What does it mean for a humanistic or existential therapist to ‘see the whole person’? When we are in the midst of our suffering, it can be difficult to see beyond the symptom, or the wish for a ‘prescription’ that will heal it. We may want to be rid of it, see it as alien to us, or outside of us. Many therapies work solely with the symptom and work to reduce its impact, which is an important part of the work, but the humanistic therapies also recognise that the meaning of the symptom differs from one person to the next. To the humanistic therapist, the symptom (e.g. depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties) is a part of the whole, and it exists within a specific and unique context, your life context. And because everyone is different, everyone will have a different process.
To give you an idea of what this view of therapy is like,you might think about a chess game. There is a story about a chess champion being asked “what is the best chess move?”. Of course, this makes no sense, because there is only the best move in a given situation. What other pieces are on the board? Where is each one situated? What is the objective in this move? How does the position of one effect another? We need to consider all of these things before we know what the best move is. Likewise, with the therapeutic process, we need to understand the various ‘pieces’ of our lives, and how we postion ourselves in relation to them right now, before we can understand what changes need to be made so that we might feel better. That is why the therapeutic process focuses so much on you being the expert on yourself. Humanistic therapy holds that developing self-awareness (‘self expert-ness’) is essential to knowing what is right for us, it empowers us to make the best decisions for ourselves, to determine our own path, equipped with the self-knowledge required to make the ‘best move’.
This can be a difficult idea sometimes. When our suffering is all consuming, the idea of exploring our self can seem too lengthy, not enough, and dealing with the symptom can feel all important, which of course is understandable. Therapy can work with you to manage the difficulties and also, in time, to deepen your understanding of yourself with the intention of empowering you to make the best moves for you in the future. While we work, we might keep in mind that the better we know ourselves, the stronger we can become, and the better equipped we can become, to steer our lives in the direction of a personal, unique, and individual fulfilment.