Elliot, R., Watson, J., Timulak, L., & Sharbanee, J. (2021). Research on humanistic-experiential psychotherapies: Updated review. In Barkham, W., Lutz, and L.G. Castonguay (Eds.) Bergin and Garfield's Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (7th ed.). Wiley. Chapter 13.
Humanistic or experiential psychotherapies have a long history going back to the work of Carl Rogers and Fritz Pearls in the 1960s. This is a broad umbrella of therapies that include person-centred therapy, gestalt, emotion-focused, psychodrama, and existential therapies. Most of these therapies see the therapeutic relationship as central and curative. The therapist tries to enter the client’s subjective world with empathy to understand the client’s experience and to provide a validating and corrective emotional experience. The goals of humanistic-experiential therapy include self-awareness, personal growth, and meaning-making in clients’ lives. In this chapter, Elliott and colleagues review and update the meta-analytic evidence for the effectiveness and efficacy of humanistic-experiential therapy. The uncontrolled pre- to post-treatment change from receiving humanistic-experiential therapy estimated from 97 studies was .86 (k = 94; 95% CI [.74, .97]), representing a large effect. Clients maintained their immediate post-treatment gains during the year following therapy (ESw = .88; k = 41; 95% CI [.67, 1.1]) and beyond (ESw = .92; k = 15; 95% CI [.52, 1.31]). Compared to no-treatment control groups in 15 randomized studies, humanistic-experiential therapy showed a large pre-post effect ESwc= .98 (95% CI [.55, 1.20]). Compared to all other therapies in 56 randomized trials, humanistic-experiential therapy produced equivalent outcomes, (ESwc = –.07; 95% CI [–.21, .07]). The outcomes compared specifically to CBT in which only bona-fide humanistic-experiential therapies were included (i.e., only studies in which the humanistic-experiential therapies were meant to be effective) also indicated a non-significant difference, (ES = –.15; k = 9; 95% CI [–.27, .03]).
Dating back to the work of Carl Rogers, humanistic-experiential therapies have had an important impact on how many types of therapy is offered today. The emphasis of many therapies on empathy, the therapeutic relationship, and corrective emotional experience are hallmarks of humanistic-experiential therapies. The results of these updated meta-analyses indicate that humanistic-experiential therapies are effective in the short and longer term and are as effective as other forms of well-research psychotherapies.