The humanistic existential theory is one that promotes better self-awareness. It encourages personal growth by placing a higher level of focus on what the current reality offers each individual. Then, by looking for specific patterns and finding ways to alter them, it becomes possible to achieve more than if those patterns were not analyzed. This helps each person find their own meaning to life.
In psychotherapy, however, humanistic and existential theories are very different from one another.
On its own, the humanistic theory suggests that every human is trying to find the best way to be the best version of themselves on a daily basis.
The existential theory suggests that the primary motivation of humanity is to search, and eventually find, the meaning of life.
The humanistic existential theory attempts to combine the similarities of both theories into one meaningful psychotherapeutic option.
How Are Humanistic and Existential Theories Similar?
The search to be the best version of oneself is very similar to the process required to find what the meaning of life may be. It is how people look to achieve results within these two theories that are very different.
In humanistic theories, the value is placed on the human and their ability to make their own choices. It takes personal responsibility and free will to do so, along with a certain level of willpower. When success occurs, it becomes possible for an individual to lead their own life.
The existential component of the theory brings in universal concepts that may be important to the individual. People have the need to believe in something that is higher than who they are. There are various ways this belief can manifest itself.
- Religion. Believing in God, a supernatural being, or powerful aliens that created the seeds of life on Earth long ago are all examples of using religious faith to seek out the meaning to life.
- Science. Instead of believing in the supernatural, some people prefer to believe in the facts and theories they can examine directly. The idea of a supernatural existence seems more like a fairy tale or the product of a person’s imagination. The meaning of life can be found right here, right now.
- Annihilation. Some individuals prefer to see the meaning of life as what can be accomplished in every specific moment. Because this life is the only “living” moment available, good works should be the focus of every breath taken before being wiped from existence.
Both theories try to stress the positive components of human nature. Instead of focusing on what a person is lacking, humanistic existential theory focuses on the strengths that an individual already possesses. It is within those traits that achieving a better life and finding the answers that one seeks becomes possible.
Instead of looking at a person as being weak or incomplete, this theory looks at a person who has the potential to do something positive at any given moment. They are already complete and guidance is offered to help each person recognize this fact.
How Humanistic and Existential Theories Bridge Their Differences
There is one core difference between a humanistic point of view and an existential point of view. It involves the purpose of human nature.
If the humanistic component of this theory were to be kept separate, then it would teach that humans are inherently good. The bad choices or evil actions that a person may eventually make one day are caused by compromises that people are forced to make. It is society that forces people to do bad things, not any sort of darkness that lies within the individual.
Think of it like this. A husband cheats on his wife. Through humanistic eyes, there is nothing bad about the husband. Somewhere within society, pressure was placed on the husband to have an affair. Because society acted upon him, he reacted to that pressure and the affair is the outcome.
Existentialism takes a different approach. It suggests that humans are capable of doing both good and evil. Instead of a reaction being the defining point of a person, it is the choices that the person makes, based on the influences of good and evil that are constantly at war inside of them.
Think of it like this. The same husband cheats on his wife again. Through existential eyes, the husband could have made the choice to avoid the affair, but did not for some reason. Instead of choosing “good,” the husband chose “bad.” He reacted to what he felt was the best possible decision after weighing the consequences of both the positive and the negative. The affair is a reflection of that “evil” side.
This difference between the two perspectives must be bridged to create the humanistic existential theory. It is done through the various types of belief about the universe that are widely followed today. Here are some examples.
- Religion. In Christianity, Jesus died on the cross for the “bad” component that lies within the individual. Because of this action, it becomes possible for a person to reflect more of the “good” side than the “bad” side found within.
- Mathematics. People can calculate the pros and cons of a decision to go with what is the least risky. If there is a chance that the husband could be caught cheating, that increases the likelihood that they will avoid the affair. If the husband, or any spouse for that matter, feels like they won’t get caught, then there is a greater chance that they will embrace the affair.
- Means Justification. Sometimes there is the belief that “bad” things must be done to bring about “good” results. Warfare is a common example of this belief. Having soldiers die on the battlefield is considered a bad action, but if it preserves the freedom of a nation, the action is seen as good.
What is difficult for the humanistic existential theory is that everyone is a little different in how they combine these different elements. That’s why phenomenology is a core concept of the theory. In basic terms, phenomenology requires a relationship to form between people so each unique perspective can be understood.
Only then does it become possible to influence the concepts of “good” and “bad” for that individual.
Confidence, self-esteem, and self-actualization are important concepts in this theory as well. People must be confident to make choices. If not, then change will not occur in any form. Self-esteem is a recognition that good choices occur more often than bad choices. As for self-actualization, it is necessary for an individual to recognize reality before they can truly experience it.
The humanistic existential theory shows us that humans are complex beings with unique experiences, thoughts, and behaviors that all deserve respect. When that element is present, relationships can be built, and that creates the foundation for change.