The humanistic approach was introduced in the 1940’s in the United States. It can be traced to Abraham Maslow as the founding father, but through time has become closely associated with Carl Rogers. The humanistic and existential approach distinguishes itself from other therapeutic styles by including the importance of the client’s subjective experience, as well as a concern for positive growth rather than pathology. Whereas the key words for humanistic psychotherapy genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard, the major themes of existential therapy are the client’s responsibility and freedom.
Humanistic and existential approaches share a belief that clients have the capacity for self-awareness and choice; however, they differ in their theoretical perspectives. The humanistic perspective views human nature as basically good, with a potential to maintain healthy, meaningful relationships and to make choices that are in the best interest of oneself and others. The humanistic therapist accompanies/guides clients to free themselves from assumptions and positions that might be blocking them from living fuller lives. The psychologist encourages and highlights growth and self-actualization, while maintains that clients have an innate capacity for responsible self-direction. For the humanistic psychologist, not being one’s true self is the source of problems.
The existentialist, on the other hand, is more interested in guiding/accompanying clients to find philosophical meaning while they face anxiety. This is done by exploring the importance of choosing to think and act authentically and responsibly. According to existential psychology, the fundamental problems clients face are rooted in anxiety over isolation, loneliness, despair, and, eventually, death. The existential psychologist assumes that the clients’ problems are due to not being able to use their judgment or make choices enough/well enough in order to create meaning in their lives. When outside influences may play a role in the clients’ limited ability to carry out choices, the existential psychologist and the clients will confront these influences in order to move forward.