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How Does Humanistic Therapy Work?

Katelyn Hagerty

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 9/14/2022

Different types of therapy have different theories and methods behind them. But many have the same underlying goal to help an individual live a happier and more fulfilling life. The benefits of therapy can range from ultimately living a happier life to having meaningful relationships and more. Just as all types of therapy have different methods, some take a more individual approach. As the name implies, humanistic therapy is focused on the individual’s uniqueness and maximizing their potential.

Keep reading to learn more about what humanistic therapy is, how it works and who this type of therapy is best for.

What Is Humanistic Therapy?

Humanistic therapy is a mental health approach that focuses on someone’s nature and what makes them unique instead of grouping them based on similar symptoms.

Also known as humanism, this therapy looks at the person as a whole and emphasizes their positive traits.

The humanistic perspective sees humans as inherently good with the possibility to have healthy, meaningful relationships and make good choices.

So, what is the goal of humanistic therapy?

The goal of humanistic therapy is to increase the individual’s self-awareness and understanding of themselves to better use their intuition to grow, heal and find fulfillment.

The goal is to fully be yourself, which will help you make the right choices for yourself and your life.

This type of therapy takes a more humanistic approach to psychotherapy focusing on the individual’s human nature. 

Rather than relieving a disorder, a humanistic therapist will help you let go of assumptions and attitudes about how to live and instead focus on self-actualization.

Humanistic psychology came about in the late 1950s as a response to what some psychologists believed were limiting and negative theories of the schools of therapy at the time.

Two psychotherapists, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, each developed theories that would evolve into humanistic therapy.

Abraham Maslow came up with the human hierarchy of needs, the idea that people are motivated to fill basic needs (physiological needs like food and shelter) before moving on to more advanced needs (self-actualization).

Carl Rogers would go on to develop a person-centered approach to therapy, which later became one of the foundations of humanistic therapy.

There are three primary types of humanistic therapy: client-centered therapy, gestalt therapy and existential therapy. Narrative therapy and logotherapy have also derived principles from humanistic psychology.

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Client-Centered Therapy

Client-centered therapy is Carl Rogers’ person-centered approach to therapy that allows clients to take the lead in therapy to discover solutions on their own.

Also known as Rogerian therapy, this therapy practice uses techniques like congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard allowing the client to fully open up without the fear of judgment.

The therapist must also recognize that the client is a whole-person deserving of respect and more than their symptoms and medical history.

Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy focuses on the client’s life at the present moment rather than looking to the past.

Also considered a client-centered approach to therapy, gestalt therapy teaches the client to accept responsibility for themselves by re-enacting past experiences.

Existential Therapy

Existential therapy is a philosophical approach focusing on the human condition as a whole and not just experiences.

Instead of looking to the past, existential therapy is more about helping the client find a philosophical meaning in life and embracing authenticity and free will.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy teaches clients to rewrite their life experiences and events in a more helpful way.

This “rewriting” of one’s narrative can help clients heal from past traumas, see how past events gained significance and be better engaged in their own lives.

Logotherapy

Logotherapy is based on the principle that humans' main motivation is to find a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Clients in logotherapy learn to respond to suffering or trauma more effectively.

What Does Humanistic Therapy Treat?

What is humanistic therapy effective at treating?

Humanistic therapy can be an effective treatment for many mental health conditions as well as for those who don’t struggle with mood disorders but want to grow as a person.

Mental health conditions humanistic therapy can be effective for:

Humanistic psychology can also be helpful for those who have trouble reaching their full potential, struggle with low self-esteem or are searching for more meaning in their lives.

Is Humanistic Therapy Effective?

Humanistic therapy can be effective in different ways for different people.

A review of 86 studies found that humanistic therapies were effective in helping clients make a positive change over time.

The same review also found that those in humanistic therapy showed more change than those who didn’t participate in any therapy at all.

A 2013 review on humanistic therapy suggests that person-centered therapy can be an effective treatment for depression, trauma, psychosis and relationship issues.

For some conditions, humanistic therapy alone is not the most effective treatment method.

Those struggling with substance abuse disorders are recommended to use conventional treatments as well as therapy for the most effective treatment plan.

The 2013 review also found that person-centered therapy was not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy for treating anxiety or panic disorders.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and other health conditions, other treatments may also be necessary for certain disorders.

In addition to therapy, antidepressants such as escitalopram (Lexapro®) may be prescribed by your health care provider for anxiety or depression.

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Is Humanistic Therapy Right for Me?

All the different types of therapy and choosing which one to focus on can seem overwhelming.

The best place to start is talking to your health care provider about what you’re struggling with and what you hope to accomplish.

Successful therapy also depends on having a good relationship with your therapist and forming a trusting connection.

If you’re looking, our guide to finding a therapist is a starting point with the information you need.

If you’re interested in starting therapy, you can complete a free consultation to get personalized treatment from a licensed psychiatry provider online.

11 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Different approaches to psychotherapy. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/approaches
  2. Humanistic Therapy. (n.d.). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/humanistic-therapy
  3. Chapter 6 —Brief Humanistic and Existential Therapies - Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse. (n.d.). NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64939/
  4. Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the Pyramid of Needs: Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancient Foundations. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 5(3), 292–314. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3161123/
  5. Person-Centered Therapy. (2022, July 1). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/person-centered-therapy
  6. Cloninger, C. R., & Cloninger, K. M. (2011). Person-centered Therapeutics. International journal of person centered medicine, 1(1), 43–52. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4454449/
  7. Gestalt Therapy. (n.d.). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/gestalt-therapy
  8. Psychology. (n.d.). APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/narrative-therapy
  9. Rahgozar, S., & Giménez-Llort, L. (2020). Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy to Improve Mental Health of Immigrant Populations in the Third Millennium. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 451. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7290245/
  10. Elliott, R. (2002). The effectiveness of humanistic therapies: A meta-analysis. In D. J. Cain (Ed.), Humanistic psychotherapies: Handbook of research and practice (pp. 57–81). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2001-18223-002
  11. Elliot, R. (n.d.). Research on person-centred/experiential psychotherapy and counselling: summary of the main findings. Strathprints. Retrieved from https://strathprints.strath.ac.uk/61217/1/Elliott_OUP_2016_Research_on_person_centred_experiential_psychotherapy_and_counselling.pdf

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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