowering position to take, which has far reaching consequences outside of the therapy room. Clients are also encouraged to take responsibility for their feelings and moods, rather than automatically attributing them to other people and external causes.
Integration with other therapeutic approaches
While humanistic therapy is a standalone approach, its principles and techniques have been integrated into many other therapies. The emphasis on the client’s perspective, the experience of the here-and-now, and the non-judgmental stance of the humanistic therapist have become the basis for many psychological approaches.
You can see it in the active listening techniques of cognitive-behavioural therapy as well as the emphasis on the present experience in the mindfulness based therapies.
The principles of humanistic therapy resonate more than ever, as mental health discourse evolves to emphasise personalised care, holistic wellness, and patient autonomy.
Benefits and critiques of Humanistic Counselling
The strengths of Humanistic Therapy
Humanistic therapy has become widely adopted for many reasons. The emphasis on personal autonomy, validation of individual experience, and focus on personal growth and self-awareness make it particularly effective for individuals who recognise the value in connecting to their inner resources.
Humanistic psychotherapy can be a very effective approach for navigating life transitions and countering depression, anxiety and social anxiety. I’s also a wonderful approach for self development, developing natural confidence, and learning how to relate well to others.
The therapeutic relationship in humanistic therapy is based on a genuine relationship, and is collaborative. This builds an internal blueprint in the client’s mind for forming relationships based on trust, understanding and vulnerability. It’s also a highly adaptable approach, which is tailored to the individual needs of the client.
The limitations of Humanistic Therapy
There are some instances where the lack of structure, and client-led dynamic of humanistic psychotherapy may not be the best choice. Some clients, depending on their personality, or the problems they’re dealing with, will need a more directive approach, where they can feel a strong sense of structure and containment.
This is where it can be helpful to visit an integrative psychotherapist for private therapy. They’ll use a blend of approaches which will be specifically tailored to the clients needs at any particular time, which will naturally move between a client led dynamic and therapist led.
For instance a client may enter therapy needing specific help with an immediate situation, where they’re stressed and unable to think clearly. They’ll need guidance and directions to help resolve the situation, or remove them from immediate danger. But later in therapy, as they begin to develop more confidence, they may become more open to the possibility of taking more control of their process.
Conclusion: Humanistic Therapy in London
Humanistic counselling, with its emphasis on accessing your inner strengths, and achieving your full potential, offers a refreshing and holistic approach to mental health and well-being.
If you’re considering embarking on the therapeutic journey, I have a Central London practice where I offer a confidential and non-judgemental space to explore whatever’s on your mind. Take the first step by booking an initial consultation, where we can talk about how therapy may help you.
“When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.”Carl Rogers
Four examples of Humanistic Therapy
I’ve made a brief guide of some of the therapies that can be classified under the Humanistic approach. Bear in mind though, that many contemporary therapists and counsellors incorporate a humanistic approach into work, whatever modality they have trained in.
While I use Person Centred Therapy and aspects of some of the following approaches as part of my therapy work, some of these are untested by me. I invite you to do your own research if a particular therapy resonates with you.
1. Person-Centred Therapy
Origins and development
Person-centred therapy, also referred to as ‘Client-Centred’ counselling or Rogerian therapy, emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, primarily due to the work of Carl Rogers. Person centred counselling is rooted in the humanistic tradition, valuing the principle of therapist and client as equal partners.
Unlike some of the traditional therapeutic models, where the therapist assumes the role of a learned expert, the client is empowered to take responsibility for their life and make the changes they need to make. Rogers intentionally used the term ‘client’ rather than ‘patient’. It’s a choice which demonstrates the notion of an equal relationship between client and therapist.
Core principles of Person-Centred Therapy
At the heart of person-centred therapy are three foundational principles:
- Congruence: The therapist maintains genuine and authentic connection with the client. There’s no façade or pretence – a very different atmosphere to the detached ‘blank screen’ sometimes found in psychodynamic therapy.
- Unconditional Positive Regard: The therapist offers real care and concern, and a non-judgmental attitude towards the client. There’s an emphasises on total acceptance within the therapeutic relationship.
- Empathetic Understanding: The therapist actively seeks to understand the client’s point of view – their experience, emotions, and perspective.
A non-directive approach
Person centred therapy is less directive compared to many other therapeutic models. Instead of steering the client or proposing solutions, the therapist helps the client to arrive at their own conclusions.
It assumes that individuals have the innate capacity to find their own solutions, given the right supportive environment. Through the therapeutic process, the aim is to guide the client towards achieving congruence – a state of balance and harmony where the client has achieved a heightened self-awareness understanding of themselves.
2. Gestalt Therapy
Origins and core principles
Gestalt Therapy was pioneered by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls, and Paul Goodman during the 1940s and 1950s. Gestalt Therapy zeroes in on the entirety of an individual’s experience, encompassing their thoughts, feelings, and actions in the moment.
Gestalt is a holistic process, which sees the individual as a unique totality of their mind, body, emotions and spirit who experiences. There’s a strong focus on self-awareness, and the ‘here and now’, which includes sensations in the body, emotions, and actual thoughts that are present at that moment.
The session are often very spontaneous and creative as both therapist and client attempt to connect to be in the ‘now’.
Two techniques in Gestalt Therapy
During role play, the therapist may assume the role of someone significant in your life, perhaps your partner or a parent. You’ll talk with them as if they were that person, with the therapist playing along.
Then the roles night be reversed, where you’re speaking as if you were the significant person. It can give you a chance to say things that you might otherwise hold back from – a way to explore issues, and dynamics within relationships at a deep level.
Any emotions or thoughts that come up can be discussed with your therapist, who will also be able to report back on the feelings they experienced while playing that role. It can be a powerful way to access underlying feelings and understand relationships from a fresh perspective.
The Empty Chair Technique
Another unique technique in Gestalt Therapy is called the ’empty chair’. Two facing chairs are set up, with you sitting in one, across from the empty chair. You imagine someone significant is sitting in the chair, and speak to them, asking questions and expressing what you feel they need to hear. Sometimes you can face another aspect of yourself, an emotion you’re trying to get to the bottom of, or even one of your body parts.
After a period of time, you leave your seat and take the seat of the person you were talking to. This time you’re speaking from their perspective, back to you in the empty chair. You don’t have to work out what to say, as thoughts, feelings and words normally spontaneously arise. What you say can be surprising and revelational, uncovering hidden relational dynamics, suppressed feelings and a sense that you have a deeper understanding of the other person.
3. The Human Givens Approach
Understanding human needs and resources
According to the Human Givens approach, everyone possesses both physical and emotional needs, as well as the resources to fulfil them. It’s thought that when our fundamental needs are satisfied, we feel content and at peace. But when these needs go unmet, especially the emotional ones, we experience the effects of poor mental health, including anxiety and depression.
Our physical needs, such as oxygen, food, sleep, and shelter can clearly be understood by most person – they’re essential to our survival. But emotional needs are important too – we need connection with people and the world around us to maintain good mental health and a sense of well-being.
The key emotional needs:
- Security: Feeling safe and protected
- Attention: Being acknowledged and recognised
- Autonomy and control: Having a sense of independence and the ability to influence your environment
- Connection to a larger community: Feeling a part of something bigger than yourself
- Status within your social group: Having a recognised position or standing among your peers
- Competence and achievement: Feeling capable and recognising your own accomplishments
- Privacy: Having your own personal space, both physically and emotionally
- Intimacy: Sharing close, personal relations with others
- Meaning and Purpose: Having a sense of direction and significance in your life
Human ‘given’ resources:
To address and satisfy youremotional needs, humans are equipped with a range of internal resources which include:
- Memory: Your ability to recall past experiences and learn from them
- Rapport: Your capacity to relate to and understand others
- Imagination: The power to create, visualise, and think outside of the box
- Instincts and emotions: Innate feelings and reactions that guide your responses and actions
- A rational mind: The capability to think logically and make reasoned decisions
- A metaphorical mind: Your ability to understand and use symbols, metaphors, and abstract thinking
- An observing self: The capacity for introspection and self-awareness
- A dreaming brain: Your subconscious mind which processes information while you sleep
What happens in Human Givens Therapy?
Under the umbrella of humanistic therapy, the Human Givens approach encourages you to recognise your unmet emotional needs and use your natural resources to address them. Therapists trained in this approach employ a variety of techniques, including deep relaxation and guided imagery.
Once your needs have been recognised, your therapist will guide you in exploring ways of leveraging your internal resources to fulfil them.
4. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)
An overview of SFBT
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), sometimes referred to as solution-focused therapy or simply brief therapy, has a very different flavour to most therapies.
Instead of addressing problems by diving into deep analysis, SFBT looks for practical ways to solve them. It’s an approach which recognises that clients often possess more strengths and skills than they realise, which can be channeled into actionable solutions.
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy is a short term therapy, typically limited to three to five sessions. The limitation works as an accelerator, often leading to actions that produce real results.
Key techniques in SFBT
A hallmark ofSolution-Focused Brief Therapy is the use of specific questions that gently uncover your innate strengths and solutions. Two foundational questions often posed in SFBT include:
The miracle question
You’ll be asked to imagine a scenario where a miracle has occurred overnight, completely resolving your troubling issue. You’ll be encouraged to contemplate the new circumstances, now that your problem has been resolved.
It’s a way of visualisng your ideal future and breaking through the negative barriers that may have been holding you back. Once you can feel what it’s like to be resolved, it’s easier to summon the motivation for making the change.
During any difficult time, there will always be moments when you inexplicably feel better or experience some relief. These ‘exception’ times often arise from your utilisation of your unique coping methods. Your therapist might ask you when you last felt happy, and together, you’ll identify the resources you drew from to feel that respite.
Empowering clients with solutions
Central to the ethos of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a belief in your ability to find your own solutions. Instead of extended analysis and discussion, you forge a direct path to the solution.
By focusing on the your innate strengths, skills, and ability to experience positive moments during difficult times, you’re empowered to build your own pathway towards wellness and healing. The role of the therapist of a guide, who will assist you through your process of discovery.
Conclusion – Humanistic Therapy in London
Humanistic therapy, with its focus on genuine connection and your inherent potential, offers a transformative path towards self-awareness and psychological healing. If you find yourself resonating with the principles of humanistic therapy, don’t hesitate to book an initial session, so we can begin your journey of exploration.