Broadly speaking there are three major types of therapy: those rooted in behavioural psychology (for example cognitive behavioural), those rooted in psychoanalysis (for example psychodynamic) and those rooted in humanistic psychology (for example person-centred).
It’s important when choosing a counsellor that you are informed of the counsellor’s theoretical base and to determine whether that theoretical base accords with what you want from therapy.
Here, the main features of humanistic counselling will be looked at.
Humanistic counselling evolved in the 50s when many psychologists and therapists wanted to look at psychology and therapy in ways not available to them in behavioural or psychoanalytic psychology. For this reason it became known as the ‘third force’. The main difference is the emphasis on the ‘human potential’ for creativity, love, growth and psychological health rather than any felt need for pathological labels or diagnosis as a starting-point for therapeutic interventions.
Other differences include its inspiration by other fields such as literature, art and philosophy as well as psychology; its emphasis on the person as an individual ‘self’’; perceiving the person ‘holistically’ rather than trying to get them to fit into any particular theory; and more generally, not afraid to be seen as non-conformist in the therapeutic world.
Prominent figures of the movement are Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers (the founder of person - or client-centred counselling) and Fritz Perls (the founder of gestalt therapy).
The main therapies considered to be humanistic are person-centred, gestalt, transactional analysis (TA) and transpersonal.
In humanistic counselling the capacity for growth and fulfilment underlies the approach to all clients. The fundamental drive of the person is seen to be a need for fulfilment. What gets in the way or ‘blocks’ fulfilment in the sense of self is not seen as static problems and/or diagnoses like ‘depression’ but rather hindrances in dynamic processes that would otherwise lead to the depression lifting.
Humanistic counsellors aim to help their clients work with these processes to allow changes that occur naturally when the processes being blocked are lessened or eliminated. Also worked with is the thinking that goes along with these blocks so that the person can move towards a clearer, less cluttered sense of self.
Humanistic counsellors also wish to work with a person’s whole experience rather than giving a singular importance to thinking, feeling or behaviour. These aspects of a person might be looked at individually but it is assumed that they are parts of a whole. Similarly since the person is seen as constantly changing rather than static there is no need to emphasise the past over present or future. The past often is important but that does not mean as it does in some other therapies, that the past always has something to do with present issues.
Because humanistic counselling is usually seen as an ‘art’ rather than a ‘science’ it is scarcely offered in the NHS where brief cognitive and psychodynamic therapies are preferred. However the evidence suggests that it is just as effective as these approaches. It is most suited to those who wish to explore their concerns in an open-minded, and as its name suggests, human way.
Information supplied by:
Jay Beichman, BACP Accredited Counsellor, MA, PGDipCouns, BA (Hons)
Tel: 01 273 696843
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