Understanding Humanistic Therapy

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Humanistic therapy grew from humanistic psychology, a perspective of psychology that focuses on the individual and their inherent capacity to actualize themselves in their own unique ways. Leading figures connected with this approach include Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. According to Roger's theory, people are inherently good and motivated to fulfill their potential. Through exploring their uniqueness, people are able to solve their own problems by changing their thoughts and taking different actions.

Humanistic therapy is an approach that is centered around individuals as unique, with the potential for growth, rather than emphasizing set of symptoms or a diagnosis. This style of therapy focuses on the individual looking inward to find the right choices for themselves.

By looking inward for answers, individuals can find wisdom, healing, growth, and fulfillment. This article will discuss humanistic therapy's core principles, types, what to expect, techniques, benefits, and more.

Young female adult talking with a co-worker


Core Principles

The humanistic approach to therapy emphasizes a collaborative, accepting, and authentic relationship. The essential characteristics, or core principles, include:

  • Empathetic understanding of your experience at any given moment
  • Respect for your values and choices
  • Exploration of problems and helping you develop insight, courage, and responsibility
  • Exploration of goals and expectations, including what you hope to gain from treatment
  • Clarifying the role of the therapist as a helper while honoring your autonomy
  • Enhancing your motivation
  • Accountability for your actions by negotiating a contract (asking "Where do we go from here?")
  • Authenticity

These core principles place you in the center of your own experiences, encourage you to accept and take responsibility for your actions, and encourage you to find wisdom and insight through awareness of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment. A therapist remains in a helping role, offering empathy and unconditional positive regard.

Types of Humanistic Therapy

There are several types of humanistic therapy. They share common themes in their approach. A therapist is responsible for providing a safe, empathetic space for you to explore your inner world and worldview in the present. While they may provide structure for the dialogue, you remain the expert and guide for exploration.

Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy is a style of psychotherapy where the focus is on the present rather than trying to interpret the past or using the past to interpret the present moment.

In Gestalt therapy, a therapist will work with you to help you become more aware of your present actions, thoughts, and feelings and accept responsibility for them. This is done through techniques such as role-play or re-enacting a scenario to bring out spontaneous thoughts and feelings and become aware of how they can potentially change. This type of therapy also encourages individuals to learn to accept and value themselves.

Client-Centered Therapy

Client-centered therapy is an approach based on the premise that self-discovery and fulfillment can happen with an empathetic therapist that unconditionally accepts and understands you. It was developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers.

The therapist establishes an encouraging atmosphere but avoids giving advice or interpretations. Instead, they reflect and clarify your ideas so that you can better understand yourself, resolve your own conflicts, and reframe your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Ultimately, this process helps you to make changes in your behavior, helping you become your truest self.

Existential Therapy

Existential therapy is a style of psychotherapy that emphasizes exploring the individual's search for meaning in life. It focuses on exploring your present situation as a whole, your feelings, and taking responsibility for your own existence. Individuals must constantly question, "how do I exist?" in the face of uncertainty, conflict, or death, which are all part of living.

In existential therapy, you must continually recreate yourself and create meaning through your presence in the physical world, through relationships with others, and your relationship with yourself.

Benefits of Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that focuses on an individual’s development of their own unique potential. Although it doesn’t focus on specific diagnosis, it might be applied as part of a comprehensive treatment for:

However, it isn't only used in the context of specific mental health diagnoses. Humanistic therapy may also be beneficial for anyone who wants to:

  • Develop a strong, healthy sense of self
  • Improve their self-esteem
  • Find purpose and meaning in their lives
  • Reach their full potential

What to Expect

Humanistic therapy is a type of talk therapy that guides you to develop a better understanding of yourself and your worldview.

With this type of therapy, you can expect to take the lead in the conversation with the therapist. You can also expect that the therapist will be a curious, respectful listener and empathetically acknowledge your experiences.

With a humanistic therapist, you can expect to be treated as an equal, rather than the therapist acting as an authoritative or expert figure.


In a humanistic approach, you can expect a therapist to use methods including, but not limited to:

  • Unstructured interviews
  • Observation and reflections
  • Open-ended questions
  • Roleplay and re-enactment

These techniques aim to create a supportive environment where you can feel encouraged to explore your inner world without judgment. It also aims to help you take responsibility for your behaviors and feel empowered and active in the decisions you make for yourself in your life.


Research indicates that humanistic therapy is an effective approach that:

  • Creates significant and long-term change in clients compared with untreated clients
  • Is as effective as other psychotherapy approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Treats interpersonal and relational problems and trauma
  • Meets the criteria for evidence-based treatment for depression and psychotic conditions
  • Helps people cope with chronic and difficult health conditions and substance misuse


Humanistic therapy is a positive and effective approach to psychotherapy. It focuses on the whole person, helping you realize your full potential. It is based on humanistic psychology. This theory states that people are inherently good and motivated to reach their full potential.

While there are several styles of humanistic therapy, all approaches include encouragement and unconditional acceptance from a therapist. They act as a guide to reflect and clarify your own thoughts and beliefs in the present moment to help you find the solutions right for you.

A Word From Verywell

Trying a new kind of therapy can be an intimidating experience. Know that every therapist is a little bit different; if you meet with a therapist and don't think it's a good fit, another therapist may be better suited for you. This is the same with therapy styles.

If you are interested in exploring humanistic therapy, the first step is to speak with your primary care provider for a referral to a licensed mental health professional who has a humanistic approach to therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is humanistic therapy used to treat?

    Humanistic therapy may be used as part of a treatment approach for a variety of disorders, such as depression, anxiety, panic disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, addiction, and relationship issues. Humanistic therapy may also be beneficial for anyone who wants to improve their self-esteem, find purpose and meaning in their lives, and reach their full potential.

  • What are some disadvantages to the humanistic approach to therapy?

    A disadvantage to the humanistic approach to therapy is that it is a form of talk therapy that relies on the client to take responsibility to verbally convey their thoughts, so it may not be most beneficial for those with communication issues or who are uncomfortable with this approach. Additionally, it requires the client to be the one to create their own direction in the session, so the therapist will not be offering expert advice.

    Humanistic therapy is an approach that does not generally solve specific problems, symptoms, or disorders. Instead, it works towards helping a client gain more awareness of their inner world and worldview.

  • How long does it take to see the results of humanistic therapy?

    There's no set amount of time to see the results of humanistic therapy. However, the establishment of a positive therapeutic alliance with your therapist is critical to the success of humanistic therapy. For the sessions to be effective, there must be trust, rapport, and open dialogue between the client and therapist.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. UK Association for Humanistic Psychology Practitioners. Core beliefs.

  2. Treatment C for SA. Chapter 6 --Brief Humanistic and Existential Therapies. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1999.

  3. The Gestalt Therapy Network. Gestalt therapy: an introduction.

  4. American Psychological Association. Gestalt therapy.

  5. American Psychological Association. Client-centered therapy.

  6. American Psychological Association. Existential psychotherapy.

  7. Lago C, Charura D, eds. The Person-Centred Counselling and Psychotherapy Handbook: Origins, Developments and Current Applications. Open University Press; 2016.

  8. Elliott R. The effectiveness of humanistic therapies: A meta-analysis. In: Cain DJ, ed. Humanistic Psychotherapies: Handbook of Research and Practice. American Psychological Association; 2002:57-81.

By Rebecca Valdez, MS, RDN
Rebecca Valdez is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant, passionate about food justice, equity, and sustainability.