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Uncertainty and 'Post-Humanistic' Psychotherapy

Rethinking Humanistic Psychotherapy

Throughout my training, there is a theme that came increasingly to the forefront of my awareness, that is the ability to sit with uncertainty. In my experience, uncertainty is an inevitable component of life and I am interested in how it intertwines with therapy. During my training I explored how this uncertainty has an inextricable link to a certain existential anxiety. Being able to sit with it, manage it and contain it requires specific skills that can be acquired or perfectioned. In my view any therapist should develop those skills (either via formal training or life experience). This would allow the client to sit with their uncertainties.

However, unfortunately this is not always promoted in our society, especially by the NHS, which endorses the so-called ‘evidence-based’ therapies.

I believe there are no absolutes in therapy. In the humanistic philosophy there is a fundamental element which brings certainty to my work and gives it a direction. Humanistic psychotherapists trust and value the force that the presocratic philosophers named physis (Heraclitus, c. 535 – c. 475 BCE). The ancient Greek word means ‘growth’ and ‘becoming’. It indicates that the person is in a process of constant transformation. In the modern usage, I think about physis as described in Heidegger (1935): the tendency towards wholeness, growth and healing. The same concept is recurrent in Transactional Analysis (Berne, 1961; Clarkson, 1992a). In Person Centred Therapy (Rogers, 1942) it can be compare it to the Self-Actualising Tendency. Rogers (1951: 487) writes: "the organism has one basic tendency and striving - to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism”. In Gestalt (Perls, Hefferline & Goodman, 1951), the physis is the equivalent to the élan vital (Perls, 1969; Clarkson, 1989).

All of those trascendental narratives create the opposite effect of allowing the therapist to have a base-line of certainty to work on. If, on one hand, this is reassuring for the practitioner, on the other hand does not live space for experimentation and play. When existential psychotherapists discuss the importance to trust and value the person’s inner resources (Laing, 1960, 1961; Yalom, 1980; Van Deurzen, 1997, 2002), what is ment is not the same as the humanistic physis. From a humanistic perspective, addressing uncertainty in therapy starts with the underlying assumption that human nature is essentially constructive (Bozarth & Temaner Brodley, 1986). By ‘constructive’ they mean a move towards what is more wholesome. The humanistic believe that there is a move towards self-development is another product of Darwinism (Bazzano, 2019).

It is only with the influence of existential physiotherapist that we started to question this ‘formative tendency’ (Bazzano, 2006, 2017, 2019; Van Deurzen 2002). Then we finally got to the conclusion that in therapy there is no predetermined force that pushes humans. This now calls for a shift towards a ‘post-humanistic’ approach. This approach would, rather than creating a new model, acknowledge the disintegration of all values and assumptions (even the formative tendency). Somehow this reminds me of the ‘Death of God’, announced by Nietzsche and the disintegration of morals. Who knows, maybe one day therapists will be freed from the need to improve their clients and will be able to sit with them no matter what.