Term Paper: Humanistic Psychology the Current Manifestations

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¶ … Manifestations of Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic Psychology as practiced today can be divided roughly into three large categories of activities. A large mainstream group of humanistic psychotherapists, who subscribe to existential theories and use a variety of methods, work to help people who are in pain. Another group that specializes in self-actualization is concerned with helping individuals discover who they really are and what they can become. A third group is part of the New Age movement and working in a variety of ways to bring a new uplifted consciousness into the world. These three categories are not distinct from each other by any means; indeed, the division is merely a rhetorical construction which will allow us to look at what's happening today in a systematic manner. This essay will focus on theories, methods, and philosophy in the practice of humanistic psychotherapy; industrial and educational applications, and some of the ways humanistic psychologists are taking part in the New Age movement.

Because the main activity of humanistic psychologists is to deliver psychotherapy to clients, it makes sense to begin with a discussion about what kind of therapy is most effective. "What is good psychotherapy?" is perhaps a misleading question to ask. Often this question is interpreted to mean, "What is empirically validated treatment?" A question asked in the physical science paradigm which demands objective researchers, quantitative results, and universal applications. Only certain kinds of questions can be asked, questions which produce a kind of knowledge that is often irrelevant to the practicing therapist and the psychotherapy client. Psychotherapeutic practice is not the experimental testing of a hypothesis. So the question "What is good psychotherapy?" cannot be answered by running experiments and quantifying results. The skill of the therapist does not flow from this kind of knowledge.

For humanistic psychologists, good therapy must be viewed as an interpersonal and moral phenomenon that involves meaningful moments, insights, and significant events. Such moments have their meaning within the situation and context. Walsh (2004) points out that a "good moment" from the therapist's point-of-view involves genuineness and authenticity, a client-summary of critical points, more than a behavioral analysis, a mutual understanding between client and therapist, and a transformed self-understanding. From the client's perspective, a good moment involves important issues, indirect confrontation by the therapist, challenges to unrealistic thinking, new learning for the client, and self-understanding. So good therapy lies in the interplay between therapist and client. Walsh describes therapy as a dance "that, although shaped by theoretical understandings of what comprises effective psychotherapy, unfolds in a unique dynamic between each individual client and therapist" (p. 464).

Having said this, it is never-the-less important to say that the underlying philosophies and theories which shape the "dance" of these humanistic practitioners and their clients have existential underpinnings. The theme of meaning is central to therapy. Viktor Frankl shows the sense of meaning to be actually necessary for human survival. He describes in Man's Search for Meaning how the prisoners in Nazi death camps only survived if their lives had a sense of meaning. Once a prisoner felt that life had lost meaning, he/she died almost immediately. Furthermore, Kizer (2004) discusses transcendence, a goal of therapy, as the immediate result of finding meaning in suffering. Some of the primary themes of existentialism are "death anxiety and its compensatory dynamics; the centrality of freedom, responsibility, and willing in personality functioning; the experience of isolation; and the vital necessity of meaning in human existence" (p. 447).

The fact that we can discuss what "good" psychotherapy is reveals a non-empirical stance, for as Kendler (2005) points out, "Goodness is beyond the capacity of any empirical evidence to reveal its basic sense" (p. 321). Humanistic psychotherapy rests on an underlying philosophy which seeks to make sense of being and to reveal life's meaning. Because meaning resides in consciousness, and humanists seek to understand consciousness (not observable in the empirical sense), qualitative research is favored, which allows for values to be taken into account. Viktor Frankl's logtherapy, for example, addresses what he saw as the primary human motivation to find meaning in life and aims to accompany the client on a journey toward greater meaning (Viktor Frankl Institute web site).

Gestalt therapy is another example of meaning-based therapy. The phenomenological method of awareness is used by therapist and client. Perceiving, feeling, and acting are separated from interpreting and reshuffling pre-existing attitudes. What is directly perceived and felt is given more credence than explanation and interpretation. The techniques of phenomenology allow a person to see the difference between what is actually perceived and what is left over from past experiences (Yontef & Simkin, 1989). The goal is insight where patterns of behavior are perceived and understanding of a whole situation is deduced by systematic exploration. Rather than analysis of individual parts (broken down), gestalt seeks to understand the inter-relationships of the parts to each other (and the whole field). Gestalt is holistic rather than analytical and focuses on people's existence, relations to each other, joys and suffering -- as directly experienced. Gestalt emphasizes caring, warmth, acceptance and self-responsibility in the therapeutic relationship. The role of the Gestalt therapist includes (1) inclusion, that is, putting self as fully as possible into the experience of the other; (2) presence in observations, preferences, feelings, personal experiences, and thoughts to the client; (3) commitment to dialogue, that is, connections and interactions not manipulated or made to happen but allowed to happen; and (4) dialogue lived or done (not talked about), which can take a variety of modes such as dance, song, words, role play, or any modality that causes energy to flow between participants.

As the discussion so far suggests, the "person-centered approach" of Carl Rogers is very much alive and well today. Kirschenbaum (2005) reports that although by no means the leading topic of scholarship in psychotherapy, the person-centered approach is still important to theory, research, and practice, and Rogers' core principles of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence are as important as ever for effective therapeutic relationships. Rogers himself said that these core principles were more crucial to the outcome of therapy than the method used. About 200 centers for client-centered/person-centered psychotherapy exist today with most research activity, training and practice taking place in Europe (Kirschenbaum, 2005).

Two contemporary offshoots of the client-centered approach are "focusing" and "process-experiential" psychotherapies. Focusing develops the client's ability to identify and describe his/her bodily-felt experiences and rests on the notion that human beings have bodies "that live in situations, not just in physical space" (Focusing Oriented/Experiential Psychology web site). By paying attention to what the body is experiencing, the complexities of living with others is revealed. In process-experiential psychotherapy, the essential goal is an "explication of the client's internal frame of reference in regard to his relevant problems" (p. 295). This is a linguistically oriented therapy in which "personal relevant meaning structures" or schemata are examined and explained. The client goes through an eight-level structure in the process of explication at the end of which change occurs. The therapist actively intervenes in the process by raising questions and thus directing the awareness of the client.

Both focusing psychotherapy and process-experiential involve what Friedman (2005) describes as experiential listening. The therapist says back to the client in "an empathic, supportive, non-interfering way," what he perceives as the essence of the client's message (Friedman, 2005, p. 218) and checks to see if it is correct. This kind of listening expresses the egalitarian nature of humanistic psychotherapy. The relationship between therapist and client strives for equality in which the therapist is more of a mentor than an authority figure. The relationship is based on the recognition that psychotherapy is primarily an encounter between two human beings, each of whom brings his/her own vision of what makes life worth living.

Strenger (2004) argues that mentoring the client's growth is extremely important to the therapeutic process. He sees "growth" as a kind of "self-creation" and people who seek therapy as those who are stuck (usually painfully) in their "search for authorship." The sense of authorship needs to be restored. The therapist's subjectivity, Strenger points out, runs along a continuum. On one end, counter-transference is interpreted in terms of what the client projects onto the therapist and the therapist's subjective processes are essentially influenced by the patient. On the other end of the relational continuum, the therapist's actual subjectivity is of great importance. When the therapist becomes enmeshed in the client's hopes and fears, therapeutic success is more likely. Therapist-neutrality is an illusion. Fisher (2005) argues that transference is an opportunity for the therapist to get a "felt sense" of how the client relates to significant others. It also signals that the client is engaged with the therapist enough to confuse him/her with important individuals from the past.

Existentialist psychotherapists such as Binswanger, May, Rogers, Yalom, and Bugental have always argued that the therapeutic relationship "involves the totality of the therapist's being, in including his or her deepest values and beliefs" (Strenger, 2004, p.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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