Humanistic Approach Is Vital in Psychotherapy

By Corliss, Charles | Clinical Psychiatry News, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Humanistic Approach Is Vital in Psychotherapy


Corliss, Charles, Clinical Psychiatry News


In these highly technological, frequently impersonal times, the role of humanistic psychology is more important than ever. Battered by the vapid machinations of managed care, overreliance on the biochemical and pharmacologic, and the seductive simplicity of computer-generated, evidence-based cookbooks, psychology is close to losing its soul.

Personalism, humanism, existentialism, and optimism hold promise as antidotes.

My experience in successfully operating two large community-based mental health and chemical dependency clinics for more than 2 decades in New York City has shown me the important role that humanistic psychology plays in treating a particularly vulnerable subset of clients: those who are economically deprived, often of an ethnic minority, and disadvantaged. The tenets of humanistic psychology are indispensable in engaging, affirming, and significantly assisting such disadvantaged clients in the psychotherapeutic process.

When engaging the disadvantaged, we need to remember that they confront a host of variables and stressors that affect the psychotherapeutic process. Many, if not all, of the following may apply: poverty; overcrowded housing; acculturation demands; unemployment or underemployment; unsafe living conditions; inadequate health care; and the predictable strains of major psychosocial stressors, including alcoholism, domestic violence, and child neglect or abuse.

The reality is that most of the time, the disadvantaged client has often tolerated excessive stress. What can humanistic psychology offer in amelioration? Not enough psychotherapeutic research attention has focused on the disadvantaged, but some significant studies do offer insight and help ground the essence of the humanistic posture in treatment.

It is essential to avoid the destructive effect of therapists' bias that the disadvantaged are "all the same" in their lack of "psychological mindedness." Initial client preparation and orientation can go far in engaging clients of lower socioeconomic status. A thorough understanding of a client's particular plight is imperative.

Accurately understanding and assisting a disadvantaged client frequently entail addressing pressing issues immediately and brainstorming solutions, rather than dropping back behind a more detached position.

The humanistic credo of the "client-centered" approach fits nicely with the initial stages of treating the disadvantaged, with an emphasis on the "here and now." The unfolding narrative of a client's therapy probably will unearth and explore historical phenomena, but the humanistic posture of looking deeply into the present life of the disadvantaged client--helping him or her to sort out what has happened and what needs to change--is much more appropriate in most such cases.

For a client who repeatedly has been demeaned by institutional indifference and various forms of discrimination, it is essential to communicate clearly that the client's life is of great value, and that she or he merits the undivided attention and advocacy of the therapist. …

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