Humanistic therapy is a mental health approach that emphasizes the importance of being your true self in order to lead the most fulfilling life.

It’s based on the principle that everyone has their own unique way of looking at the world. This view can impact your choices and actions.

Humanistic therapy also involves a core belief that people are good at heart and capable of making the right choices for themselves. If you don’t hold yourself in high regard, it’s harder to develop your full potential.

Read on to learn more about humanistic therapy, including how it works and tips for finding a therapist.

Humanistic therapy involves better understanding your world view and developing true self-acceptance.

This is accomplished partially through the development of unconditional positive regard, both from others and from yourself. When you believe that others only respect you if you act a certain way, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly feeling like you aren’t enough.

This feeling of worthlessness, in turn, can negatively impact how you view both yourself and the world around you. Remember, according to the underlying principles of humanistic therapy, how you view yourself and the world around you has a big impact on your thoughts and actions.

Humanistic therapy can help you to both develop self-acceptance and overcome criticism or disapproval from others by offering a safe space to work toward personal growth. There are ways of doing this, which we’ll go over later.

Humanistic therapy differs from more traditional approaches, such as psychoanalysis or behavioral therapy.

To start, humanistic therapy tends to focus more on your current day-to-day life. This is very different from other approaches that tend to focus on your past experiences, including those you might not be aware of.

Similarly, humanistic therapy also focuses more on helping the individual as a whole, rather than treating a specific diagnosis. A humanistic therapist will often do this through active listening. This means that they’ll listen carefully to your words, making sure they fully understand what you’re saying. They may stop you to ask follow-up questions.

Humanistic therapists work from the idea that you are the expert in your difficulties. They’ll support the direction you take each session, trusting you to know what you need to talk about in order to work through the things bringing you to therapy.

Humanistic therapies include a number of approaches. Three of the most common are Gestalt therapy, client-centered therapy, and existential therapy.

Gestalt therapy

In Gestalt therapy, your personal experiences are key, along with describing what you’re going through in your own words. It’s based on an underlying theory that unresolved conflicts with others — including family members or romantic partners — lead to distress.

Gestalt therapy provides a state of “safe emergency” where you can explore, in the present moment, the things bothering you. For example, you might explore the belief that your opinions don’t matter to your partner.

Therapists help create the “here and now” atmosphere by asking what you’re currently aware of or how certain emotions make you feel. You might use a range of techniques to do this, including:

  • role-playing
  • exaggerating a behavior
  • reenacting a scenario

For example, you might be asked to visualize a person you’re having a conflict with sitting in an empty chair across from you. Then, you’ll carry out a conversation as if the person were actually sitting there.

Client-centered therapy

Also known as person-centered therapy and Rogerian therapy, this approach is considered the main type of humanistic therapy.

It’s based on the idea that absorbing criticism or disapproval from others can distort the way you see yourself. This blocks personal growth and prevents you from living a fulfilling life, which in turn leads to mental distress.

As the name suggests, it also places a lot of focus on developing a strong client-therapist relationship.

A client-centered therapist will unconditionally accept you, even if they disagree with some aspect of your behavior. Feeling accepted in therapy, no matter what you share, can help you avoid holding back out of fear of disapproval.

You’ll guide the direction of therapy while your therapist listens without judgement.

Existential therapy

Existential therapy draws more from philosophy than most other approaches to mental health treatment. The goal of this approach is to help you understand how your existence — the concept of you as a whole person — affects your unique worldview.

Existential therapists help you understand and explore the meaning you give to things that happen in your life. With their guidance, you’ll learn to accept responsibility for choices you make and realize the freedom you have to make changes that will give your life greater meaning.

Like other humanistic approaches, existential therapy is mainly concerned with the issues you currently face, rather than things from your past. But it does consider how your thoughts — conscious or unconscious — impact your mental health and goals.

Humanistic therapy is worth a shot if you’re looking for ways to make your life more fulfilling, regardless of whether you have an underlying mental health condition. It’s also worth considering if you’ve previously had trouble building a rapport with therapists.

A 2002 review of 86 studies found that humanistic therapies were effective at helping people make lasting change over time. People in humanistic therapy showed more change than people in no therapy at all, according to the review.

People in other types of therapy showed similar amounts of change, suggesting it’s more about finding a type of therapy that you enjoy and will commit to doing.

In addition, a 2013 review of existing research suggests that client-centered approaches can be helpful for:

However, it wasn’t quite as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy for addressing anxiety and panic disorder.

Whether a humanistic approach fits your needs can depend on what you want to get out of therapy. Humanistic therapies typically don’t make diagnosis a priority and may not work toward specific treatment goals.

If you have specific symptoms or behaviors you’d like to address or are seeking therapy with a clear goal for diagnosis and treatment, you might find a different approach more helpful. On the other hand, it may be a good fit if you’re simply feeling “stuck” or in a rut.

Keep in mind that other types of therapy often incorporate aspects of humanistic therapy, such as unconditional acceptance and active listening.

It’s not always easy to find the right therapist. When looking for a humanistic therapist, start by considering what you’d like to work on. This can be a specific issue or a more abstract concept.

Also think about any traits you’d like in a therapist. Would you prefer to work with a therapist of your own gender? The therapist-client bond is particularly important in humanistic therapy, so you’ll want to make sure the therapist is one you’ll feel comfortable with.

When looking for a therapist, you also want to take note of how much each potential therapist charges per session. Some therapists take insurance, but others don’t. And some may offer a sliding scale program that allows you to pay what you can.

Learn more about how to find affordable therapy.

Humanistic therapy is a type of mental health treatment that centers around your unique experience and perspective. Humanistic therapists offer empathy, genuine concern for you and your experience, and unconditional positive regard.

While it might not be the best option for getting a concrete mental health diagnosis, it can be a good option if you’re simply looking for ways to lead a more meaningful life.