The humanistic approach to counselling promotes individuality, positive regards with regards to its approach with clients- with the intention of enabling the client to evolve and potentially reach self actulisation through continuous self development. There are many different humanistic approaches such as the person centred approach, gestalt and transactional.The following is a reflection of my thougths whilst working within a humanistic approach. (confedentiality compleatly protected of course)
Whilst considering my own practice within the humanistic approach I find that an integrative approach may work best for me. However, Iam still at the learning stage and still require much more practice to gain some more in- depth analysis. I love the gestalt concept of viewing the client as a ‘whole’ person- rather than seeing their issues as a separate entity.Gestalt therapy was proposed by Fritz Perl’s. (Seligman 2006) One of the principles of Gestalt therapy is that a person cannot be considered separate from their environment. For example, our behaviour is inflicted or related to our environment, physical health, etc. e.g. when we feel unwell, (physical) then we may not feel happy (mental/emotional) and this may affect our ability to go out, meet people (environmental) etc. One of the purposes of gestalt therapy is to integrate the whole parts of a person so that the person can function as a whole. One of the aims of gestalt therapy is to help a client to focus on the present moment. I feel this is so important as what affects one part of us ultimately affects everything else in our lives- no matter how small. For example, one client I worked with was experiencing generalised anxiety. We talked about how the anxiety had become to affect other aspects of her life. (she could no longer go out, (social) She had to take time off work (Environmental) She was experiencing palpitations because of the anxiety- which also caused a vicious cycle of more anxiety and just exacerbated the above issues (Physical)- she had visited her doctor with regards to this and medical issues were ruled out) Considering how the anxiety was affecting her as a whole person was fundamental in gaining further insight into her issue and treating the client in an holistic manner. Additionally, the client would often focus negatively on the future- often reminiscing e.g. ‘what if my job lets me go for being off sick?’, ‘what if theres something wrong with me?’ etc. We would often talk about how it was helpful to just take each day as it comes and focus on the ‘present’ moment (a fundamental principle of gestalt therapy) A technique that helped the client to achieve more focus in the present moment was encouraging the client to utilise the anxiety scale as a means of measuring her anxiety. The client noted when she felt anxious on a scale rated from one to 10 and would then focus on deep breathing techniques to help reduce the anxiety. The client reported that this technique also helped her to stop focusing about the future or past as she was too busy focusing on this technique and her breathing. An exploration of the triggers that contributed to the anxiety was also discussed in which the client observed that she felt more anxious when she was thinking of negative past memories or worrying about the future. The ‘empty chair’ technique was used where the client was able to express some of her frustrations and emotions. The client imagined her father during the empty chair technique and reported feeling better after expressing some of the hidden anger at her father that had contributed to the anxiety. Key counselling skills such as paraphrasing, clarifying, reflection and summarising were used throughout the counselling process.
Throughout the therapeutic process I also enjoyed implementing the core conditions of the person centred approach and found that gestalt therapy was somewhat similar to this approach due to its emphasise on empathy, unconditional acceptance and positive regard. I think these conditions are key to any therapeutic approach- perhaps regardless of what approach the counsellor may be using in therapy. Transactional anaylsis was also explored. Through the use of transactional analysis we were able to identify that that the client was in a childlike ego state and still felt a lot of anger at her father (mainly for being absent during her childhood) that manifested during her childhood and contributed to the anxiety that she now suffered. Gradually through a process of sessions the client was able to change her life script to suit an ego state that was more adult and focused on the present. I found the use of transactional analysis very effective in helping the client to ‘identify’ ego states, explain behaviours and provide more structure in comparison to the other humanistic approaches.
I have also realised the importance of looking after myself as an essential part of improving my practice. My health has been somewhat of a rollercoaster (up and down for quite some time!) due to a few health issues I have and a recent blood test showed I was once again very low in iron. I was also feeling stressed and at risk of burn out and decided to just take a break from my work. (The perks of being self- employed!) Iam now once again working after taking a break and going on holiday and feel more refreshed (plus the spa tone iron helps). Whilst it’s not always easy to just take time out from work- I think where possible, you ‘need’ to make time (even if it’s only a little) to look after yourself. Especially when it’s concerning your health and wellbeing- which is a priority.
I will now consider some of the personal challenges of using the humanistic approach. For example, I find that the humanistic approach can at times be unstructured. As a result it can be difficult to measure successful outcomes. For example, I believe the person centred approach requires a lot of patience and thoughtful prompting as this approach is client led- therefore it is up to the client to explore potential solutions to their problems. (With guidance from me, the counsellor). I felt at times that I was not being as helpful as I could and would have found it useful to employ techniques that could be beneficial to the client- in particular with clients who were not as motivated. I found that allowing clients to think for themselves can at times be confusing for clients who were just not able to do so during the session. At times, clients would look towards me for an explanation of their issues- which again may have caused frustration for the client.
Furthermore, there may be situations where client really do not feel that they have a choice- particular those from different cultural background. Therefore the humanistic view of humans may be based on only a western viewpoint. For example, working with a client who wants to marry a man from a different religion which her family and culture do not ‘allow’. Whilst from a humanistic view that client has freewill and choice, ultimately in that client’s model of their world, they really feel that they have ‘no choice’ based on their reality and therefore the problem just remains for them.
Additionally, the humanistic approach places emphasises on free will and the ‘conscious’ mind. I believe the ‘unconscious’ mind can play a significant role in how people may behave. For example, Freud’s view of defence mechanisms may explain why people can often engage in irrational behaviours e.g., displacing anger or fear or why people may often ‘forget’ traumatic memories- due to repressing them. The humanistic view does not really account for behaviours that may also be governed by unconscious processes. E.g. a client I worked with reported everything going well in her life and then suddenly after going through a stressful event at work where she had a presentation she recalled the memory of presenting for an audience at school and being humiliated when some boys laughed and made fun of her. The client reported that she had started stammering during the presentation at work after recalling this memory and began feeling very anxious. (Something she had not experienced before) In such a client example, I think it would be reasonable to assume that the client had ‘repressed’ the memory in her unconscious mind and the memory was triggered during a similar event at work as well as the negative emotions associated with the event. I also think that the humanistic approach may not be an effective therapy for clients with ‘severe’ mental health issues ( having had a lot of previous and extensive experience working with mentally ill people in my previous jobs) e.g. someone who is severely depressed or schizophrenic. For example, it is very difficult to promote the concept of positive self regard to a client who just feels suicidal or to someone who experiences severe hallucinations and delusions.
Despite the personal challenges of using the humanistic approach to therapy, I believe that the humanistic approach has made a significant contribution to psychology. The positive views of unconditional positive regard for example, ultimately approaches human nature as a person with choice and free will. These values help to promote positive change in the client and ultimately gives client’s the responsibility to determine how they will live their lives. I think giving client’ this responsibility is potentially, a stepping stone to the road in their recovery.