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Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is regarded as a positive psychology that focuses on the whole person and the individual nature of that person. The person’s positive traits and behaviors are considered, and they are encouraged to examine their behavior from their point of view. They also are encouraged to seek out healing, growth, wisdom, and fulfillment by relying on themselves and their instincts.

Humanistic therapy is used to treat substance addiction and other mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and panic disorders. This addiction therapy is also used to address and treat family relationships and couple relationships.

According to Simply Psychology, humanistic psychology rejects the behaviorist approach, which focuses on scientific and objective investigation methods, and the psychodynamic approach, which supports the idea that behavior and feelings are affected by unconscious motives.

Instead, according to Simply Psychology, it offers:

  • Values for approaching an understanding of human nature and the human condition
  • An expanded horizon of methods of inquiry in the study of human behavior; and
  • A broader range of methods in the professional practice of psychotherapy

In general, humanism uses a non-scientific approach to studying humans and human behavior. Some of the areas that humanism psychology explores are hard to study by scientific standards. Perhaps these are the reasons they are not widely used in psychology when compared to other approaches, Simply Psychology reports.

Still, it does offer people in recovery an opportunity to go deep beyond the surface and understand themselves and their addiction or substance abuse problem in more meaningful ways.

If you or your loved one is looking for a humanistic therapist, make sure the person is a licensed and experienced mental health care professional who demonstrates an understanding of psychotherapy and all that it entails.

Humanistic therapy encourages recovering substance users to take an active role in their recovery and come up with their own answers on how to live substance-free. They work to accomplish this in a safe, no-judgment zone along with an understanding therapist to help guide them on their personal paths.

The two widely practiced techniques in humanistic therapy are Gestalt therapy and client-centered therapy, which is also known as person-centered therapy.

Gestalt therapy is said to focus on thoughts and feelings here and now, instead of the root causes, while client-centered therapy provides a supportive environment in which clients can reestablish their true identity.

Here, we will look at each one and how they can help people who seek addiction treatment.

When Is Humanistic Therapy Used?

Humanistic therapy is used to treat anxiety, depression, panic disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and relationship issues, which are all some of the primary causes that relate to drug or alcohol use disorders. Those with low self-esteem may use drugs or alcohol to cope with their inability to love themselves, and humanistic therapy can be used to overcome all of the above.

Many who use drugs or alcohol have problems establishing a purpose in their lives, and these feelings of the world crashing down on them make drugs and alcohol even more desirable. For all of the reasons above, humanistic therapy and variations of the practice have become a reasonable means of treating problems that can either fuel addiction or addiction itself. It is more commonly used than in times before.

What to Expect in Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is known as talk therapy, which encompasses a Gestalt approach and explores how someone feels in the here and now. Instead of trying to identify past events that caused feelings of remorse, depression, or low self-esteem, its focus is to provide support, empathy, and trust that allows a person to share their emotions without the fear of being judged.

In this scenario, the therapist will not act as a person in charge or an authority figure; instead, the relationship between the therapist and client is one of equal proportions. It changes the hierarchy structure and gives equal power and opportunity to the client to help overcome some of the worst of what they’ve experienced.

What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is experiential psychotherapy created and developed by psychoanalyst Fritz Perls and his wife, Laura, in the 1940s. It aims to help clients become aware or more aware of their perceptions, thoughts, and emotions. It also helps people to understand how all of these factors shape internal conversations that lead to the behaviors and actions they take. 

In humanistic counseling, the Gestalt concept is about a unified whole, and the whole doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland explains that Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that takes a look at the human mind and behavior as a whole.

“When trying to make sense of the world around us, Gestalt psychology suggests that we do not simply focus on every small component. Instead, our minds tend to perceive objects as part of a greater whole and as elements of more complex systems,” it writes.

This psychology influenced Gestalt therapy, the institute says, as it is a therapy that considers the whole person and the obstacles that affect the functioning of the whole in the context of the present.

According to the book Gestalt Therapy: Advances in Theory and Practice, healing and rehabilitation through growth are the therapy’s main goals.

If you want to become aware of your emotions in the present and gain insight into what is happening to you in your life right now, then Gestalt therapy may be right for you.

The client-centered therapy does not require a focus on the past, nor does it encourage clients to perceive what is happening based on interpretations of their past experiences. 

woman on the floor

“Instead of simply talking about past situations, clients are encouraged to experience them, perhaps through reenactment,” Psychology Today explains.

A client’s past is not ignored, however. Therapists help clients see how what they have been through shapes how they see themselves and their experiences in the present. People who want to improve their self-awareness but need help in seeing and understanding what role they play in their own unhappiness are good candidates for this psychotherapy, according to Psychology Today.

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The Client-Therapist Relationship Is Key in Gestalt Therapy

The relationship between the client and the therapist is important to the client’s success in Gestalt therapy. Dialogue takes place between the parties to allow the therapist to understand the clients as well as help their clients understand themselves.

Gestalt therapists are there to increase clients’ awareness of themselves. They can do that only if clients feel they are in a safe, comfortable space in which they can be forthcoming with issues that are causing conflict in their lives. This space is also needed to encourage clients to open up and share their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions and be open to trying new behaviors. explains, “Patients can see, hear, and be told how they are experienced, what is seen, how the therapist feels, and what the therapist is like as a person. Growth occurs from real contact between real people. Patients learn how they are seen and how their awareness process is limited, not primarily by talking about their problems, but by how they and the therapist engage each other.”

Gestalt therapists should be genuine, warm, caring, authentic, and nonjudgmental as they are responsible for many tasks that are designed to help the client have a successful outcome.

Some of those tasks include:

  • Helping clients boost their self-awareness
  • Assisting clients with staying focused in the present moment
  • Paying close attention to clients’ verbal and nonverbal behavior, such as body language that can be telling that certain emotions are present
  • Treating clients with the utmost respect and as equals
  • Participating as fully as possible in the client’s experience without becoming enmeshed in it
  • Sharing personal experiences, which includes observations, emotions, thoughts, and perspectives
  • Refraining from interpretation and explanation
  • Encouraging clients to learn to regulate themselves
  • Being committed to talking with clients without attempting to manipulate or control the client or the process for a particular outcome

While therapists are a sounding board and a source of encouragement as clients explore their personal issues and conflicts, clients are expected to do their own seeing, feeling, sensing, and interpreting during the therapy process. This allows them to take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, and actions, and see and accept themselves as they truly are.

How Does Gestalt Therapy Work in Addiction Treatment? 

Gestalt therapy has been used to treat substance use disorders, mental health disorders, eating disorders, traumatic experiences, and other conditions involving compulsive behavior. It is also used to address life challenges, such as conflicts in family and couple relationships and grief and loss, among others.

Many people mistakenly believe that going to detox and then going right back out into the world is all that’s needed to adequately address substance addiction. That is not true. It is not enough to only treat the physical part of addiction; the mental and emotional and perhaps spiritual parts of the person must all be examined, too, if true recovery is to take place.

Understanding the self is a key part in helping recovering substance users to feel empowered to put their lives back together. Gestalt therapy can help them start this exploration into the factors and situations that led them to use and abuse addictive substances.

Gestalt therapy can be used as a part of addiction treatment that can be a short intervention, or it can last for a longer time if needed. The length of therapy depends on the individual needs of the client and the severity of the person’s addiction or mental health disorder. A licensed psychologist who is experienced in Gestalt therapy is ideal to steer clients through this process, which should lead them into greater awareness about their own patterns of negative thinking and behaving that leave them feeling unhappy or unsatisfied.

Benefits of Gestalt Therapy in Addiction Treatment

  • Increased self-awareness and self-acceptance
  • Improved ability to live fully in the present moment
  • Improved communication skills
  • Satisfying personal, professional relationships
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Greater self-esteem
  • Greater understanding of self-behaviors
  • Greater ability to handle stress and other negative emotions
  • Improved ability to get your needs met in healthy ways
  • Attainment of personal freedom

Common Techniques Used in Gestalt Therapy

Clients are encouraged to relive a dream in therapy. They may be directed by the therapist to take on roles of the people or objects that appeared in the dream to analyze their meaning.

During this exercise, the client sits across from an empty chair and imagines that another person is sitting in the other chair. The client than is asked to engage in a dialogue with the empty chair so that the therapist can learn the client’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and other helpful information. Sometimes the person in therapy will take on the role of the person in the other chair. Whatever is imagined in the opposite chair typically is an unresolved conflict or pain point.

Clients are asked to repeat overemphasized gestures, such as facial expressions or other movements, so that they can become aware of the feelings attached to the behavior and clarify what the behavior means.

Client-Centered Therapy

Renowned U.S. psychologist Carl Rogers developed client-centered therapy in the 1940s. It goes by several names, including client-centered counseling, non-directive therapy, or Rogerian therapy. This counseling approach is humanistic and based on Rogers’ belief that all people are fundamentally good and have the ability to fulfill their potential.

What Is Client-Centered Therapy?

Client-centered therapy moves away from the traditional model of the therapist being the expert. Rather, in client-centered therapy, the client is regarded as the expert, and it is the therapist who listens to the client and is “there to encourage and support the client and to guide the therapeutic process without interrupting or interfering with the client’s process of self-discovery,” writes Psychology Today.

Some say this approach promotes the client to feel empowered while discovering their emotions, decisions, and habits as they work toward the life they want.

Therapist’s Attitude Can Make a Difference

Client-centered therapy, also known as person-centered therapy, is different because it focuses on the humanistic approach, not therapeutic techniques, such as an emphasis on boundaries of time.

“What’s most important in client-centered therapy is the quality of the relationship between the therapist and the client,” writes on its website. Client-centered counselors may practice differently and not use orthodox counseling approaches.

The therapist’s attitude is also important, and some say it matters more than the mental health professional’s skill sets. The following three guiding principles that reflect the attitude of therapists help determine the success of the therapy:

This principle is about the therapist’s ability to be authentic. According to McLeod of Simply Psychology, Rogers considered congruence to be the most important attribute in counseling. Therapists who are following Rogerian principles allow their clients to experience them as they really are, unlike psychodynamic therapists, who generally maintain a “blank screen” and do not reveal much of their personality, McLeod explains.

This principle is about valuing clients as they are. The therapist should be able to maintain the attitude of “I’ll accept you as you are,” even when the therapist does not approve of the client’s decisions or actions.

This principle addresses the therapist’s’ ability to understand the client’s feelings and be sensitive to those feelings. The therapist must also be able to communicate with the client to let the client know that the therapist understands what the person is feeling.

Also, in this kind of therapy, the emphasis is on the client being in the driver’s seat. That person is solely responsible for taking the necessary steps to make changes that lead to a better life. 

How Does Client-Centered Therapy Work in Addiction Treatment?

Client-centered therapy is a collaborative relationship between and clients and their therapists. Clients, however, determine what course of action to take. The therapist aids in this process by helping the client get to self-actualization and personal understanding while clarifying the client’s responses. Feedback from the therapist gives the client a clearer picture of what needs to change and make changes as the person sees fit.

“Rogers strongly believed that in order for a client’s condition to improve, therapists should be warm, genuine, and understanding,” writes Saul McLeod for Simply Psychology.

Finding a balance between who a person is and who a person wants to be is a key goal in this kind of therapy.

Client-centered therapy can help people in recovery in several ways. First, it takes the emphasis off the substance and the behavior and broadens the focus to include the whole person and that person’s perception of reality. Instead of only looking at the addiction, it requires them to examine how they have battled with an addiction to certain substances and why they engaged in certain behaviors when those substances were used.

This kind of therapy also helps people in recovery change how they see themselves as they work to improve their self-image and increase their self-esteem.

They must be open to cope with their thoughts, feelings, and motivations that will reveal themselves as they face the causes of their addiction. This kind of therapy provides the safe setting needed for them to do that.

Man standing in a field, considering humanistic therapy

It will give them the tools to go deeper and take a look at themselves as a whole person and how they are connected to how they see themselves “within a complex web of personal, sociohistorical realities,” writes Wycliff Matanda, MA, for

Client-centered therapy also forces people in recovery to face their truth without outside distractions but with the support of an understanding, compassionate therapist who remains open to what their perspective is as they find the best path to sobriety for them.

It is common for facilities to incorporate it into their residential programs or outpatient programs for people who are recovering from addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders.

Benefits of Client-Centered Therapy in Addiction Treatment

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Much less discrepancy between the client’s real self and ideal self
  • Increase in happiness and general well-being
  • Improved relationships
  • Balanced perception of the world
  • More control over one’s emotions, responses to situations
  • Greater belief in oneself
  • Greater willingness to try new things, have new experiences
  • Sense of freedom to live authentically
  • Can look at the past in a healthier light, including past mistakes

Things to Remember in Client-Centered Therapy

Active listening is one of the only and most essential practices in client-centered therapy, and many tips and suggestions on this subject exist. These include the following tips.

  • Set clear boundaries. For any relationship to exist, clear boundaries must be set. The therapy and client must acknowledge these to avoid a relationship becoming inappropriate, which can lead to ineffectiveness.
  • The client knows best. Therapy is founded on the principle of the client knowing themselves, the best source of knowledge and insight about their problems will come from them. Let the client tell the therapist if they are wrong.
  • Act as a sounding board. Active listening is imperative, but it’s important to reflect what the client is saying back to them.
  • Don’t judge. Clients are usually struggling with some kind of guilt or low self-worth, and you must tell them that they are accepted for who they are.
  • Don’t make decisions for clients. Advice is useful, but at times can be risky also. Clients should make decisions for themselves.
  • Be genuine. The approach must be genuine. If a client does not trust that the therapist means what they say, they will not gain any trust throughout the process. The client must feel safe to share personal details about their thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, must feel safe with the therapist. You don’t have to share anything that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, but appropriate sharing can help build a healthy relationship.
  • Accept negative emotions. To help someone work through their issues and move forward in the healing process, it’s crucial to let them express their emotions, whether those emotions are positive or negative. The client may express anger, disappointment, or irritation with the therapist, but it shouldn’t be taken personally. As long as it is not abusive, it can help them get through the emotions.


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Cherry, Kendra. (March 20, 2019). Effectiveness of Client-Centered Therapy. VeryWell Mind. Retrieved from

Bar-Joseph Levine, Talia. (Ed). (2012, May 23). Gestalt Therapy: Advances in Theory and Practice. Retrieved from Client-Centered Therapy by Rogers: Techniques & Definition. Retrieved from

Psychology Today. Gestalt Therapy. Retrieved March, 2018 from

McLeod, Saul. (2008) Person Centered Therapy. Retrieved from

Matanda, Wycliff, MA. Specialization in Addiction: Moving Toward a Person-Centered Approach. Retrieved from

Humanistic Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Treatment, C. F. (1999, January 01). Chapter 6 –Brief Humanistic and Existential Therapies. Retrieved from

Churchill, R., Davies, P., Caldwell, D., Moore, T. H., Jones, H., Lewis, G., & Hunot, V. (2010). Humanistic therapies versus other psychological therapies for depression. Retrieved from

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