Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness


What are humanistic therapies?

Humanistic therapies arose in the middle of the twentieth century, to some extent in reaction against the two reigning pillars of American psychology. Behaviorism dominated academic psychology, and psychoanalysis dominated clinical psychology. Humanistic therapies—as championed by psychotherapists such as Carl Rogers (1902-1987), Fritz Perls (1893-1970), Victor Frankl (1905-1997) and Rollo May (1909-1994)—were considered the third force in psychology, providing an alternative to the two earlier movements. While psychoanalysis focused on the relief of psychological conflict, and behaviorism focused on changing behavior, humanistic psychology emphasized the potential for growth. Concepts such as self-actualization, unconditional positive regard, and the search for meaning highlighted the basic human need to find fulfillment, happiness, and meaning in life.

The aim of humanistic therapy is less the reduction of psychopathology, than the realization of human potential. Emphasis is less on the past, as with psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies, and more on the present. Moreover, there is a spiritual side to humanistic psychotherapy that is completely absent in the two other movements

There is a fair amount of overlap between humanistic and psychodynamic psychother-apies, however, and many of the pioneering humanistic psychologists were initially trained in psychoanalysis. Both types of therapy engage the patient in one-on-one discussions with a psychotherapist. Both presume that verbal exploration of emotionally relevant thoughts, feelings, and problems can help people improve their lives. Finally, both types of treatment focus on how people deal with emotions and relate to other people.


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