Over the course of the last century, a host of counseling approaches have been developed to help individuals suffering from a wide range of maladies. While each of these
therapies has specific benefits and drawbacks, the humanistic approach to counseling provides a method in which an individual is able to take an active role in his or her own treatment. By relying on the specific experiences of a client and how they relate to dysfunction, the humanistic approach to counseling serves as the basis for both client and therapist to garner a better understanding of the issues causing distress as well as provide specific coping mechanism.
Humanistic theory is based on the idea that all individuals strive to achieve self-actualization. Humanists theorized that each individual has a hierarchy of needs, and when all of these needs are met, a person becomes self-actualized. Under this theory, psychological disturbances occur as a result of social pressures that force individuals to conform to dictates that pull them off of their path to self- actualization. Additionally, disturbances can result from an inability to meet basic needs such as finding food and shelter.
The main feature of humanistic therapy centers on self- examination and what an individual can do to meet his or her goal of self-actualization. The process focuses on three aspects of the self: self-concept, self-image, and
the actual self. When all three of these things are congruent, the happier and healthier an individual will become. This framework can aid individuals dealing with disaster by helping the individual focus on specific needs. By exploring the manner by which self- actualization can occur in the wake of a life-altering event, humanists can help individuals re-focus their attention and re-align their world perspectives in light of tragedy. Because storytelling helps individuals to understand themselves better, this technique can help in the quest for self-actualization.
Overall, the process of humanistic psychology forces a therapist to consistently reexamine how he or she looks at the world. In doing so, the therapist is able to keep in touch with the specific needs that all human beings share. For this reason, humanism becomes more than just a means for clinical practice; it becomes a way of life that allows the therapist to experience new situations with an open mind and grow as an individual both personally and professionally. In addition, the therapist is given the opportunity to understand the human condition and its many facets.
The process of accepting the client as he or she is the groundwork for profound human interaction. The therapist does not seek to identify what is essentially wrong with the client, but attempts to understand the entire context of a client’s development.
If a client makes the determination that he or she would like to change, a therapist can facilitate this process. Otherwise, a therapist is charged with the responsibility of helping the client accept themselves as they are. This process requires a therapist to be non-judgmental and to accept the client as a fully developed individual.
Humanistic theories focus on the importance of the client in the process of therapy. According to the Association for Humanistic Psychology, humanistic theories are predicated on the development of the individual that has been neglected in the process of behavioral psychology. Humanists seek to find what is unique about the individual and apply that to the context of therapeutic intervention. As such, therapy is a process that is integrally centered on the dynamics of an individual.
In the same manner, client- centered theories developed by Rogers (1961) attempt to place the development of the client as the central focus of the therapeutic process. Interventions are developed with the specific needs of the client in mind, to make them relevant for practical improvement.