One might mistake such a conceptualization for an Existential Therapy approach, except that it is couched in Cognitive Therapy terms, or through the lens of Solution Focused Therapy. What our newer generation of healers is experiencing is the effect of AHP’s previous mission of educating the world about the importance of attending to Humanistic Principles. They are now the foundation of every major approach to psychotherapy.
I find during doctors appointments that my physicians regularly ask me what treatment has worked best for me in the past, and what course of action I would like to try. I am asked about my regimen of self-care, my support system, and my participation in activities such as exercise, mindfulness-based meditation, and yoga.
When I take my children to school, I hear their teachers and administrators talk about helping children to develop their sense of self; learn how to place meaning on events; develop tolerance for frustration and anxiety; and learn to make good choices. They have lessons around feelings and body awareness. They actually get a grade on their ability to “play well with others” and “take the perspective of another.”
The Humanistic principles of self-awareness, self-direction, wisdom of the self, choice and responsibility, living authentically, connecting to others through empathy, and the importance of attaching meaning to one’s experience are pervasive in my everyday experience. How did this happen? How did we move from a strictly compartmentalized society that focused solely on observable behavioral, cognitive, or physical phenomena, to a society that recognizes the importance of integrating the whole person, and fostering connections with others?
AHP was a key influence in populating the collective consciousness with these ideas, and helped people to grasp these concepts through the use of research and experiential processes. The results were immediately reinforcing, and often spoke for themselves. And while it was Rogers’ reputation as an outstanding scholar that gave these ideas their initial credibility, the research since that time has continued to support the claim that these are the foundational elements of wellbeing and self actualization.
In fact, research on fMRI brain scans are now able to map how and when meaning-making happens in the brain. Not surprisingly, it occurs as a result of an inwardly focused attention, with everyday processing of experience happening during quiet unfocused day dreaming, doodling, or other forms of non-focused attention. Meaning making, on the other hand, where deep understanding is attached to the memory of experience, occurs during a more focused inward attention, such as mindfulness based practice or meditation. How thrilling to see my own hero, Frankl’s, theory actually come to life on a map of the mind!
We are seeing these principles being played out in the marriage of brain science to psychotherapy, in the application of Immordino-Yang’s fMRI’s work on the science of empathy and meaning-making to the development of integration and well-being in Dan Siegel’s Mindsight work. What an exciting time to be able to actually see how, when, and where these processes take place in the brain. And not only can we see what is happening in the brain, we can see how the mind can “change the brain.” As Dan Siegel likes to point out, we are now able to prove that the mind is not just a reflection of the activity of the brain; the mind can actually change the structure (the shape and connectivity patterns) of the brain. These developments open, or more accurately reopen, many of Humanistic Psychology’s unanswered questions about the power of the mind to understand, shape, build, connect, lead, and, most intriguingly, expand.
What we are seeing today is a culmination of applications that are supporting the tenets of Humanistic Psychology, including attachment theory, neuroscience, interpersonal neurobiology, physiology, somatic work, mindfulness-based practice, and other approaches that connect the many parts of the whole self. The idea of the Gestalt, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, has never been more evident in the field of psychotherapy and personal growth than it is today.
Gigner Clark is an associate professor of clinical education and coordinator of Marriage and Family Therapy Program Coordinator at Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California