Humanistic therapy is often called the third major wave of development in the practice of therapy. The first wave was Freud and the many psychoanalysts influenced by him, even when they changed major points of thought. The second wave belonged primarily to the school of behaviorism, which emerged at approximately the same time. It was not until these schools were established that humanist psychology was born to present an opposing view to both, in the mid point of the 20th century.
The approach of humanistic psychology was more positively directed in some respects, and drew on philosophy like those of the existentialists. The principal proponents in early days were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. One of the ideas articulated in early humanistic psychology, by Maslow was that people had a hierarchical set of needs. Everyone begins by needing basics like food, air, shelter, then needs things that make them feel secure, such as a decent bank account or a good job. People also require other people as companions. Maslow’s last two needs are self-esteem and self-actualization, the latter being a desire for personal growth.
The humanist movement in general also focuses on the idea that people are innately good and tend toward goodness. In a humanistic therapy context, there is presumption that the true nature of the human is to want to improve, understand himself, and reach high levels of self-perception. This type of thinking influences many methods of therapy today.
Another important concept in humanistic therapy is that people are more than the sum of their parts. It is called a holistic therapy because it tries to embrace the whole human, who is not just a sum of childhood experiences, but who has free will, an actual desire to improve, and ability to learn and choose.
Surprisingly, though humanistic therapy is often seen as antithetical to behavioral thinking, the approach of cognitive behavioral therapy blends the two very well. It presumes that the person involved in therapy is taking an active interest in better understanding of self, and it trusts that person to do this work with just a little instruction, that also helps create a better understanding of behavior and prove to recondition some ways of thinking.
A big change occurring with humanistic psychology is the idea that people don’t have to be sick, crazy or damaged to require therapy. All people might benefit from it. Though not entirely successful in erasing this stigma, it made “going to therapy” much more acceptable for many people and began the work of ending stigma associated with seeking help from a counselor.
There are still humanist psychologists, and therapists that least incorporate some aspects of its thinking into humanistic therapy. The American Psychological Association maintains a division of humanistic psychology. Just as psychoanalytical and behavioral methods continue to influence, this particular branch is likely to remain influential too.