The term of Humanistic theory is an umbrella term. In fact it covers several approaches that embrace the idea of individuals being inherently good and a positive attitude towards humanity in essence.
The most famous would be the person centered approach by Carl Rogers. Rogers studied Psychodynamic theory but his personality drove to focus more on feelings and less on the unconscious. He developed a form of therapy that was non-directive by the therapist, allowing the client to lead the session.
Rogers considered the client to be the expert of himself, with the ability to heal himself if the conditions were right. He thought that interior growth in people would happened when we were experienced by someone else with no judgements, complete respect, acceptance and honesty. Rogers would call these the core conditions. To create these right conditions would be the task of the therapist.
Rogers defined these core conditions as : Empathy, Genuineness and Acceptance.
Empathy can be defined as understanding a situation from the other person’s perspective. This understanding would then have to be communicated back to the client. Instead of taking a solving problem approach towards the issues the client might be presenting, the therapist would try to understand them from the point of view of the client, from the place the person is at that time. When this happens, the client feels that their view is valid, that there is value in their thoughts and that they are therefore accepted.
Genuineness can be defined as being open and real towards the client, admitting our imperfections if needed be. Rogers didn’t believe in the therapist as an aloof, impersonal expert but as someone that was “transparently real” to his clients.
Genuineness can be communicated in different ways. It could be through our body language, by maintaining an open posture, not sitting behind a desk and not taking notes. It could also be by disclosing personal details about yourself so the client can see your humanness too or sharing how you’ve felt about something the client might have shared.
Acceptance, also know as unconditional positive regard or warmth is about not judging people and instead accepting them unconditionally and believing they are worthy on their own right.
By doing this, the client feels free to explore and to express himself without having to behave in a particular way or trying to gain the therapist’s approval. He is accepted and allowed as a whole person, whether the therapist approves of their actions or not. This approach to therapy believes these conditions are “necessary and sufficient” for therapeutic change to occur, that growth will inevitably follow and the client will develop their own way or “self-actualise” and become true to himself, independent of external pressures. This is the goal in Humanistic Theory.
Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck developed this model after training in the Psychodynamic approach. They both separately realised that focus should be on conscious thoughts and that painful, repetitive and unrealistic thought were the cause of issues. Over time their ideas have been put together and blended with some of Rogers’.
The core idea underlying CBT is that is not events that create unhappiness or ill-being but our thoughts and emotions about those events. To learn to think correctly and realistically is the goal of CBT.
In a CBT approach, the relationship between client and therapist is collaborative. The therapist’s aim is to teach the client how to think realistically and the behavioural skills relevant to the client.
Before they start, goals and a time frame are agreed, progress is measured and the therapy ends when these goals are achieved. The client is also invited to choose actions to do each week as a form of homework.
The ultimate goal of this kind of therapy is for the therapist to teach the client all they know and the techniques necessary so that he can continue to be in charge of his own well-being. To achieve this, the therapist may use some of the tools idiosyncratic to CBT: scaling, to give an indication of where the client is and measuring progress, exposure therapy, being gradually closer to an object or situation that causes fear until desensitisation occurs, or training of the skills needed by the client.
The core of CBT is based on the ABC model by Ellis and the Automatic thoughts model by Beck.
The ABC model of personality and emotional disturbance shows the link between thoughts and emotions. Ellis believed it was the individual’s response or interpretation of an event based in their own internal beliefs (which could be rational or irrational) what caused issues to arise. It wasn’t the event itself but the individual’s reaction to it that was damaging.
The description of automatic thoughts would be of fleeting, involuntary thoughts and images that we are only semi-aware of. Beck realised these irrational thoughts, when negative or unrealistic could cause emotional distress and disorders.
CBT teaches the client to be aware of these cognitive distortions, to monitor “activating events” that would spark disturbance and to recognise the connections between thinking, emotions and behaviour. Also, it aims to teach to test these maladaptive beliefs by examining the actual evidence for them and to ultimately substitute these negative thoughts for more realistic thinking.
This approach is largely based on the work of Sigmund Freud. He focused on the such as importance of the unconscious as the force directing our behaviour. He also made links between our experiences in childhood and present behavioural problems, placing an strong emphasis on the role of sexual drive and repression in the development of of personality.
Freud developed a model that divided the human personality in three areas: the Ego, the Superego and the Id.
The Ego would be the collection of behavioural rules and beliefs acquired during childhood and would act as a mediator between the Id and the Superego. It would balance impulses and expectations, unrealistic dreams and reality.
The Id would be the animal, infantile part of our psyche, generating impulsive urges for instant satisfaction such as food, drugs, pleasure, sex, etc.
The Superego would be the internal judge, our conscience, the internalized authority figure. It criticises our behaviour and thoughts.
Freud thought that the first seven years of a person’s life were the most significantly developmentally. This was be the time when our unconscious would be populated, not just by events, but also by how we reacted to those events. To create a conscious connection to those experiences and examining them is the core of a Psychodynamic approach. Some of the ways in which the unconscious could be uncovered are : the phenomenon of transference, the significance of dreams and defence mechanisms.
Transference would happen when the client would repeat patterns of behaviour, towards the therapist or someone else that reveal an issue from the past. An example could be the way they feel about the therapist, mirroring their relationship with a parent or other authority figure, maybe signalling an unsolved conflict.
Dreams were thought to be extremely important for the understanding of the unconscious mind. They were considered our unconscious way of processing and dealing with events and by noting and examining them, important insight could be gained.
Freud also noticed the use of defence mechanisms. These are behaviours or patterns of thought that impede the clear understanding of a particular issue by the client. Behaviours such as resistance, denial or over-rationalisation are the most common. These patterns happen because of the fear people might have to change, the discomfort about the unknown that makes them stick to their old patterns of behaviour, even if they are not useful any more. Once that real understanding of what the client is defending against is reached, the defence can be given up.