The Humanistic Psychotherapies

Humanistic therapy emerged in the 1950s offering individuals an alternative to psychoanalysis, focusing on a recognition of the client's capabilities in creativity, personal growth and choice. The main aim of humanistic therapy being to help clients explore how they perceive themselves in the 'here and now' assisting them to recognise their strengths by offering a 'real' relationship that provides a non-judgemental and understanding experience.  Some of the main humanistic therapies are listed below:

  • Person-Centred
  • Gestalt
  • Transactional Analysis
  • Focusing
  • Existential
  • EMDR

See below for a brief explanation of the emphasis taken by the various therapies encompassed under the umbrella of humanistic psychotherapy.

Person-Centred Therapy

This approach to counselling and psychotherapy sees human beings as having an innate tendency to develop towards their full potential given the right relational conditions.  As such the therapist aims to provide an environment in which their clients do not feel in any way judged or under threat, thereby enabling them to experience and accept more of who they are as a person and reconnect with their own values and sense of self-worth.  Significantly the therapist works to understand a client's experiences from the client's point of view, positively valuing them as a person in all aspects of their humanity, while aiming to be open and genuine.  The nature of the therapeutic relationship created between client and therapist is crucial for the success and effectiveness of the therapy.

Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy has a strong focus on the 'here and now' concentrating on the whole of the client's experience; their thoughts, feelings and actions aiming for the client to become more self-aware.  Therapists concentrate on 'here and now' experiences to remove obstacles and blocks created by past experiences.

Transactional Analysis

TA is a theory that is related to communication and child development, explaining connections to the past and how these influence the subsequent decisions that people make.  Three 'ego' states are used to describe how we respond to others in all our communications; Parent, Adult and Child.  The Parent ego state being a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from overt and covert messages imparted by the important people in our early childhood, The Adult ego state relating to direct responses to the 'here and now' not influenced by the past, and the Child ego state reflecting the set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our childhood.  TA seeks to identify what goes wrong in communication and provide opportunities for clients to change repetitive patterns that limit their potential.  Therapists encourage clients to analyse previous decisions they have made to try and understand the direction and patterns of their life for themselves.  


Focusing oriented therapists create an environment that allows and supports the experiential in such a way as to further the clients direct experiencing of what it is they are talking about.  Therapists will try to weave in experiential components so that clients are directly sensing their issues as they are experiencing them in the moment, during the course of the therapy session.  Clients are encouraged to continually check that the words and suggestions given by the therapist match with their own feelings and what rings true for them.  

Existential Therapy

The Existential approach focuses on exploring the meaning of the clients' issues through an emphasis on a philosophical perspective rather than technique-based approach.  As such it is very effective for clients wishing to increase their self-awareness and broaden their views on their surrounding world and their place in it, significantly exploring ideas that are aimed at making sense of human existence. The existential therapist will generally not be so concerned with their client's past but place more emphasis on the choices to be made in the present and future.


Where does this fit in with the humanistic therapies?  The Therapeutic Relationship plays a vital role in the using Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing with traumatised clients (with a little't' or a big 'T').  Relational issues play a key role in evry phase of EMDR treatment and are essential to the most effectie application of this method of treatment with trauma victims, ensuring the formation of a stronger and healthier relationship between client and therapist.  In essence both empirically supported therapeutic procedures and the therapeutic relationship are equally important in and neither can function to the best interest of the client without the other. Guided by the Adaptive Information Processing Model of the brain, clinicians recognise that clients see the world in a certain way because of the emotions, cognitions and physical sensations that arise when perceptions of the present link into their current memory network and manifestations of the old stored material/memories arise in the present.  Ultimately a shared belief is that a positive and strong therapeutic relationship is an interactive engagement between two equals sharing an important life-changing experience.