“According to Carl Rogers, all humans, as well as all other living organisms, have an innate need to survive, grow, and enhance themselves” (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2007, p.438). This statement enforces the meaning behind the humanistic school of thought, that all humans are born with the ability to live an authentic life to truly develop and understand their real self. This, the underpinning of humanistic therapy, certainly makes a great deal of sense and in many ways resonates with me.
A key point one finds in literature about humanistic therapy is that the client holds the answers to his or her problems; the client is the agent for change in his or her life. It is certainly very difficult to argue this point. One could say that in some clients, certain thoughts are so repressed that they may not actually know what they want or need. Proponents of humanistic therapy would say that through this process of person-centered therapy, the client will come to know what he or she needs. So often therapists are tempted to spew forth their interpretations of the client’s situation without really understanding what is going on. I think constantly reminding one’s self that the client holds the answers forces the therapist to be a better listener.
Let’s consider that an individual is having a conversation with a friend about a certain issue he or she is dealing with. I would assume this person wouldn’t be very satisfied with the conversation if the friend continually threw out suggestions for how he or she should handle the issue. To me, this is one of the central arguments of humanistic therapy that I agree with the client is the one who brings about the change within him or herself. Thus, the therapists’ role is not offering advice but helping the client fully accept him or herself.
The aspect of humanistic therapy that appeals to me the most is the importance of the client’s subjective reality. The following quote from Rogers speaks about this phenomenological reality:
The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment.
The only reality you can possibly know is the world as you perceive and experience at this moment.
And the only certainty is that those perceived realities are different. There are as many
“real worlds” as there are people! (Rogers, 1980, p. 102)
I couldn’t agree more. If every human being truly is uniquely different, then why doesn’t every human being experience the world in a different way? They certainly do and so as a therapist I think it paramount that one focus on the subjective reality of the client. One must ask, how is the client seeing this situation? If the therapist is truly trying to understand where the client is coming from, he or she has to get inside the client’s internal frame of reference, as this is where the change has to come from (Corey, 2005, p.165).
I must admit that it wasn’t until I did a little extra research that I really began to appreciate the humanistic approach to therapy. Corey discusses the humanistic therapist’s role, “They generally do not take a history, they avoid asking leading and probing questions, they do not make interpretations of the client’s behavior, they do not evaluate” (2005, p. 169). As I read this I thought, “Well, what do we do then?” I find so many of those things fairly important to the process of therapy that I thought I wouldn’t be able to identify very much with the humanistic approach.
As I read more, I began to realize that humanistic therapy has evolved and will continue to evolve. I think the practice of psychology has progressed to a point at which clinicians are becoming more well rounded and understand the need to employ a variety of techniques from all perspectives. I think, as a therapist, to model one’s self after a single theorist is not only limiting for the client’s experience, it is also being untrue to one’s real self in essence, not living an authentic life. My point is that you can subscribe to the ideas of the importance of the client’s subject reality and the client holding the answers to their change, while incorporating techniques and ideas from other schools of thought. This was solidified to me by a thought from Corey, “for none of us can emulate the style of Carl Rogers and still be true to ourselves. If we strive to model our style after Rogers, and if the style does not fit for us, we are being less than fully congruent” (2005, p. 175).
Corey, G. (2005). Theory and practice of counseling & psychotherapy (7th ed).
Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole-Thomson Learning.
Hergenhahn, B. R., & Olson, M. H. (2007). An introduction to theories of personality
(7th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.
Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.