Remembering Humanistic Psychology
by Ilene Serlin
In the Age of Brain Research, Digital Age, and Revival of Attachment Theory
Published in Zur Institute newsletter, February 3, 2012
Humanistic Psychology was developed just after World War II. It incorporates existentialism and Buddhist meditation and mindfulness practices. The process and holistic conceptualization aspects of Humanistic Psychology make this approach appealing and needed in today's stressful, fast-changing world. Although Humanistic Psychology was largely dismissed after the 1970s, it has much to offer today. It is a philosophically sophisticated combination of Eastern and Western approaches that allows for greater clinical understanding in an increasingly complex world.
Humanistic Psychology - Points of Interest
In today's climate of managed care and manualized techniques, there is a hunger for hands-on, personal contact. Traditional analytic and behavioral therapies often don't satisfy the needs of clinicians or clients. Therapies modeled from humanistic psychology are effective for many people and, some argue, are needed now more than ever.
As people stretch themselves further and further in the race to "keep up with the Joneses," they become isolated and alienated from others. And Western U.S. culture, with the commonality for both members of a couple to work hard making ends meet and for all members of society to be extremely busy, does little to encourage community support. Many patients suffer from a sense of derealization, depersonalization and loneliness. Humanistic psychology directly addresses the human need for contact and connection, and reminds us that it is the human relationship with and presence of the therapist that can create attunement and healing in the therapeutic relationship.
Consider the situation of the Baby Boomer generation: a large percentage of our population is actively seeking ways to avoid the pain of aging and finality of death. Billions of dollars are spent annually on plastic surgery, nutritional supplements and alternative therapies that promise extended life and the visage of youth. Existential and humanistic psychologies teach us how to confront mortality and create life in the face of the void, rather than fighting the flow.
In this hustle-and-bustle world, many clients suffer from a lack of meaning in their lives. Humanistic psychology helps us understand how to help our clients discover meaning and purpose in work, relationships, and everyday life.
As we become an ever-more diverse nation, issues of culture, politics, spirituality and divergent morals and beliefs come to the foreground. We need therapies that permit and encourage clients to explore values and meaning, so that they can find peace with these issues and their place in the world.
While some therapies, such as the field of positive psychology, focus on the search for happiness, humanistic psychology also includes exploration of the dark side of human experience. In this way, it is similar to Jungian work. Given how many of us are plagued by ambivalent feelings and difficult choices, humanistic psychology offers a well-rounded option and addresses the depths of the human condition.
Finally, humanistic psychology is client-centered and empowers clients to live authentically and reach for their highest potential.