Humanistic Counselling

The humanistic counselling approach has its origins in the European philosophy of phenomenology, where human experience is believed to be the cause of current perception. Humanistic psychology was developed in the middle of the twentieth century and is sometimes referred to as the ‘third’ way of psychology, deemed as a reaction to the mechanistic approach of behaviourism and deterministic view of psychoanalysis. Humanistic therapy focuses on the person and how they interpret the world through conscious experience. There is a creative force inside us and we all have the natural capacity to heal ourselves. Human beings can exercise free will and can be in control of our own feelings.


Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was one of the most influential psychologists in developing the humanistic approach. Maslow’s theory of human nature presumed that we have ‘an essential biologically based inner nature’ , which is unchangeable, unique and not inherently bad or evil. Humans, according to Maslow, strived for safety and security and to fit in, by meeting a hierarchy of needs and at the pinnacle undergoing the goal of self-actualisation, a journey of personal enlightenment. If this essential process is denied, then denial and repression take place and anxiety occurs. In this way, Maslow thought we all had the ability to find our inner ‘true’ self and had to meet basic psychological needs to be secure.

Person Centred Counselling

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) developed the practice of person-centred counselling elaborating on ideology very similar to Maslow. Rogers also focused on the development of the self in relation to others and concluded that a negative self-concept can develop in the wrong social environment. Humans will naturally seek out experiences that are desirable and try to fulfil their potential-known as an actualising tendency. According to Rogers, individuals must receive positive regard from people close to them otherwise they can become victims of conditions of worth, which others have imposed upon them making them feel rejected and worthless. Rogers wrote that therapists should not be looking for any cure to emotional problems but to provide a relationship that can be used for the client’s personal growth. Therapists should have certain qualities such as unconditional positive regard, a warm, non-judgemental attitude, which is a key factor for developing the true self. High levels of emphatic understanding and to be able to listen purposefully and to have an accepting and congruent understanding of the client’s emotions are important. Congruence is ‘the stage of being of the counsellor…when her outward responses to the client consistently match the inner feelings and sensations, which she has in relation to the client.’ . Congruence for the client occurs when the ideal self and true self are the same and can be achieved through the orgasmic valuing process when the client can move forward in life with a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.

Person-centred counselling is a very positive psychology, being optimistic about human potential. The unconscious is not ignored but it is not held responsible for causing neurosis as it is in psychoanalysis and the humanist approach can be accused of ignoring negative emotions or transference. The emphatic approach taken by the therapist might have some difficulties with over-identification.  Some clients may be so confined to their own ‘inner worlds’ that it can be impossible to reflect on the way they view the world. Modern society can be very individualising and Fromm (1997) believed that this was caused by the separation of people from their true selves. Humanistic therapy also places this importance on the individual and the realising of the ‘true’ self, an ideal that may prove hard to realise. The relationship between therapist and client in humanistic therapy places the client as a holistic being and the therapist must be fully accepting, non-directive and be aware of the client’s position to help them reach their full potential.