Monday, November 20, 2006

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic approaches evolved mainly as an opposition to the highly mechanistic and deterministic elements of both the psychodynamic and behavioral approaches. Proponents of this school argue that frustrations in human existence, especially problems that arise from alienation and conflicts within the self-concept lead to emotional problems. Humanistic therapists also believe in the ability of the patient to make his or her own choices and to control their future. In order to help these individuals to make their own choices, therapy involves making them aware of their hidden emotions and desires. In this way, humanistic therapy is very much like psychodynamic treatment in that it emphasizes insight-oriented methods. However, since humanistic therapists are more concerned with how their patients are feeling and not necessarily why they feel that way, the humanistic approach is actually more like behavioral therapy in its emphasis on the present. The most unique attribute of humanistic therapies is the vast importance of the patient- client relationship. Whereas in the psychodynamic and behavioral approaches this relationship is seen as the means to an end, in the humanistic approach, the relationship is the treatment. The goal of the treatment is not to solve all of the individual's problems, as in behavioral therapy, but rather to place more autonomy in the hands of the patient so that the patient can help him- or herself.

Variations of the Humanistic Approach

There are two major categories within the humanistic approach: client-centered therapy and gestalt therapy. A major pioneer of client-centered therapy was Carl Rogers. He believed in non-directive therapy, which means that the patient plays the primary role in generating his or her improvement. The premise of this therapeutic approach is that everyone has the ability to be self-directive, but we are often situated in invalidating environments that hinder the psychological process instead of healing. The goal, then, is to provide the individual with warmth, genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard so that the individual can heal him- or herself. The role of the therapist, instead of acting like a "blank slate", as in psychoanalysis, becomes a basis of reflection of content and affect. The therapist exhibits his or her empathy by showing that he or she understands both the patient's expressed and not expressed emotion. And since the therapist does not assume the role of an expert, there is allowance for him or her to share personal experiences with the patient. The patient, who is being treated with a lot of respect and support, is referred to as a "client" rather than a patient.

Gestalt therapy, on the other hand, places the therapist in a very antagonistic position towards the patient. Although this form of therapy is also concerned with increasing emotional awareness, the method is for the therapist to confront the patient as being fake and phony until he or she expresses genuine emotion. Gestalt therapists especially emphasize the present by preferring that the patient truly experience an emotion instead of simply talking about how he or she feels in abstract terms.


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