In Search of Self: My Therapy with Rogers, Satir, Bugental, Polster, Yalom, & Maslow

In Search of Self: My Therapy with Rogers, Satir, Bugental, Polster, Yalom, & Maslow

by Deb Hammond
A psychotherapy student assembles her dream team for guidance toward self-actualization.


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Have you ever wondered what would it be like to work with psychotherapists who most of us have only read about, heard speak at a conference, or watched on video? Like many psychology students, I have often pondered the question of what it would be like to meet with the masters in our field. At critical crossroads of my life, I have wished for the guidance of these sages. In my mind, over the years, I have assembled my own personal therapist dream team: Carl Rogers, Virginia Satir, James Bugental, Erving Polster, Irvin Yalom, and Abraham Maslow. (I suspect each of us could construct our own cadre of master therapists.) What these therapists have in common is that they all value the importance of self-determination, autonomy, and the intrinsic potential for growth. They all seek to provide the optimal conditions for individuals to heal and grow, despite the pressures and circumstances of life. By helping to remove any obstacles towards growth, these therapists empower individuals as they let go of their symptoms and engage more fully in their lives.

I have imagined what it would be like if each of these renowned professionals could share with me their unique approaches and help me understand myself, confront my struggles, and achieve my potential. I invite you to join me now, in eternal time and space, as I begin my psychotherapy encounters with my dream team. But first, here's a little background.

In Search of Acceptance

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a high achiever. My relentless drive for perfection earned me countless academic awards and recognitions. I knew that as long as I succeeded academically, I would be accepted in the eyes of others. Continuing to persevere, I earned a master's degree in chemistry from Stanford University. I was proud of my academic achievements, but I had always sensed that my heart wasn't  there.

For the next several years, I was on a mission to find my passion in life. Although I had not been successful in finding a fulfilling career, I was determined to find a relationship that would make me feel whole. Depressed and frustrated, I entered therapy when I could not convince my ex-boyfriend Brian to give me just one more chance. I was determined to be the person I needed to be so that he would accept me and come back into my life. I was convinced that if he could accept me, then I could finally be happy.

Carl Rogers: Conveying the Core Conditions

Rogers Intro: During Deb's first therapy session with me, she tearfully commented, "I have lost my direction in life, and I do not know where I am going." She explained that her job as a researcher was "just not me" but she did not know what else to do. She described how the security of having an income helped her overlook the reality that she did not enjoy the work. After the first half of the session, Deb started to describe her "on-and-off" relationship with her ex-boyfriend Brian.

Deb: From the moment I met him, I knew he was the person I had been searching for. We had so much in common and we seemed to understand each other pretty well. I remember him telling me how I was one of the few people who could really understand him and be on his wavelength. I still remember how nice it felt on our first date when I made him laugh. After that first date, I knew I was hooked.

Rogers: It sounds like that first date with Brian was a really special time for you. He recognized you as someone who could understand him, and when he laughed you felt as if he could really appreciate you.

Deb: Yes, that's exactly how I felt. And I felt so safe with him. I know this may sound kind of silly, but I took so much comfort in the fact that he was so tall and strong. When I was in his arms, it felt like nothing else mattered. Being with him provided me an escape from the rest of my life...and from myself.

Rogers: That does not sound silly at all. By escaping to Brian, you felt as if you could escape from your problems. But, in doing so, it sounds like you also lost parts of yourself.

Deb (crying): You're right. I used to feel so strong and have such a clear idea of who I was. But since I started depending on him to be the source of strength in my life, I've had no clue as to who I am. All I can think about now is doing what I need to do to get him back into my life again.

Rogers: Your tears show what a compassionate and sensitive person you are. I see how much pain you are in now, but I also hear how determined you are to discover your true self. Just the fact that you are here shows that you are ready to find your "direction in life."

Rogers Wrap-up: My main goal with Deb was to create a growth-promoting environment by helping her identify and remove the internal and external obstacles blocking her inherent growth. Conveying the core therapeutic conditions of accurate empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness, I helped Deb realize and accept her congruent self and begin her growth process toward self-actualization. As Deb started to move in the direction of growth, I noticed she was developing openness to experience, gaining a trust in herself, developing an internal locus of evaluation, and demonstrating a willingness to continue to grow. She was beginning to discover her own strength—instead of escaping to that of her ex-boyfriend. During our final session, Deb mentioned that she was even considering her long-term goal of enrolling in a psychology graduate program.

Virginia Satir: Engineering the Self

Satir Intro: After attending one of my personal growth workshops, Deb approached me about helping her in the process of rediscovering and rebuilding her self. Always enthusiastic to help an individual in the area of personal growth, I agreed to see Deb right away. When I met with her during our first session, I had the sense that she had the motivation to grow, but she just needed a little direction to help her stay on her path.

Deb: I know that I should be ready to move on, but I still find myself feeling so sad over the end of my relationship with Brian. I wish I could just ignore my feelings, but it seems there's no escape.

Satir: I think that it is great you are so in touch with your feelings now. Maybe it would help if you could think of these feelings as the "juice" that keeps you in a whole piece and gives you the abilities to see better, to think better, to feel better. By owning these emotions, you can actually feel more alive.

Deb: That sounds much better than trying to fight these feelings. But as I am dealing with all of these feelings, how do I get unstuck? I just don't understand why I can't move on with my life!

Satir: Anytime we try to change something that has been a part of our life for so long, it's so tempting to stay with what's familiar. Often when we try to take one step forward, the familiar brings us right back. This struggle you are having is certainly a common one. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking, or change any kind of habit.

Deb: That definitely helps me put things in perspective. But, how do you suggest I break my "habit"?

Satir: Changing oneself is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. I think the most important tools you need to have now are faith in and forgiveness for yourself. Your faith will help you move forward in your commitment to grow, and your forgiveness will save you during the backslides. I see just how committed you are, and I know that you're going to keep on moving ahead, and eventually you're going to be able to make it.

Deb: Thanks for the encouragement. But, I have to admit it's those backslides you just mentioned that scare me the most. I am just not sure how to find the strength and courage to move on when I feel like I've taken a step backwards.

Satir: The pulls back into the familiar are indeed powerful. If you find yourself doing the familiar, my advice would be to give yourself an "A" for being so aware. Then, you can give yourself the choice about what you want to do next. After all, you own yourself, and therefore you are the engineer of yourself.

Deb: Oh, I really like that idea. So if I don't like the way I am doing something, I have the choice to do it differently.

Satir: Exactly. I think the key to life is to change when the situation calls for it, and to find ways to accommodate to what is new and different. It's important to keep the part of the old that is still useful, and discard what is not.

Deb: So your advice is to change what no longer works, but to hold on to what still does. That means I don't have to completely start over.

Satir: That's right. You already have a great start on your journey. Let me read you something that I wrote a few years ago that may encourage you as you continue in your process of change: "I am Me. I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive. I am me, and I am okay."

Satir Wrap-up: During our next sessions, I helped Deb to develop ways to cope with the ending of her relationship. I helped her understand that in our lives, problems are not the problems—coping is the problem. I pointed out to Deb that life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way one copes with it is what makes the difference. She eventually saw the ending of her relationship as an opportunity for positive change, which would ultimately make her stronger for the upcoming "bumps in the road." Over the next few months, Deb developed the strength and self-esteem to directly confront many of the everyday challenges she faced in life. I enthusiastically watched her become stronger and stronger with each of these encounters. During our last session she admitted, "It's much easier to face a problem directly than to try to find the energy to avoid it."

James Bugental: Experiencing the Moment

Bugental Intro: Before she left for the Esalen Institute in Big Sur to develop their Human Potential Development Program, Virginia Satir referred her client Deb to me. She felt that Deb was beginning to trust herself and her feelings, and she thought that I might be able to help her tune into her "Wisdom Box" to access her inner truth. During our first few sessions, I realized that Deb was more in tune with the needs of others than with those of herself. Then, during our fourth session, we had a major experiential breakthrough.

Bugental: When you were in the waiting room, I noticed that something seemed different with you today.

Deb: Oh, really? That's interesting you sensed that. I think I'm okay...

Bugental: Right when I saw you, I had this feeling that you had contact with Brian this week.

Deb: Wow, you're right. I did. That's kind of freaky you could pick up on that!

Bugental: I notice you are shaking right now.

Deb: I am? Oh, you're right, I am. Maybe it is because my blood sugar is low or something...

Bugental: And?

Deb: So, you're right. I did see Brian this weekend. But, everything is fine. I feel totally in control, and I am not afraid of spiraling backwards again. I think I'm ready to have him in my life again.

Bugental: Did you realize that as you said that your leg started shaking even more?

Deb: Uh, yeah. I can't quite stop that.

Bugental: What do you think your shaking is trying to say to you?

Deb: I don't know.

Bugental: Can you ask it?

Deb: Well...maybe it's trying to tell me that I'm not ready to have him in my life again. Perhaps it's a reminder of all the pain I have been through before, and a warning not to go there again.

Bugental: It's almost as if his being in your life threatens your stability and "shakes" your foundation of strength, and even chips away at your bedrock of self-esteem. Does that sound right to you?

Deb: Wow, you know I didn't think of it that way. But, yes, there is definitely some truth in that.

Bugental: Now I see you're shaking even more. What are you feeling now?

Deb: Oh, so many feelings are going through me now, I don't even know where to start.

Bugental: What if you just close your eyes now and breathe in and out. Now imagine what your shaking leg is trying to tell you. With all of that energy, it must have an important message for you. Just concentrate on what it is saying.

Deb (tearfully): It is saying that it is time for me to be seen, heard, and respected. It is realizing that I've been so busy taking care of other people's needs that I have not been in tune with my own. Brian really has no respect for me, and I'm so sick of being a doormat!

Bugental Wrap-up: During my next several sessions with Deb, I assisted her in tuning into what she was experiencing in the moment. In essence, by helping Deb to focus on the present and become mindful of what was happening in the here-and-now, I helped her become more self-aware. Then, by reflecting her newfound awareness back to her, I assisted her in better comprehending her situation, and ultimately increasing her choices so she could begin to make a change. It was also essential for me to enter into Deb's world without disrupting it and changing her personal experience. I wanted to help Deb discover her own images, without intrusively bringing in my ideas. I also wanted to challenge her to look at her own attitude towards herself. This process was aimed at facilitating Deb in taking charge of her life, and ultimately claiming her power to engage in her journey toward self-actualization.

Erving Polster: Gaining Awareness through Gestalt

Polster Intro: I received a call from Deb, a graduate student in psychology, who was interested in learning about how my Gestalt approach might help her achieve a new level of awareness. She explained that she would like to get in touch with and unleash the anger that she had been internalizing all her life. I agreed to help in her process. Right when I met Deb, I sensed she was ready to get to work.

Polster: I'm wondering how you have been able to get in touch with your anger in the past.

Deb: To be honest, I've always been afraid of getting angry at people. It just seems more natural to keep it locked inside.

Polster: What if we could try something that might help you unlock this anger before it breaks down the door on its own?

Deb: I'd be up for that. But how would I do that?

Polster: How about you just imagine that Brian is sitting there in that empty chair right now. Get in touch with how you feel that he just entered and left your life again. What do you want to say to him?

Deb: Um, that I'm mad.

Polster: Tell it to the chair. And say it like you really mean it.

Deb (angry): You just don't have a heart. I was trying to understand how your coming into my life again could make sense to you. And then I realized you didn't just think—you knew, you totally knew, that you were going to come into my life for a limited amount of time, and then just leave. There was no thought in there of me at all except what I could do for you. It's all about you!!

Polster: That's it. Now go even deeper into that anger.

Deb: I just don't get it. And I'm just really mad that you could just come into my life again, and show me the side of you that I missed. Then, when you were no longer lonely, you just left my life again. I'm so sick of this!

Polster: Go to the core of your anger. What do you really want to tell him?

Deb: I've always been there to support you. I've never ever, ever let you down. I've always been there for you and there have never been any consequences for you. But you're never here for me, Brian! It's such a one-way thing. I can't count on you for anything except to be a fleeting part of my life. That's all that I can expect from you, and I'm done with you! I deserve better!!

Polster: Where is your anger now? Where do you feel it most? Let it out.

Deb (raising her voice): Stay out of my life! Stay out of my life, Brian!!!

Polster Wrap-up: Gestalt therapy served as an effective means for Deb to become more fully present with her unexpressed emotions. When she could be more in the "now," she developed a clearer sense about the growthful direction in which she needed to move—i.e., away from her ex-boyfriend—and her change naturally unfolded. Her previously alien anger was transformed into an acceptable expression, which ultimately led to new possibilities in her life. During the next few months, Deb's increased self-awareness enabled her to take back her power and restore her self-support. Her new awareness also allowed her to experiment with new behaviors, which, in turn, facilitated further growth. Deb realized that finally giving a voice to her anger allowed her to focus her energies on her interests and passions, instead of on her regrets and fears.

Irvin Yalom: Confronting the Existential Givens in the Here and Now

Yalom Intro: I received an enthusiastic email from Deb who explained to me how my book, Existential Psychotherapy, had made quite an impact in her life. Since she was living nearby, she expressed her desire to consult with me on her existential quest, and I agreed to meet with her. When we met in my office, I could not help but notice that Deb seemed a bit star-struck. (And, of course, I have to admit that this is indeed a nice reaction for a man in his 70s to encounter.) But these stars soon faded, and we got down to the business of her life.

Yalom: Hi Deb—it's really nice to meet you in person.

Deb: Wow, thanks. Uh, I'm feeling a bit nervous right now. I've been admiring your work for so long, and I just can't believe that you are right here in front of me now!

Yalom: It's nice to know that you've been able to appreciate my work.

Deb: Not to sound like a groupie or anything, but in many ways that book changed my life. Especially my ability to really begin to let go of a painful relationship I was having with my ex-boyfriend Brian.

Yalom: Now you've got me curious. What in the book helped you the most in being able to move on with your life?

Deb: Where do I begin? Let's see...well, your whole premise that underneath all of our motivations and experiences lies this "existential bedrock" which forces us to be aware, on some level at least, of life's existential givens of death, isolation, freedom, and meaninglessness, really hit home with me. At first this concept was just an intellectual one to me, but as I drank in each word of your book, I realized that these concerns lie at the origins of my major life challenges.

Yalom: Yes, I have observed time and time again how both on a conscious and unconscious level, these "givens of existence" constitute the core struggles of humankind. It is these ultimate concerns that provide both the process and content for therapy.

Deb: Your book convinced me of that! While I was in the midst of reading through the chapters on death, I did a lot of thinking—and dreaming—about death. In fact, one night I had the most terrifying nightmare that death was literally at my door, and I had to use all of my energies to protect myself from it. Until that dream, I did not realize how fearful I actually was of my own death. And, that's when I realized that my "death grip" on Brian represented my attempts to assuage my death fears by believing that he was my "ultimate rescuer" who would protect me from death.

Yalom: Wow, what an insight.

Deb: Interestingly enough, when I was able to confront the inevitability of my own death on such a deep level, I became more engaged in my life.

Yalom: That's the paradox of accepting death—although the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us.

Deb: I also discovered a similar paradox regarding existential isolation. I realized that my irrational quest for unconditional (and unrealistic) acceptance from Brian was actually a form of denying my existential isolation. But once I was able to confront the reality that I was ultimately alone, I have felt so much less lonely!

Yalom: As you've discovered, the fear of existential isolation is the driving force behind many interpersonal relationships. But true relationships do not use the "other" as the functional "it" to guard against existential isolation. Once a person can accept that they are ultimately alone and can not have all of their needs met by others, then they can develop richer, more tolerant, and more loving relationships based on a deeper sense of communion. When we are able to stand alone and dip within ourselves for our own strength, our relationships with others are based more on fulfillment, not on deprivation.

Deb: Wow, what a comforting thought!

Yalom: Indeed it is. It is only by facing aloneness that we can meaningfully and authentically engage with another. Love—although it doesn't take us away from our existential isolation—is our best mode for coping with the pain of separateness.

Deb: So in a sense, we are all together in our separateness.

Yalom: Yes, that's very true. We are separate but can still connect to each other.

Deb: In addition to helping me gain personal insight into the existential concepts of death and isolation, your book also gave me the opportunity to process my thoughts about freedom. Your concept of freedom—that everyone is ultimately responsible for their (and only their) life and has the choice to make (or not) decisions and change their life as needed—is pretty much the very core of my whole outlook in life.

Yalom: Good for you. I've found that many people are actually frightened by the concept of freedom which implies that beneath them exists a "groundlessness" lacking any form of structure. But you seem to have to come to a place in your life where you are accepting this freedom and realize that you can create your life by the process of feeling, wishing, willing, choosing, acting, and changing.

Deb: My recent realization based on this concept—that I am the one who is responsible for both my needless suffering over Brian as well my solution to search for alternatives that really honor who I am and what I want—has brought me an incredible sense of empowerment! Your idea that we are responsible for our own lives and well-being has become my new mantra!

Yalom: As I've always said, until one realizes one's own role in contributing to one's problems, there can be no motivation to change.

Deb: I'm a true believer in that idea! And the final section of your book on meaninglessness really gave me plenty of food for thought too.

Yalom: Oh yes, the riddle of the meaning of life...Since the beginning of time, people have struggled with the classic existential dilemma of seeking meaning and certainty in a world that can offer them neither.

Deb: I loved your idea of engagement in life as the antidote to meaninglessness.

Yalom: Yes—it's better to embrace the solution of engagement rather than become preoccupied with the problem of meaninglessness. I have discovered that one must immerse oneself in the river of life and let the question drift to the background, attending to it when necessary.

Deb: I completely agree. And, I've found that approaching life's inherent meaninglessness with the realization that it's up to each of us to create and aspire to fulfill our own meaning is quite a satisfying way to live.

Yalom: Wow, so I see that you have really explored these existential concepts in a way that makes sense for you. Sounds like you've been able to put theory into practice.

Deb: I think so. If the whole point of theory really is to serve as a foundation and help one achieve a sense of order and control in an otherwise chaotic world, then I think I'm finding mine!

Yalom: It is so nice to know that my books have been able to offer you so much insight into your life. Now, I'm wondering how that felt for you to share with me how much you've enjoyed my work and put it into practice in your own life.

Deb: Hey, that sounds like an attempt to bring our session back to the "here-and-now"!

Yalom (laughing): Okay, now I'm convinced that you may have read a few too many of my books. But it was a serious question. You must have had some image of what this would be like. So, how has it been for you to meet with me in person? Any surprises so far? Any disappointments?

Deb: I admit I was nervous prior to our meeting. I guess I was intimidated by all the books you have written, and by the fact that you're, uh, Yalom! I was hoping that I would not embarrass myself. But, much to my surprise, soon after we met, it was easy to open up and talk to you about myself and existential issues.

Yalom: So it sounds like you are pleasantly surprised that you feel comfortable talking with me. Anything else that you wanted to share today, but have not?

Deb: Well, let me think about that for a moment. I guess we have been talking a lot about existential issues and struggles I have dealt with in the past. Maybe I was trying to impress you with my knowledge (smiles sheepishly). But I have not revealed much about what I want to work on in my life now.

Yalom: I appreciate you telling me that you wanted to impress me. You have succeeded on that count! But it sounds like your desire to impress me might have gotten in the way of you sharing more pressing needs. Maybe I played some part in that as well, but we don't have much time left today, so maybe we should use that time to begin talking about what you would like to work on now in your life.

Deb: Yes, I would. This is little harder for me, but here goes...

Yalom Wrap-up: Deb continued to meet with me on a weekly basis until the end of the summer. As our sessions progressed, she focused less on intellectual topics and more on the here-and-now space between us. During our last session, Deb explained to me why our therapeutic relationship had been so valuable to her. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she could now truly understand my maxim of psychotherapy that "It is the relationship that heals."

She explained how she particularly enjoyed my approach where I saw us as "fellow travelers" in a world full of inherent tragedies of existence, and she appreciated how I could be both an observer and a participant in her life. She mentioned that although she had previously read how I entered each therapeutic relationship with openness, engagement, and egalitarianism, she was amazed to personally experience the true power of these therapeutic ingredients. Deb realized that what had been most helpful about our sessions was how my authenticity, genuineness, and transparency eventually allowed her to discover these same qualities in her self. I explained to her that this is precisely why I have always believed that therapist authenticity is ultimately redemptive. She also realized that my being able to enter into her world and see her as she truly was enabled her to do so herself. As she hugged me at the end of our last session she said "Thank you for giving me the gift of therapy."

Abraham Maslow: Journeying toward Self-actualization

Maslow Intro: When I ran into Irv Yalom at the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference, I mentioned to him that I was in the process of revising my book Motivation and Personality. After he got over the shock of seeing me (he really did look like he had seen a ghost!), I expressed to him that I have always enjoyed how his textbooks read more like novels with their captivating vignettes, and that I was currently using this technique to revise my text. When I mentioned that I wanted to work with people who were on their journey toward self-actualization, he told me he knew of a person who might be interested in meeting with me.

A few days later Deb called me, and her pursuit of self-actualization was evident right away. I decided that it would be helpful to meet with her a few times to discuss what was on her mind. I met with Deb for the first time after she just finished a day full of play therapy sessions with young children. I could not help but notice that she was sparkling—both literally due to all the glitter she had on her from doing art therapy with the children, and also figuratively from finding work that allowed her to shine from the inside out.

Maslow (jokingly): Wow, it looks like you're really getting into your work with the children!

Deb: Oh yes—and on so many levels too! I've always been drawn to children. When I'm with them, I just feel myself light up.

Maslow: And I'd guess that illumination lights the path for both you and them.

Deb: It certainly feels that way to me. I noticed that being able to see them has also given me the ability to see myself. When I was working with children at my school's expressive arts camp this summer, I discovered that what the kids needed most was to be seen, heard, and understood. Soon after, I realized that that's exactly what I need to give myself as well.

Maslow: So the work you are doing with children reflects and invigorates the work you have been doing with yourself.

Deb: Yes, I feel that what I have been able to provide the kids is also what I am learning to give myself. In the therapy room, I give each child the freedom to be themselves while I honor, reflect, and validate their individuality. In life, I try to give myself these same opportunities.

Maslow: It sounds like being in tune with the children has helped you to become in tune with you own inner voice.

Deb: Exactly. And, paradoxically enough, I'm discovering that listening to the child inside of me has been the best way for me to navigate through my life as an adult. Now I trust my feelings. If something doesn't feel right with me, I know that it's not. It is also increasingly clear to me when I am doing something that is congruent with who I truly am inside.

Maslow: That reminds me of the quote "To thine own self be true."

Deb: That quote really resonates with me. Before I started therapy, I measured my successes in education, career, relationships, and life choices through the eyes of others. I was motivated by external rewards. But now, I just follow my heart.

Maslow: It sounds like you have discovered that the only way for you to lead an honest life is by following your own inner truth.

Deb: Yes, that has been my most powerful discovery.

Maslow: How would you describe your life now?

Deb: Well, I feel like all of my life I've been carrying around these unopened gifts. And, now, I've reached a place where I can finally unwrap them. Being able to enjoy these gifts with myself and share them with others has given me such a sense of inner peace.

Maslow: Wow. You seem to have discovered your true self.

Deb: And, I'm happy to say that I really like my discovery.

Maslow Wrap-up: When Deb started on her therapeutic journey several years ago, she was motivated by what I have termed the "deficit needs," or "D-needs." Although her physiological and security needs had been met, she was struggling to fulfill her higher needs of love/belonging and esteem. Lacking a satisfying relationship as well as a sense of community, Deb was increasingly susceptible to loneliness and relationship difficulties. Furthermore, not feeling respected by others (or even herself at times) Deb experienced an all-time low in her self-esteem. Fortunately, through her hard work in therapy, Deb has been able to make changes in her life—including pursuing her graduate studies in psychology and moving away from her relationship with her ex-boyfriend—which allowed her to satisfy her love/belonging and self-esteem needs.

Since I started my work with Deb a few months ago, I have noticed that she has devoted herself to fulfilling her potentials. Instead of being motivated by deficits, she is now motivated by growth. Striving to satisfy her "being needs," or "B-needs," she has reached the self-actualization level of the hierarchy of needs. As she feeds these higher needs, they are becoming increasingly stronger, as is her desire to realize her potentials. Whereas Deb once relentlessly strove to gain the acceptance of others, she now enthusiastically thrives in being true to her own nature. Deb has recently discovered that what she can be is also what she must be.

Discovery of Self

My therapeutic encounters have inspired me in my search to discover more about myself. When I started my therapeutic journey, Carl Rogers' use of accurate empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness facilitated my ability to begin to see my true self. Next, my sessions with Virginia Satir helped me to understand and embark upon the process of change. My sessions with James Bugental allowed me to recognize my unvoiced anger, while my Gestalt work with Erving Polster encouraged me to express this anger. After Irvin Yalom's book, Existential Psychotherapy, provided me a valuable framework for understanding my life, my here-and-now encounters with him allowed me to experience the healing power of the therapeutic relationship. Finally, my work with Abraham Maslow offered me an opportunity to reflect on and appreciate my journey toward self-actualization.

While it was my search for external truth that brought me to therapy, it was the discovery of my internal truth that brought me back to life. My therapeutic journey has allowed me to identify and overcome obstacles to my growth, while recognizing my inherent potential. By pursuing a path of self-reflection, self-examination, and openness to new experiences, I have been able to engage more fully in meaningful goals and fulfilling experiences in my life. As I continue on the path of my life, I take with me a greater sense of my authentic self that my therapist dream team helped me discover.

Resources on Deb's Psychotherapists

Branfman, F. (1996). "A matter of life and death." (Interview with Irvin Yalom.) Salon.
Retrieved November 20, 2006, from:

Bugental, J. F. T. (1992). The art of the psychotherapist (1992). W.W. Norton, NY.
Zeig, Tucker & Theisen.

Bugental, J.F.T (2006). Existential-Humanistic Psychotherapy in Action. San Francisco:

Bugental, J.F.T (1997). Existential-Humanistic Psychotherapy, in Psychotherapy with the Experts Video Series. San Francisco:

Bugental, J.F.T (2008). James Bugental: Live Case Consultation. San Francisco:

Bugental, J. F. T. (1999). Psychotherapy isn't what you think: Bringing the psychotherapeutic engagement into the living moment. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen.

Bugental, J.F.T (1988). The search for authenticity: An existential-analytic approach to psychotherapy. NY: Irvington Publishers.

Maslow, A.H. (1968). Toward a psychology of being. NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and personality. NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

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Deb Hammond After following her head and receiving her masters in Chemistry from Stanford University, Deb Hammond (note, this is her pen name) decided to follow her heart and pursue her passion for psychology. She is currently finishing up in her masters program in Counseling Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. She is seeing clients as an intern at the John F. Kennedy Community Counseling Center and at West Valley Elementary School in Sunnyvale, CA. Practicing from a humanistic-existential framework, Deb strongly believes that her most important role as therapist is to help illuminate the client's self discovery and search for inner truth.

CE credits: 1

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe aspects of the existential-humanistic approach as applied to the case of Deb.
  • Plan treatment interventions using this therapeutic approach

Articles are not approved by Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) for CE. See complete list of CE approvals here