TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 December 2014
This has been the second book from this series which I have read, the first being the book about cognitive behavioural therapy, and this book is a good as the other, both are short and contain excellent contents, chapter headings, subheadings and structure, great references and bibliography and a series preface which sets the scene and context for the series. They are critical evaluations of each therapeautic school of thought but they also equally serve as good brief introductions to the school of thought itself.
The introduction to this book written by the author Nick Totton makes some good points about the difficulty in the label of humanistic and precisely what that means. This interested me because while some of the neo-Freudians, such as Karen Horney, Erich Fromm (especially Erich Fromm) or fellow theoretical travellers such as Harry Stack Sullivan, would all have used that label for different reasons and in different senses (positive/affirming and "negative", "pessimistic" or critically realist, like when Nietzsche talked about "human, all too human") but these theorists are firmly psycho-dynamic theorists. Those schools of thought are in a lot of ways mutually exclusive, even hostile. Fromm in The Art of Being was scathing about humanistic off shoots such as The Human Potential Movement, pop psychology, commercial self help and spirituality of the sort which became psycho-synthesis. A lot of this is peripheral to what is featured here in this book, as I say not name checked or directly mentioned but they are "the ghosts at the feast".
Like with the other books this is a good introduction to humanistic therapy per se and some of the varieties of humanistic therapy in particular (Rogerian therapy, Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy and while not mentioned so much throughout the whole of the book Body Centred Therapies, Expressive Arts Therapies, Blends, Integrations and In Betweens, political and spiritual dimensions and group therapy are mentioned too). Considering what humanistic therapies are Totton highlights the actualising tendency, that is growth rather than cure (Totton considers this as contra to the medical model of therapy, a legacy of the first practitioners being medically trained doctors and focusing upon symptom relief), egalitarianism and integration.
The author is very aware of a lot of the broader strokes strengths and weaknesses of all therapy and applies this to the humanistic therapies, considering the strengths of humanistic therapies Totton's concluding remarks indicate that "humanistic therapy still has unique and precious qualities to offer; and at their heart is its straight forward emphasis on simple human relationships as the primary source of healing and empowerment". That would correspond to some of the better research or writing about therapy and what works in therapy such as Martin Seligman's What You Can Change and What You Can't.
The chapter headings are well choosen and correspond directly to the chapters content, I thought the chapter on weaknesses of humanistic therapies was particularly good in this respect. These are actually summarised at the beginning of the chapter as follows A Pollyanna Complex; A denial of pathology; Giving undue responsibility to clients; Missing transferential issues; Boundary problems; Glorifying impulsiveness; Taking negative attitude towards rationality and theory; Prone to mysticism and 'uplift'; Out of mainstream; Weak on research. The criticisms within this chapter could apply more broadly to many of the helping professions which have been influenced in acknowledged and unacknowledged ways by trends in therapeautic thinking and their knowledge base.
Totton even touches upon, all too briefly perhaps, on the importance of broader social context in the subheading on giving undue responsibility to clients: "In a clinical context, this can mean that people's problems are understood in terms of their personal psychology, rather than in the context of the social and economic institutions which affect them" P.48 Totton also is aware of the value of psycho-dynamic theories, including transference, in revealing weaknesses in the humanistic approach: "Fully to recognise the unconsicous is to come up against the sheer difficulty of change, and the many pitfalls that get in the way of the humanistic practitioner's fantasy of curing her clients by loving them enough" P.63
I found the book interesting and enlightening on the topics of Transactional Analysis, which may be familiar to readers for its coining of the idea that people possess an "inner child" and importance of scripts and games, and Gestalt Therapy, although it is one school of thought which could be afforded a book entirely to itself being an enfant terrible of antagonism to formal theory, knowledge and systems per se. Rogerian counselling is introduced fairly too but is not afforded as much space, although I personally believe that this is a consequence of it not requiring it. As Totton says himself many of these theories arose as a result of critical opposition to what preceeded them.
In conclusion Totton considers where to go from here, forecasting two futures, one likely but "darker" in which humanistic therapy acquiesces to pressure and conforms to the mainstream and another "desirable" one in which humanistic practitioners reassert and defend their principles and unique tradition. Totton considers this to comprise recognition of growth, respect for the client's inherent intelligence and autonomy and integration of the different aspects of being human and suggests they are "minority values".
This was a very readable and very thought provoking read, far removed from some of the original sources which have inspired Humanistic schools of thought, perhaps I am too acquainted with some pretty historic materials or the views of "founders" such as Carl Rogers. Totton writes very fairly about Reich too and is able to handle the sometimes cooky, cranky or radical origins of humanistic therapies very well. I can recommend this to anyone with specific or professional interest in the topic unreservedly but also would recommend this to a general reader aswell.