„Das, woran wir leiden, ist nicht unser Hirn; das, woran wir leiden, ist die Tatsache, dass wir in einer Welt leben, in der wir eigentlich wissen, wie es sein sollte. Und dass uns das so unendlich schwer fällt, das, was wir wissen, auch in unseren lebendigen Beziehungen mit anderen Menschen umzusetzen. Wir bräuchten eine andere Beziehungskultur. Wir müssten schauen, wie wir es eigentlich schaffen können, dass diese beiden Sehnsüchte auch gleichzeitig gestillt werden können. Wie wir zum Beispiel gleichzeitig frei und verbunden sein können. Und manch einer weiß, dass es geht. Manche haben es ja erfahren. Spätestens dann, wenn Sie einmal im Leben einen anderen Menschen wirklich geliebt haben oder geliebt worden sind, wissen Sie, dass das die Beziehungsform ist, in der man gleichzeitig frei und verbunden sein darf, weil das eigentlich das Kennzeichen von Liebe ist, dass man alles tut, damit der andere seine Potenziale entfalten kann. Dass der über sich hinauswachsen kann und sich gleichzeitig aufs Engste mit einem verbunden fühlen darf. Und alles andere ist eben keine Liebe.“

Gerald Hüther

Humanistic psychotherapy developed in America after the second world war as a movement against war, materialism and outdated values. Central to it was the wish to support humans in the unfolding of their personal potentials and possibilities. That is supposed to be achieved through reconnection to one’s inner core, the self, leading to a more authentic way of living. Ideally, it strives to combine respect for and development of individuality with individuals taking on responsibilities in their communities that will benefit from their distinct abilities. Estrangement from one’s own nature is seen as the core of psychological suffering, resulting from processes of socialization and upbringing.

Humanistic psychotherapy focuses on present experience – experience of the body, emotions and the contact unfolding between human beings. Frequently, we escape from our present experience – either because we’re not used to directing our attention towards the here and now or because our protection mechanisms get into the way. Humanistic psychotherapy makes use of several soft methods aiming at the activation of inner experience – for example through mindfulness, imagination, communication between inner aspects of the self and so on. Life is happening in the present moment and change is possible only in the present. Through humanistic psychotherapy, a playful and experimental access to consciousness, acceptance and change is created. As I see it, methods are like offers that can be made use of but shouldn’t push people into emotional experience – a process should rather unfold naturally at its own pace. Catharsis can be freeing but certainly not if forced upon people. More important than catharsis and “emotional breakthroughs” are often the small, barely noticeable steps and approximations in the process.

The concept of mental illness doesn’t play a role in humanistic psychotherapy – the core of every human being is viewed as healthy and whole. Crisis is seen as a chance for psychological growth and attaining selfhood. The humanistic approach doesn’t aim at stating deficits but at strengthening resources and potentials. Being seen by another person in our unique possibilities can pave the way to actually living up to them and carrying them into the world. It might feel risky to show ourselves in our individuality and step onto our own paths. When we get more connected to ourselves, it might become a necessity, though – because we’re not anymore capable of neglecting who we are and what we are like. 

From my point of view, a possible danger in humanistic psychotherapy lies in its tendency to ignore the shadow aspects of the psyche and human relations in its wish for a “better world”, the wish to be a “better human” or at least to be seen as such. Besides all which is healthy and has always been, we’ve got considerable destructive potiential that can either play out obviously or remain less conceivable in subtleties. Shadows and destructive parts must be seen and confronted in order to possibly become integrated – in our own psyche as well as in the larger – otherwise they will remain uncontrollable. If integrated however, they can be an important source of creativity. Only if we stand this confrontation, we’re actually on the path to more honesty and authenticity – within ourselves and with others.