How Does Humanistic Therapy Work?

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Humanistic psychology focuses on the belief that people are good. It also focuses on helping people to reach their full potential through their inherent uniqueness. This is all based on the assumption that people not only have free will but are motivated to reach that potential through the process of self-actualization.

For that reason, humanistic psychology and therapy go together. The latter puts a focus on people’s ability to reach their full potential and to make rational choices. Let’s take a closer look at this type of therapy, how it works, and what the goal is.

How Does Humanistic Therapy Work?

So let’s get down to brass tacks: how does humanistic therapy work? Let’s start with the basics, including some of the most important assumptions that come from humanistic psychology.

The first is that perception, thought, feelings, and more are all central to how each of us feels about ourselves. This is thought to be the main indicator that creates our behavior. There is also a need to reach our full potential through natural processes.

It is also thought that people have their own free will. This is important because it means feeling the need to take responsibility for our behaviors, personal fulfillment, and growth.

It is believed that people, with the right set of conditions, can be good. Most of all, it is believed that a psychologist should treat each person differently since we all have our own unique experiences.

How it works is relatively simple. It is a holistic approach with the focus on human potential, free will, and self-discovery. The aim is to help each person develop a healthy, strong sense of self. Additionally, it means exploring your feelings, focusing on your own strengths, and finding meaning in life.

There are two approaches when it comes to humanistic therapy: empathy and unconditional positive regard. Through empathy, the therapist seeks a better understanding of the patient. Their empathy is what allows them to relate to your experiences. Positive regard means that the therapist will show warmth, stay away from judgment, and be receptive.

The Types of Humanistic Therapy

Another aspect to consider in “how does humanistic therapy work” is the different types of humanistic therapy. Before you can begin to partake in this form of therapy, it helps to know what the different types have to offer.

Existential. The existential approach has more of a focus on self-determination, the search for meaning, and free will. It is also the least common approach for this form of therapy, though it has become more common in recent years.

Gestalt. Through this form of humanistic therapy, the focus is on the techniques and skills that allow each of us to be aware of our emotions and feelings. The goal here is to encourage awareness of the here and now, while also accepting responsibility for our behavior and actions.

Client-Centered. This is perhaps the most common approach to humanistic therapy. The client-centered approach makes use of the active listening technique. The therapist listens to the client, acknowledges what is being said, and then paraphrases the potential concerns. This technique is meant to provide the kind of supportive environment where clients can feel free to be themselves, without the judgment that may come in other formats.

Through this form of humanistic therapy, there is a greater focus on getting in touch with our “true selves” to help each of us better understand who it is we really are. This approach also relies on the aforementioned empathy and positive regard.

Through any of these methods, it is possible to influence positive changes for clients. It can be an effective form of therapy for people who have anxiety, personality disorders, depression, addiction, and relationship issues, among other things. Though the approach is relatively new, it is one that is gaining traction in the psychology and therapy world.

What is the Primary Goal of Humanistic Therapy?

The main goal of humanistic therapy is to help people free themselves from the attitudes and assumptions that plague us most of our lives. This is all in an effort to help each of us learn to have fuller lives.

There is emphasis from the therapist on self-actualization and growth as opposed to diving into the path, curing disorders, or alleviating diseases. There is no need to diagnose as that is not the primary goal.

The goal of this perspective is to allow for conscious processes to take hold, not some of the unconscious processes that are the root of other forms of therapy. Being yourself is not meant to be the source of the problem but instead the solution.


Though it has its critics, humanistic therapy is beginning to gain real traction. It helps to be as educated on the matter as possible before partaking. The main goal of this type of therapy is to help each of us find our true selves and achieve our fullest potential.

Not every form of therapy has to involve diving into the past, making diagnoses, or treating illnesses. Sometimes, it can just be about finding the best in us. That is what humanistic therapy can potentially offer to those seeking humanistic therapy.


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