What is Humanistic Therapy?

Humanistic therapies have dialogic and relational values and focus on self-development, growth and responsibilities. They seek to help individuals recognize their strengths, creativity and choice in the ‘here and now’. Humanistic Therapies includes: Existential Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Person-Centred approach, Humans Given Psychotherapy, Psychosynthesis, Reality Therapy, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Transaction Analyses, Transpersonal Psychology.

The theoretical underpinning that informs contemporary humanistic counselling has been influenced by the intersubjective philosophy of Martin Buber and the philosophy of alterity as developed by Emanuel Levinas. Such an understanding of these philosophical concepts develops, by attending to the explanation of the essential concepts of gestalt therapeutic relationship, which is understood as “dialogue”. That is, this relational template involves “four important concepts fundamental to gestalt therapy: (1) alterity, (2) dialogue, (3) relational matrix that emerges through (4) contact” (Brownell, 2010, p.97).

Alterity is Levinas`s term to refer to the other. That is, we are other to each other and no one person is the same as the other. Accordingly to Levinas, the other is not something to be interpreted, studied, grasped or classified. As he proposes, “If one could possess, grasp, and know the other, it would not be other. Possessing, knowing and grasping are synonymous of power.” (1982 cited in Orange, 2010, p.77) In this case, he suggests that any attempt to subjectify the other is violence, a form of murder. “Every reduction- by systematizing, classifying, pointing, even describing- is for Levinas, a violence, a violation, a form of murder.” (Orange, 2010, p. 81) Additionally, the representation of the other which is irreducible Levinas names it ‘Face’. “The way in which other presents himself, exceeding the idea of the other in me, we here name Face” (1964/1969 cited in Orange, 2010, p. 80). Also, the face of the other can never be reduced by self`s subjectivity because it is never enough, as the face of the other goes beyond any conceptions, interpretations or descriptions. “Subjectivity is never enough; the ethical demand reaches to infinity” (Orange, 2010, p. 86).

At the heart of this relational matrix is the idea of contact which happens through dialogue. In this light, Martin Buber, philosopher of I-Thou dialogue, inclusion and confirmation contributed extensively within the communities of humanistic counselling. As Orange states, “they have seen in his philosophy of I-Thou encounter a therapeutic healing through person-to person contact and through what they, following Buber, call confirmation” (2010, p.15). For instance, the development of the human mind is formed in relation through contacting with other human being. Also, it involves the practice of a dialogical attitude that enables dialogue between I-Thou mode of existence, which occurs through good contact between two people. “Dialogue establishes the ontological significance of contacting. Contact is the means by which we feed ourselves, by which we understand, orient, and meet our needs, but cast in the light of I-Thou, contact also stands at the ontic centre of the psychological and spiritual development unique to our human exis-tence” (1989, Jacobs).

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; But to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”

– Marilyn vos Savant

How can Humanistic Therapy Help?

In this light, I-Thou encounter is a moment of insight into the realm of the actuality of one`s existence, which the self can meet his/her humanity. That is, it involves an element of trust in the dialogic process itself within an environment constituted by presence and acceptance. As Brownell stated, the therapist dialogic attitude exists “in support of presence, acceptance, and commitment to the process” (2010, p.106) In addition, I-Thou encounter transcends subjective intentionality, this involves the therapist bracketing off any supposed conceptions descriptions or interpretations. In this light, the sphere of the between in which contact can take place is transparent as opposed to muddled up. That is, the self can experience the other within the contact of a transcendental I-Thou moment, which affirms one`s wholeness by the possibility of integrating oneself. Also, a distinct feature of gestalt therapy is the element of surprise, which deposits its trust in the sphere of the between. “The dialogue that Buber describes is also a transcendental process. Thus, when contacting is in the form of dialogue, the contacting process becomes itself an evolving, spiralling developmental process. For Buber this development toward the higher reaches of existence was a product of his basic trust in the sphere of the “between.” (1989, Jacobs).

The dialogic and relational practice of gestalt therapy informs its relational position within a dialogue. In this light, Gestalt therapy focuses on to the awareness continuum of the relational process that orients therapist towards the contact, which is taking place within I- Thou dialogue. “Buber says that dialogic relation unifies one’s soul and makes one whole” (Friedman, 1976b, p. 97) whereas in Gestalt therapy, wholeness comes through awareness (Latner, 1973, p. 55)”.

Also, whereas Person-centred dialogue focuses on the content of the experiencing, by talking about it; gestalt dialogue focuses on to the awareness of the process of experiencing, by directly experiencing what it is in the moment. “What Gestalt therapy has, which neither Rogers nor Buber had, is for increasing awareness. The assumption is that patients can learn to deal with what they are experiencing; they can learn how they experience and how they interfere with their own experience” (1989, Jacobs). Subsequently, the existential dialogue of the phenomenological-existential gestalt therapy takes place at the moment to moment process, which works on the creation of awareness of what is directly perceived and felt at present time to find meaning.

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