Life can be hard. And, not one of us is exempt from the transitions, trials and hardships. Nothing changes these facts. Along the way, we may get stuck in a cycle, flounder in a transition, struggle in relationships or face mental illness. In some ways, this is par for the course.
Working through problems in healthy ways enables people to adapt and gain strength from tribulation and transition rather than being defeated by it. This arena is the proving ground of human psychology.
Whether we like to admit so or not, we are relational beings. And, this means that sometimes we need the help of others. This truth is not an affront to our independence or value. In fact, wisdom dictates that we use the tools available to us to solve problems.
Still, many of us hesitate to admit our apparent weakness or step into a psychologist’s office, even if it means getting a healthy perspective and hold on our circumstances. Now, doesn’t that sound a bit like shooting ourselves in the foot?
To better understand how a clinician helps, let’s take some time to consider where humanistic psychology came from and what it is. Understanding often gives us a new perspective on old information. In other words, let’s remove our assumptions and look at the truth of this field.
Psychology studies the complex world of the mind. The Greek roots of the label itself include psyche and logia. Psyche means soul, life or breath, while logia refers to the “study of.” In other words, this science studies the soul or mental life of human beings.
So, how is this accomplished? After all, looking at the brain proves impractical. On the other hand, gray matter does not in itself show clinicians what is going on in the mind of a client.
By patterns of action and words spoken, the mind of an individual reveals itself through behavioral clues. This science works to understand people and groups, to explain behavior based on mental processes. It is not magic, does not require psychic or super powers, and it does not hurt.
Often we associate the help of a psychologist with severe mental health problems. And, yes, it is true that clinicians address mild to severe forms of such disorders. But, there is more.
Humanistic psychologists also help bring understanding and solution to problems in all areas of life. While mental may be one arena, relational, academic, transitional, work, emotional, spiritual and connected biological issues may also warrant the knowledge of a psychologist’s counsel.
This psychological approach believes in addressing the whole person. The uniqueness individuals becomes a focus. And, personal choice and responsibility are emphasized. Proponents believe these philosophies humanize the experience, a response to the purported de-humanizing approaches of other therapies.
The philosophies of psychology began in the ancient societies of China, Egypt, Greece, India and Persia. The works of Greek philosophers addressed the mind and even conceptualized mental disorders with physical causes. Philosophers, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and Thales and physician, Hippocrates, contributed to this birth of psychology.
Wilhelm Wundt began the first experimental psychology lab in Germany in 1879. His work aimed at describing the structures of the mind separated psychology as an independent field of study. Relying on introspection, Wundt believed that trained individuals could identify the mind’s workings that engender feelings, sensations and thoughts.
Schools of Thought
Over the years, varying schools of thought developed and continue to influence the practice of psychology today. In many ways, these separate philosophies offer a fuller understanding of the field as a whole rather than acting as competing ideas.
These schools of thought include:
Humanism (since this article addresses this foundation specifically) emerged in the 1950s. Rather than focusing on unconscious motivations, the tragic and failing to account for personal choice as psychoanalysis had previously, humanistic psychology stressed individual potential, growth and self-actualization. This view was more optimistic than earlier theories.
The official establishment of the American Association of Humanistic Psychology came in 1961 at the hands of Abraham Maslow and his colleagues. And, in 1962 Maslow’s published work, “Toward a Psychology of Being,” recognized a “third force” of psychology. Humanistic theory represented this third force behind behaviorism and psychoanalysis.
Again, while all branches of psychology contribute to understanding human behaviors and motivations, the humanistic approach added a more holistic view of a person. This method led to ways of thinking, techniques and approaches to therapy not previously considered.
Today, psychologists use more objective and scientific methods to explain and predict behavior. Principles of psychology gained from research using this scientific approach inform clinical practice. The move from philosophical roots as this field of study emerged and developed grounds the practice of psychology in science.
However, the practice of humanistic therapy diverges at this point. Psychologists of this school of thought use qualitative or more subjective methods rather than numbers and objective data in treatment. In other words, they help you understand your thoughts, moods and behaviors.
While hesitancy accompanies the very idea of seeking professional therapy, the truth is that strength and courage are required to face your struggles head-on. And, wisdom states that seeking help to do so is beneficial.
Seeing a psychologist offers many benefits in terms of a healthier, happier life. No matter the school of thought or therapeutic technique, several positive results come from talking with a therapist. A few of these include:
— Improve daily emotional wellness.
Clinical help gives clients a handle on their emotions even if stressors are not life-altering. While addictions and depression often draw our attention as therapy worthy, these are not the only reasons to seek psychological treatment. No matter the perceived gravity of your issues, talking with a psychologist helps you develop healthy coping mechanisms and stress responses in your daily life.
— Gain insight into issues and solutions.
A professional therapist helps clients develop a strategy for addressing problems. Talking through issues opens new perspectives and allows you to see them in context. This new angle view helps you identify solutions and move forward rather than being stuck in current circumstances.
— Find purpose.
Successfully applying solutions builds confidence and develops purpose in clients. Especially when you are feeling depleted, openly facing your struggles breeds clarity and brings small victories in the process. All of this begins to reveal the meaning in your life.
— Improve mood and more.
Keeping unexpressed feelings, including traumas, to yourself leads to ugly results. Pushing emotions down does nothing more than create space to pile more garbage on top. This junk erodes mood, thought processes, relationships and even your physical body. Releasing this toxic build up through talk therapy improves mood and overall health and well-being.
Additionally, the results of psychotherapy serve you in future trials. The end game of meeting with a therapist is the set of tools you walk away with in your possession. You leave armed and prepared to face future stressors with greater strength.
Benefits of Humanistic Psychology
For the most successful therapeutic outcomes, client-therapist fit proves powerful. For this reason, knowing a therapist’s general philosophy and treatment techniques prove significant. For instance, therapy geared along a humanistic track comes with a unique set of benefits.
— Recognizes goodness and potential in clients.
— Places an emphasis on individual choice and responsibility.
— Values personal ideals and self-fulfillment of the client.
— Considers clients within the context of their environment.
— Takes into account a client’s personal perceptions and feelings.
The list is extensive as to those influencing the emergence, development and continuation of psychological study and treatment. Sigmund Freud, Ivan Pavlov, Carl Jung and Erik Erikson may be familiar names to some. Focusing on the field of humanistic psychology, a few notable names come to mind.
— Abraham Maslow
Known for his work identifying the hierarchy of needs, Maslow brought light to this field with his publication, “A Theory of Human Motivation.”
— Carl Rogers
Applying the principles of humanism to therapy, Rogers progressed the humanistic approach by publishing “Client-Centered Therapy.”
— Erich Fromm
Challenging Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, Fromm brought the fundamental concepts of human freedom, and the influence of society and culture on individuals to treatment.
The focus on individual uniqueness fits well within our current society. And, the cultural emphasis on holistic care medically and otherwise matches that of the humanism in therapy. Plus, the demonstrated value of interpersonal and relational components in treatment support a future for humanistic psychology.
As we can surmise without research, issues and problems will greet us in the future, just as they have in the past and the present. The need to understand mental processes, responses and behaviors will follow as well. Just as humanistic psychology has begun to break down the myth that therapy is for the severely mentally ill alone, it seems that this approach will play a role in helping us achieve future well being also.