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Transcript of Humanistic Psychotherapy

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    Chapter for The Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy, Volume I

    (New York: Elsevier Science/Academic Press, 2002, pp. 949-957)

    All Rights Reserved, Elsevier Science Copyright, 2002

    Humanistic Psychotherapy

    Kirk J. Schneider, Ph.D.

    Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center

    Larry M. Leitner, Ph.D., Miami University


    I. Humanistic Approaches: Description and Overview

    II. Existential Therapy

    III. Constructivist Therapy

    IV. Transpersonal Therapy

    V. Empirical Studies of Humanistic Therapy

    VI. Summary


    Constructivist Therapy: Humanistic approaches which stress personal and social

    constructions of psychological growth processes.

    Existential Therapy: Humanistic approaches which emphasize freedom, experiential

    reflection, and responsibility.

    Humanistic theory: Comprises two overarching concerns, What it means to be fully,

    experientially human; and how that perspective illuminates the vital or fulfilled life.

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    Humanistic Therapy: Conditions or stances which assist people to grapple with and

    become more of who they aspire to become.

    Transpersonal Therapy: Humanistic approaches which accent spiritual and transcendent

    dimensions of psychological well-being.

    Definition Paragraph:

    Humanistic psychotherapy is the applied branch of humanistic psychology and

    philosophy. Humanistic psychology and philosophy are time-honored folk and academic

    traditions that stress deep personal inquiry into the meaning and purpose of life. In

    particular, humanistic psychology and philosophy pose two basic questions: What does it

    mean to be fully, experientially human; and how does that understanding illuminate the

    vital or fulfilled life? Correspondingly, humanistic psychotherapy comprises the

    conditions or stances by which people can come to intimately know themselves and, to

    the extent possible, to fulfill their aspirations. Humanistic psychotherapy is characterized

    by three major practice philosophiesthe existential, the constructivist, and the


    I. Humanistic Approaches: Description and Overview

    Humanistic psychotherapy is a broad classification that embraces a diverse

    ensemble of approaches1. Each of these approaches are like spokes on a wheel, the hub

    of which is the humanistic theoretical stance. The humanistic theoretical stance derives

    1 The terms approach, stances, and conditions are used instead of treatment in humanistic nomenclature. The reason for this substitution is because treatment implies the medical-like application of a technique to a measurable and well-defined symptom; however humanistic psychotherapy emphasizes

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    essentially from ancient Greek, Renaissance, and even Asian sources, which all uphold

    the maxim, know thyself. Although there have been many variations on this theme

    throughout the development of psychology, let alone humanistic psychology, it has come

    to acquire a core humanistic meaning. For humanists, to know thyself is far from a

    simple project with trivial implications; to the contrary, it is an intensive intra- and

    interpersonal undertaking with world-historical significance. In the parlance of modern

    humanistic psychology the maxim has come to be understood as a dialectic between

    profound self inquiry, and inquiry into the world. Indeed, the self cannot be separated

    from the world, according to contemporary humanists, and must be understood as a self-

    world process or construct as James Bugental has put it. A corollary to the humanistic

    stress on inquiry is engagement of potential. It is not enough to ask questions about lifes

    meaning, according to humanists, one must also, at the appropriate time, translate those

    questions into a meaningful life. In short, humanistic psychology has both an inquiring

    and moral-ethical component that suffuses through every mode of its application. To

    learn more about the history and development of humanistic philosophy and psychology,

    see The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology: Leading Edges in Theory, Research, and

    Practice and Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology: A Historical and Biographical


    Contemporary humanistic psychotherapy is comprised of three basic practice

    traditions: the existential, constructivist, and transpersonal. We will now describe the

    structure of these traditions, highlight their conceptual underpinnings, and consider the

    empirical evidence on which they are based.

    the significance of a relationshipa condition, atmosphere, or forum--within which, not just symptoms but complex life issues can be explored and addressed.

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    II. Existential Therapy

    Existential psychotherapy derives from the philosophical and literary writings of

    such thinkers as Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean Paul

    Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty; and from the methodological formulations of

    investigators such as Edmund Husserl, Wilhelm Dilthey, and William James. The basic

    thrust of existential psychotherapy, as Rollo May, one of the leading contemporary

    spokespeople for the movement put it, is to set clients free. Freedom is understood as

    the cultivation of the capacity for choice within the natural and self-imposed (e.g.,

    cultural) limits of living. Choice is understood further as responsibility; the ability to

    respond to the myriad forces within and about one. While many forces are recognized

    as restrictive of the human capacity for choice, e.g., influences that May terms

    destinygenes, biology, culture, circumstance etc.--they are nevertheless highly

    mutative, according to existentialists, in the light of and through the tussle with--choice.

    For existentialists, choice is the key to an engaged and meaningful life.

    The second major concern of existential psychotherapy is the cultivation not just

    of intellectual or calculative decision-making, but decision-making that is felt, sensed, or

    in short, experienced. The stress on the experiential is one of the primary areas of

    distinction between existential and other (e.g., cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic)

    modes of practice. The experiential mode is defined by four basic dimensions

    immediacy, affectivity, kinesthesia, and profundity. By immediacy, we mean that

    experience is fresh, living, here and now; by affectivity, we mean experience is

    characterized by feeling or passion; by kinesthesia, we mean experience is embodied or

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    intensively sensed; and by profundity, we mean experience has depth, impact, and

    transcendent significance. Another way to characterize the experiential is through

    recognition, as Arthur Bohart has put it. To the degree that a thought, feeling, or

    behavior is recognized, according to Bohart, it is experienced.

    Existential therapists have a variety of means by which to facilitate freedom,

    experiential reflection, and responsibility. Some, such as Irvin Yalom, emphasize the

    support and challenges of the therapist-client relationship to facilitate liberation. Yalom

    stresses the building of rapport and repeated challenges to clients to take responsibility

    for their difficulties. Further, Yalom homes in on the immediate and affective elements

    of his therapeutic contacts, but he refers little to kinesthetic components. Following the

    philosopher Martin Buber, Maurice Friedman also homes in on the interpersonal

    relationship but stresses the dimension of authenticity or the I-thou encounter as the

    key therapeutic element. The I-thou encounter according to Friedman is the dialectical

    process of being both present to and confirming of oneself, while simultaneously being

    open to and confirming of another. The result of such an encounter is a healing through

    meeting as Friedman puts it in The Psychology of Existencewhich is a healing of trust,

    deep self-searching, and responsibility. Through the therapists I-thou encounter, in

    other words, the client is inspired to trust, enhance self-awareness, and take charge of his

    or her own distinct plight. James Bugental, on the other hand, accents the intrapersonal

    dimensions of freedom, experiential reflection, and responsibility. For Bugental, choice

    and responsibility are facilitated, not merely or mainly through therapist and client

    encounter, but through concerted invitations (and sometimes challenges) to clients to

    attend to their subtlest internal processesflashes of feeling, twinges of sensation, and

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    glimpses of imagination. Via these means, according to Bugental, clients discover their

    deepest yearnings, their strongest desires, but also, and equally important, their thorniest

    impediments to these impulses. By grappling with each side, however, Bugental

    maintains that clients learn to negotiate their conflicts, elucidate their meaning, and

    rechannel them into living fuller and more empowered lives. Similarly, Rollo May

    stresses the cultivation of what he terms intentionality in the therapeutic relationship.