CHAPTER 6: Humanistic Approaches and Their
Key Terms and Essential Concepts
Phenomenological stance: A number of psychological theories
(existential, Person Centered, Adlerian and self psychology) approach human
perspective as subjective and holistic. Each person interprets experience from
a unique viewpoint, and that view is reflective of the person’s overall approach
to life. In contrast, psychoanalytically oriented counseling theories approach
human nature as divisible with separate parts serving distinct functions that
can be treated separately. To enter a client’s inner world requires therapists
to clear away their own perspective and to take on the overview of the client.
From a phenomenological perspective, a person reflects in each moment the whole
of his inner reality, and therefore, reviewing past experiences in therapy would
only be needed if the past were carried into the present by the client’s account.
Existentialism: In the mid to late 1800s, philosophers Kierkegaard
and Nietzsche described the basic issues affecting the human condition. People
exist in their awareness of themselves as unique beings, within the natural
world, in relation to others, and alert to spiritual issues. Life has no predetermined
universal meaning and yet people yearn to have purpose. Each individual has
the freedom and responsibility to construct the meaning of his or her life and
to choose values that determine important choices. To live without considering
life’s purpose, and to simply follow impulsive desires, denies personal responsibility
and causes psychic pain. Ultimately each person is alone, though temporary meaning
can be gained through transcendent intimacy with another person. Essential isolation
requires each person to learn to depend on their own inner resources and to
understand what cannot be gained from relationships. Life must also be understood
as time limited. Anxiety related to death can be overcome through the meaning
individuals create in the time they have. Rollo May and Yalom extended the philosophy
into an existential therapy designed to support clients in making sense out
of their lives through their own interpretations of life’s meaning.
Existential anxiety: Given the existential requirement
that each person defines life’s meaning, anxiety represents the struggle to
adhere to the person’s subscribed values. A common experience for all people
is a pervasive inner stressor forcing individuals to individually determine
the meaning of their existence. The feeling of unease signals that the person
needs to pay attention to life’s requirements: that time for existence is finite;
death is certain; and that we are responsible for creating meaning by choosing
how we live. Psychological neurosis can be seen as behaviors that attempt to
maintain important values in the face of life’s conditions. For example, a workaholic
may be preserving the only meaning a person has. Life involves unavoidable anxiety,
since any subscribed meaning is limited and life events interfere.
Existential guilt: Existential guilt results when the anxiety
indicators are ignored and no action is taken. The feeling of existential unease
can develop into an overwhelming angst if the press toward meaning is ignored.
Passively denying the press to create meaning shuts down the person’s vitality,
the natural innate quality to affirm the self and an inner drive to press forward.
Guilt is the signal that change is needed and somehow the person needs to take
charge of her life. To overcome the guilt, the person needs to determine those
values that express personal meaning and to find ways to manage life accordingly.
Meaninglessness: A major concept of existential philosophy.
Universal life is ever changing with no coherent design or purpose. Yet human
beings have an innate need to determine the meaning of their lives and without
meaning, they are subject to hopelessness and despair. Daily events must be
managed, but people also need a larger context beyond the mandatory necessities
and themselves. Mental health requires each individual to determine values that
can provide standards for making choices. Meanings are held by people to make
sense of their existence and to maintain patterns for living that meet higher
Freedom: Another major existential concept. Endowed with freedom,
every person is responsible for the choices he makes. Even attitudes toward
negative experiences are chosen, and feelings are the individual’s responsibility.
Wishing and willing: Rollo May, an existential counseling theorist,
describes wishing as the force pressing human beings toward creating a life
purpose. Willing is the movement toward action. Impulsive and compulsive behaviors
stem from denying wishing, since the actions are taken without forethought regarding
purpose. Behaving without a sense of responsibility to others or ourselves reflects
a lack of purpose and the will to create meaning. Each individual has the freedom
and responsibility to construct the meaning of his or her life and to choose
values that determine important choices.
Isolation: Existentialists develop the concept of each person’s
aloneness as a part of the description of human life. Each person is alone
in determining how she chooses to live and how she faces death. Although relationships
can alleviate loneliness, ultimately even with friendships and family relationships,
one is alone.
I/Thou relationship: An authentic relationship in which one
listens to another without an overlay of expectations or presumptions. The
listener experiences the other’s described experience and transcends his own
sense of self.
Fusion: A relationship where one person lives through another
person, denying the meaning of his own separate existence by merging with the
other. (In systems theory, fusion refers to a confusion of emotion and thought.)
Death anxiety: Existential thought emphasizes the finite nature
of every person’s life and describes the impact of this fact on the life’s meaning.
An awareness of death is warded off by avoidance and fantasies that somehow
we’ll be protected from losing our existence. Existentialists make the point
that the best defense against anxiously facing our ultimate dying is to create
a meaningful life.
Logotherapy: Logo derives from Greek, meaning words or speech.
Victor Frankl chose the logo stem as indicating a counseling method emphasizing
meaning. His approach maintains that the meaning individuals give to their experiences
are self controlled and that under all circumstances, the person has the freedom,
and responsibility, to choose how she will react to externals.
Affect blocks: When a person does not experience her own emotions
with awareness, the flow of affect has been overcome by anxiety. Often such
an impasse indicates that the person has not determined the meaning associated
with the experience. Existential therapists describe affect blocks occurring
in therapy as the person struggles to attain an understanding of what is happening
in his life.
Confrontation: When an existential therapist perceives the
client is avoiding deeper meanings or personal responsibility, the counselor
will challenge the client to face the issue. An example is pointing out the
common use of the phrase, "
when actually the person means, "
Another trigger for confrontation may be the counselor’s becoming aware of his
reaction to the client’s manner of interacting. The counselor will share the
effect the client’s presentation had, offering feedback on how others may be
reacting to the client.
Paradoxical intention: The counselor assigns to the client
a task that is intended to create the opposite reaction of what the client expects.
For example, the client may be told to exaggerate symptoms by trying to do
the fearful reactions, such as fainting when afraid in a crowd. The consequence
is that the client can’t faint and then is able to recognize the fear with a
Dereflection: A counseling technique used in logotherapy that
is similar to an Adlerian technique. The therapist assigns the client the homework
task of volunteering to do something for others, participate in a social activity,
or take up a creative endeavor. The goal is for the client to take attention
away from her own ruminations about herself and to focus on someone or something
Hyperreflection: Overdoing self-reflection. Logotherapy counselors
describe clients who are so involved with their analysis of their own inner
reactions that the self-absorption is unhealthy. Dereflection is the antidote.
Attitude adjustment: A counseling technique used in logotherapy
to change the client’s view of a situation. The therapist suggests different
language to describe a situation. An example is changing the word failure
linked to losing a job to an opportunity to try something new. In behavior
therapy the same technique is called cognitive reframing.
Appealing: Victor Frankl used this term to describe his method
of exhorting the client to change as he reassured the client of his ability
to change and described the benefits of solving the difficulties.
Boundary situations: Changes that come with ending one phase
of experience and the opening of new life events are termed boundary situations.
When people experience a transition from one set of life circumstances to a
new situation, often the change requires a reflection on personal meanings.
A person’s sense of what her life has meant may be called into question with
new experiences. Such an existential dilemma is most prominent when death
is vivid, either one’s own death as with a terminal illness or injury, or the
demise of a significant other. Beyond the grief felt in losing life or a relationship,
are implications for how one lives his own life with questions such as, "
How will I choose to live my life now?"
Other major life events also
involve losses when meanings are redefined, such as job loss, divorce, marriage,
or unexpected defeats. The term boundary situation suggests coming to
the edge of one phase of life before entering another era.
Humanism: Humanistic philosophy focuses on human beings and
their positive attributes. Individuals are considered naturally capable of developing
their innate potential, interests, and values. Humanists believe in an innate
goodness to human nature. Fostering the natural core self will lead to self-worth
and worthy lives benefiting all.
Authenticity: Living authentically is to be true to what one’s
self really is, without any pretenses. An authentic person lets go of false
masks and roles and does not choose to be guided solely by what others think.
The authentic self is fluid, in the moment, without rigid, predetermined reactions,
but open to new experiences.
Actualizing tendency: A belief of humanistic philosophy that
each person has the natural capacity to continually grow toward fulfilling
all his inborn potential.
Self-actualization: To grow toward self-actualization is to
reach for the fulfillment of the person’s innate potential in all aspects of
life (psychologically, spiritually, intellectually, physically, socially, etc.).
Human nature requires progressive development of abilities, and blocking potential
is a source of psychological difficulties. As each person accepts her true nature
and realizes all she can be, there is movement toward greater personality integration.
The combination of beliefs that human nature is basically good and that people
strive to become all they can be directs humanistic therapies to foster the
development of the self. Such an approach views psychological problems as blocks
to natural becoming rather than pathological diseases.
Organismic valuing process: An authentic person trusts
her internal reactions to experience and sets personal priorities according
to self-chosen values. Humanists use the phrase organismic valuing process to
describe a natural way of being that leads to positive choices for the individual
and for others.
Locus of evaluation: Locus refers to the source and
evaluation indicates how judgments are made. An individual can measure
her worthiness by looking for outside reinforcement or by depending on her
own internal valuing system. External evaluations such as grades or paychecks
provide concrete feedback that may or may not reflect the person’s own estimate
of what the experience meant. An internal locus of control indicates that the
person is not driven solely by external standards but also gives considerable
weight to personal assessments of events according to personal values.
Fully functioning person: A fully functioning person is simultaneously
open to new experiences and aware of his own internal framework. He trusts his
own ability to evaluate each life event according to his own values and to make
responsible choices according to the meaning he attaches to life. He accepts
and trusts others, offering the same respect to their struggle for self-actualization
as he gives his own striving.
Peak experience: When a person feels a sense of becoming who
one truly is, a holistic feeling of the self in the moment occurs.
Flow: Becoming so absorbed in an activity that all distractions
and irrelevant inner reactions are not present in the moment. The person and
the activity flow together as though one.
Person-Centered: Originally described by Carl Rogers, Person-Centered
counseling involves a focus on the client’s description of his experience and
his internal self. As the client tells of his reactions, the counselor teases
out the client’s unique feelings and meanings and reflects back to the client
what has been said. As the counselor maintains empathy and genuine positive
regard, the client begins to trust his sense of life and self and discovers
his own internal valuing system. Feelings rise to the surface more easily for
the client, and the flow of experiencing becomes readily available to him.
Carl Rogers believed that truly listening to the client and allowing the true
self to emerge brought forth the person’s basic goodness and his natural capacity
to relate to others cooperatively. Carl Rogers first developed his approach
in the late fifties, but since then his concepts have been extended to parent
and teacher training as well as to business and industry management, health
care, and cross-cultural communication. The approach focuses on creating authentic
relationships that honor the person’s self-expression, rather than theoretical
Necessary and sufficient conditions of therapy: Rogers defined
the qualities of the therapist and of counseling interactions that encouraged
client change. The therapist is sincere, congruent in his presentation
and his true inner reactions to the client (also called genuineness or
authenticity). A false front mimicking honest caring, or a blank slate,
would be antithetical to building a counseling relationship. The counselor feels
unconditional positive regard or nonpossessive warmth for
the client. Without judging the client, the counselor accepts the client’s experience
at face value from the client’s perspective, placing no conditions for acceptance.
The counselor shows respect for the client as a worthy human being who has seen
and lived life in her unique way. Finally, the counselor feels and communicates
to the client an understanding of the client’s inner world. Such empathy
reflected back to the client allows the client to explore her experience in
an atmosphere of safety and compassion. These conditions, according to Rogers,
are necessary for the client to feel free to change or capable of facing her
existential situation. Under such conditions the client will naturally grow
in a positive direction. Many therapy approaches consider Rogerian conditions
as basic to establishing a relationship with the client and to setting a tone
for therapeutic change. However, not all counseling approaches consider the
core conditions as sufficient for helping clients change. Other approaches expect
therapists to demonstrate additional knowledge and skills in counseling and
regard client change as requiring further interventions.
Congruence and Incongruence: A person is said to be congruent
when his inner world is reflected by his external presentation of self. Incongruence
shows the person as wearing a mask or projecting a persona that is not truly
representative of the self. Person-Centered therapy is designed to encourage
the client to be open to honest internal reactions and to develop congruency.
The counselor models congruency by entering therapy sessions with her inner
space settled and prepared to focus on the client’s description of his experience.
The client experiences his own description of his inner world and realizes
his true self and how the valuing process works.
Unconditional positive regard: In authentic interactions between
people, each shows the other a congruent positive appreciation of the other’s
description of personal experiences. A listener does not evaluate the other
from her own perspective but instead warmly accepts the other’s attempt to understand
the journey toward self-fulfillment.
Empathy: To understand another’s experience from the other’s
felt perspective. Empathy requires divining the full meaning of the other’s
statements including underlying feelings and personal meanings. When full understanding
is gained, the listener actually enters the other’s experience and feels what
the other is saying, without the listener losing his own sense of self.
Nondirective techniques: A Person-Centered counseling approach
is designed to expose the client’s inner experience and the client’s valuing
system. The client provides the content, or the material discussed in therapy;
the counselor facilitates the process of the counseling interaction to consistently
reflect how the client creates meaning from his experience. Any intervention
on the part of the counselor that would move away from the client’s focus on
inner experiencing would discourage the client from trusting his own subjective
capacity to live authentically. The client is encouraged to look inward and
to allow feelings to inform his experience. Directive techniques, such as advice
giving or interpretations, would reflect the counselor’s expertise and would
reinforce the client in trusting external influences, not his own internal valuing.
The counselor’s trust in the client’s ability to direct his own life is modeled
for the client, so the client can gradually trust his own reactions. Nondirective
techniques are typically termed reflecting—feelings or content—to emphasize
the process of giving back to the client what he or she has said. Person-Centered
counselors also clarify client statements so the client’s meaning is clear to
both the counselor and the client. Open-ended questions are carefully framed
by Rogerian counselors to allow the client to choose the direction of what is
said. The Person-Centered therapist also takes care to time interventions so
as to prevent interruptions as the client reflects on his experience. Nondirective
techniques are also used in play therapy for children as originally described
Focused listening: Existential and Person-Centered therapists
pay attention to what the client says and to the underlying feelings expressed.
From a full understanding of the client’s experience, the counselor determines
the client’s unique personal meanings and how the content reflects the client’s
Self-disclosure: When the counselor reveals something about
her own life in therapy, there is the risk of moving away from a focus on the
client. However, a limited amount of counselor revelation could also be considered
a display of genuine caring and joining. Person-Centered literature recommends
brief disclosures directly tied to client content and carefully timed to keep
the focus on the client. Research of client reactions to counselor talk showed
clients appreciating counselors’ sharing past experiences and current lifestyles
as helpful, not at all what Person-Centered literature recommends.
Group work: Existential and Person-Centered counselors extend
humanistic methods used in individual therapy to groups. Given beliefs in human
goodness, psychological growth, and a common quest for meaning, groups of individuals
interacting authentically are seen as therapeutic. Yalom, who wrote the most
widely used and respected text for group counseling, is philosophically grounded
in existentialism. In counseling groups, members gain feedback from others about
how they come across and can see how others deal with their experiences. The
value of focused listening and respecting the internal process of each individual
has also fostered applications for parenting workshops (PET) and teacher training
(TET). Indeed, Rogers applied the humanistic approach to a variety of groups
located in political and work settings.