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Humanistic Approach to Counselling

The humanistic approach to counselling is a relatively new approach in Psychology named the 'third force', a term coined by American psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1968.

Carl Rogers adopted Humanistic theory into his Person Centred therapeutic model.

Humanism rejected assumptions of human behaviour based on behaviourism, the psychology of shaping individuals' behavioural patterns using punishment and reward, a technique developed in animal experiments by psychologists such as John B Watson and B.F. Skinner.

Humanism also rejected the psychodynamic approach, because it relied on the therapist analysing the client, not seeing them as individuals with a unique world view. The psychodynamic approach believes that subconscious desires drive human behaviour. This idea is known as 'Drive Theory' a concept developed by Austrian psychologist  Sigmund Freud.

Humanist thinkers believed that both behaviourism and psychodynamic approaches are deterministic, meaning that humans beings lacked free will.

Humanism blossomed in the throughout 1970's-80's influencing education, social work and healthcare provision especially in the UK.

Unlike psychoanalysis which placed an emphasis on unconscious drives which had to be analysed and interpreted by the therapist, or behaviourism which believed children were born 'Tabula Rasa' or a wax slate which could be smoothed and moulded by the stimulus of punishment and reward, humanism believes that individuals are a product of their own subjective experience.

Key Principles

1. It offered a new perspective on how human beings experienced the world and those in it, based on their perception of the world around them. It put individual conscious perception at the heart of the human experience.

2. It provided an expanded horizon of methods of inquiry in the study of human behaviour. It focused on the personal perception of themselves and others. One of the key elements of the approach is that human beings are not solely the product of their environment; they are internally directed to fulfil their potential, sometimes referred to as 'self-actualisation' (Maslow 1968).

Humanism approach to counselling - a closeup of an eye with the world as the iris

3. It changed the way psychotherapists approached the treatment of those who were having emotional difficulties. They relied less on analysis and directing the client. Humanistic approaches put an emphasis on the client's world view or internal frame of reference (Rogers 1980).

One of the greatest champions of Humanisms was American psychologist Carl Ransom Rogers, a contemporary of Maslow, who in the 1950s developed a humanistic approach to psychotherapy which he named Person-Centred Therapy.

Unlike psychoanalysis which placed an emphasis on unconscious drives which had to be analysed and interpreted by the therapist, or behaviourism which believed children were born 'Tabula Rasa' or a wax slate which could be smoothed and moulded by the stimulus of punishment and reward, humanism believes that individuals are a product of their own subjective experience, a position in philosophy know as phenomenology, the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness.

Critique of Humanism

  • Ethnocentric (biased towards a Western cultural worldview)
  • Subjective experience is considered unscientific
  • Has an overemphasis on individuals being born ' basically good'
  • Difficult to measure objectively from a scientific perspective

References

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, p50, 370-96.

Rogers, C.R (1980) A way of being, New York: Houghton Mifflin. p140

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