In those moments, even though the maze had an exit that I was perfectly capable of finding, it felt like I would be stumbling up and down the green pathways forever. It was guidance from those around me that eventually helped me to find the exit.
I often use a similar metaphor with clients when we talk about where they are stuck, how they got there, and how we can work together to find a way out: The exit to the maze is there, and although it may feel so far away in the moment, each of my clients has the tools they need to triumphantly emerge into the sunlight. Perhaps what I value most about embodying the Humanistic stance is that my role in this process is not to run in the exit, find them, and drag them out. Rather, there is a respect for the process and a basic assumption that individuals will flourish despite adverse circumstances. Perhaps Yalom said it best when he likened the therapist to the “Fellow Traveler:” Our job as Humanistic therapists and psychologists is to walk with the client, never ahead of or behind, on their life path. We humbly point out obstacles in the road as we see them, and bear witness to the journey.
Given this conceptualization, it is always somewhat odd to me that Humanistic Psychology is taught as a separate theoretical orientation in higher education. In studying psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and even neurobiological theories, I can see elements of the humanistic and existential orientations at the core. Most theories stress the importance of a strong and trusting therapeutic relationship, of empathy, of non-judgment, and of the fully integrated or “self-actualized” individual as the vision of health. In fact, as our field grows, I am noticing a reemergence of an emphasis on humanistic principles: Third wave Cognitive-Behavioral approaches such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy have mindfulness and acceptance skills at the forefront, the Recovery Model is increasingly used in Department of Mental Health agencies, and Seligman’s Positive Psychology movement is taking the profession by storm. I suppose what I am witnessing is, at the foundation, a paradigm shift occurring in the field from a pathology-oriented framework to a wellness-focused, strengths-oriented perspective that is firmly grounded in Humanistic theory.Lauren Ford is an MFT Intern in private practice in the San Fernando Valley, CA. Additionally, she is a current doctoral student in the Pepperdine University Psy.D. program.