Humanistic theory key concepts

Key Concepts of Humanistic Theory

The Humanistic counselling model covers a wide variety of theories but many key concepts are carried across them all. Few counsellors work in one particular theorist’s model anymore so it’s likely you will find a Humanistic counsellor bringing together most of these areas:

 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

A set of “needs” that human beings need to fulfil in order to attain self-actualisation.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs


Meeting ones full potential as a complete human being.

Johari window

A concept of self-awareness.

Bringing together all aspects of the personality in order that we may truly understand who we are.

johari window


Dealing with unfinished business.

Bringing together different areas of the psyche in order to create wholeness.

The 4 Givens

An existential theory consisting of:

The inevitability of death.

The freedom to choose.

The knowledge that we are alone.

The understanding that life is meaningless.


The Core Conditions

Empathy, Congruence and Unconditional Positive Regard.

These are required by all Humanistic counsellors.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Acceptance without conditions


A state of being.

The counsellor can understand a client’s frame of reference “as if” in the client’s position.



Realness, transparency.

A way of being.

Outward responses are consistently matching inner feelings.


Gaps in the self-concept caused by exposure to conditions of worth.

Conditions of Worth

The internalised belief that we must behave in a certain way in order to be accepted or loved.


The Image of self is based on life experiences and the reflection of attitudes of significant others in our lives.


The self we become in order to meet our conditions of worth.

Organismic Self

Present from birth.

A drive to grow, mature and reach self-actualisation.

Obscured by the conditions of worth.

Ideal self

The concept of who we would like to be

ideal self

Locus of Evaluation

The position from which we judge or evaluate issues.

Actualised = From an Internal position.

Conditions of worth = From an external position e.g. family.

Internal Frame of Reference

Our understanding of the world is shaped through our experiences and interpreted on the basis of our personal value system.

Here and Now

Being In the moment rather than the past or future.

Client Led

The client is the expert in themselves and their experience.

Client Led


A client’s right to free choice.

Therapeutic Alliance

An alliance where the counsellor is a companion on equal terms.


The counsellor’s level of congruence enables them to be completely present with the client.



The stages of change that will happen if the core conditions are present.

The client will move from a position of being closed and detached with no responsibility for their own situation to one whereby they can trust their inner processes and find their way through issues on their own.

Actualising Tendency

The natural tendency for all human beings to move towards a position of self-actualisation.

Actualising tendency