How A Humanistic Therapist Can Help You


This article is part 3 of a series on Mental Healthy and Therapy. Be sure to check out part 1 and part 2!


Edited By- Ananya Khandelwal 


Say you’re a person with an optimistic view of human nature. You think that people are essentially trustworthy. You believe that every person has an inner potential for positive growth and self-actualization, which simply put, is the fulfillment of one’s potentialities. Perhaps, you also believe that people are the sole experts of their own experiences. If I were to jump ahead with this idea, I’d assume you may also think that people are inherently capable of making changes, largely on their own. However, there could be times when you may feel stuck and find yourself directionless. You may find yourself unable to create constructive change on your own. At this time, if you sought a therapist following a humanistic theoretical orientation, I’d have to say you’ve found the right person. 

Humanistic therapists are not concerned with theory and techniques as much as they are with the therapeutic alliance they have with their client, and the client’s personal characteristics. Both of the latter are what humanistic therapists consider to be extremely valuable in helping the clients resolve their problems. In the therapy space, humanistic therapists play a more passive role. The focus is entirely on the client. The therapist simply guides the client to self-realization and self-actualization. This means that it’s up to the client to make their own goals for therapy, figure out what they want, and set themselves on a path to growth. A humanistic therapist is not going to tell you, “This is what you have to do,” or “Why don’t you try doing this?”. Instead, they try to provide the kind of environment required for you to identify your problems and conflicts, and come up with ways in which you can resolve them. This is not to burden the client; it is a manifestation of the therapist’s belief that every person is capable of self-directed growth. The humanistic therapist believes that you, as a client, can make it on your own but you need the therapeutic space and the therapist to help foster that kind of change.

Humanistic therapists work with the idea that every person is born with an innate ability that enables them to differentiate between what feels good and what feels bad. Do not confuse this with moral good and bad. This is simply about what is important to the person and makes them feel good, regardless of how it may be perceived by another person. This ability is called the organismic valuing process (OVP). OVPs dictate your real self, which is the person that you really are. If we all have OVPs that tell us what feels good and what does not, that means we can just follow what feels good to us. How do problems arise then? The simple answer to that is socialization through family, especially caregivers, and school. What feels good to you doesn’t always look acceptable to society. In the process of being socialized, every person develops certain conditions of worth (COWs). COWs contribute to creating the ideal self, which is the person that you would like to be. They are most likely to involve words like “should” and “must”. To better illustrate this, let me give you a very simple example: You’re involved in an argument with a friend. You know what to say to win the argument, something upsetting and hurtful. Your OVP is screaming at you to say it because it’s going to feel good to do it and winning the argument is going to be a sweet bonus. But you don’t say it. You’re scared that if you do, your friend won’t like you anymore. That’s a whisper of your internalized condition of worth. 

Most of the time, your real self and your ideal self do not overlap, that is, they’re often at odds with each other. The person that you really are may not be identical to the person that you would like to be. Officially, this is called incongruence, as the real self and the ideal self don’t overlap. This can be quite distressing to you. For example, you might be someone who believes in being punctual (your ideal self). In reality, you might not be very punctual at all (your real self). When this happens, you may get frustrated and start putting heat on yourself for not being more punctual. 

A humanistic therapist, in the course of therapy, will attempt to explore your real self and your ideal self and help you achieve some degree of congruence or overlap in the two. They may guide you to change the way you perceive yourself  and bring it closer to who you really are. An important thing to understand here is that there will always be some kind of incongruence between your real self and your ideal self. It’s practically impossible to achieve complete congruence. That’s just the kind of reality we live in, a reality that imposes conditions of worth on us. However, what matters most is the extent to which you can make your real self and your ideal self overlap. The greater the overlap, the better. 

In order to help you achieve congruence, the humanistic therapist attempts to ensure that the quality of the therapist-client relationship promotes self-growth. To further increase the chances of creating a growth-conducive environment, they use three main ingredients, part of a therapist’s much-needed attributes: genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathy. Genuineness is the extent to which a therapist is themselves in the therapy space. This means that the therapist is being honest about their feelings and behaviour while being attentive to the client’s needs. 

The humanistic therapist also believes that they must have and express unconditional positive regard to the client. This manifests in the form of basic acceptance and support of the client, no matter what they say or do during therapy. For example, if a client were to admit that they’ve committed the most immoral deed of them all, an effective humanistic therapist would not judge them but instead, accept them for who they are. This does not mean that the therapist accepts and supports the deed itself. It’s not about the deed at all. It’s solely about the client. This is one of the main reasons why humanistic therapy is also referred to as client-centered therapy.

Empathy is another crucial attribute that a humanistic therapist must possess. Granted, all therapists have to make use of empathy in their professional practice. However, humanistic therapists place greater emphasis on empathy because they believe it’s an integral part of creating a space that promotes constructive growth in the client. Empathy, along with genuineness and unconditional positive regard, on the part of the therapist, together build the space that helps the client find ways to resolve their conflicts and play a more active role in improving their mental health.

In humanistic therapy, the client is the ultimate expert of their experience and the maker of change. It may sound challenging, or even exhausting, to be the focus all the time. Perhaps, it may even seem like you’re spiralling out of control because you just can’t reach the point where you can identify your conflicts, create change, and grow. In that case, trust your therapist. An effective humanistic therapist will listen to you without judgment, be genuine and empathetic, and guide you in the best possible way for you to achieve self-directed growth.