Humanistic and Experiential Psychotherapy


Elliott, Robert, Greenberg, Leslie S. and Lietaer, Germain (2004) Research on Experiential Psychotherapies. in M.J. Lambert (ed.) Bergin and Garfield's Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (5th ed.) pp. 493-539


Originally designated as “humanistic” or “third force” therapies, these therapies have recently begun to be grouped together under the "experiential" umbrella.

For helping clients deal with the sequelae of traumatic and abusive events, the evidence we reviewed points to a conclusion that PE therapies are "specific and efficacious" treatments.

As we have shown in the meta-analysis, processdirective experiential therapies such as PE, gestalt, and emotion-focused therapy for couples appear to have somewhat larger effect sizes and to do better when pitted against CB and nondirective (CC and supportive-nondirective) therapies. While we tend to take these results as indicating a slight superiority for process directive over nondirective experiential therapies, we are aware that it is also possible that researcher allegiance effects are once again operating, since much of the current pro-experiential therapy research has been carried out by PE and Emotionally Focused Therapy researchers, while much of the research on less directive therapies such as CC therapy has been conducted by CB-oriented researchers looking for "relational controls."

Time and time again, nonexperiential therapy researchers have been surprised by the long-term effectiveness of Client Centered and nondirective-supportive therapies, even when these were intended as control groups 

We conclude with the proposition that the neglect of experiential therapies in many training programs is no longer warranted. The evidence is now strong enough to for us to recommend that experiential-humanistic therapies should be considered empirically-supported treatments.

Visit article at strah.ac.uk


Elliott, Robert and Friere, Beth (2008). Person-Centered/Experiential Psychotherapies are Highly Effective: Summary of the 2008 Meta-analysis. British Association for the Person-Centered Approach

PCE therapies are associated with large pre-post client change. .. Social scientists consider this to be a very large effect, many times larger than effects typically found for common medical procedures or medications.

This stability of post-therapy benefit is consistent with the PCE philosophy of enhancing client self-determination and empowerment, indicating that clients continue to develop on their own after they have left therapy.

When all these PCE therapies were pooled together they at first appeared to be slightly but trivially less effective than CBT ... However, this effect disappeared when we statistically controlled for the theoretical orientation of the researcher (referred to as researcher allegiance), a frequent source of bias in treatment research.

From a policy point of view these data support the proposition that Person-Centred/Experiential therapies are empirically supported by multiple lines of scientific evidence, including “gold standard” RCTs and recent very large RCT-equivalent studies in the UK.

The moral of this story is that we do not need to be afraid of quantitative either outcome research or RCTs. However, if we let others define our reality by studying watered-down versions of what we do, we are going to be in trouble.

Visit article at PCE-World.org


Elliott, Robert (2002) Humanistic psychotherapies: Handbook of research and practice.(pp. 57-81)Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, Cain, David J. (Ed), xxviii, 701 pp


In randomized clinical trials with comparative treatment control clients, clients in humanistic therapies generally show amounts of change equivalent to clients in nonhumanistic therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy.