Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that rose to
prominence in the mid-20th century in answer to the limitations of
Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and B. F. Skinner's
behaviorism. With its roots running from
Socrates through the
Renaissance, this approach emphasizes individuals' inherent drive
towards self-actualization, the process of realizing and expressing
one's own capabilities and creativity.
It helps the client gain the belief that all people are inherently
good. It adopts a holistic approach to human existence and pays
special attention to such phenomena as creativity, free will, and
positive human potential. It encourages viewing ourselves as a "whole
person" greater than the sum of our parts and encourages self
exploration rather than the study of behavior in other people.
Humanistic psychology acknowledges spiritual aspiration as an integral
part of the psyche. It is linked to the emerging field of
Primarily, this type of therapy encourages a self-awareness and
mindfulness that helps the client change their state of mind and
behaviour from one set of reactions to a healthier one with more
productive self-awareness and thoughtful actions. Essentially, this
approach allows the merging of mindfulness and behavioural therapy,
with positive social support.
In an article from the Association for
Humanistic Psychology, the
benefits of humanistic therapy are described as having a "crucial
opportunity to lead our troubled culture back to its own healthy path.
More than any other therapy, Humanistic-Existential therapy models
democracy. It imposes ideologies of others upon the client less than
other therapeutic practices. Freedom to choose is maximized. We
validate our clients' human potential."
In the 20th century, humanistic psychology was referred to as the
"third force" in psychology, distinct from earlier, even less
humanistic approaches of psychoanalysis and behaviorism. In our post
industrial society, humanistic psychology has become more significant;
for example, neither psychoanalysis nor behaviorism could have birthed
Its principal professional organizations in the US are the Association
Psychology and the Society for
(Division 32 of the American Psychological Association). In Britain,
there is the UK Association for
1.1 Conceptual origins
1.2 Practical origins
2 Orientation to scientific research
3 Development of the field
4 Counseling and therapy
Empathy and self-help
4.3 The ideal self
5 Societal applications
5.1 Social change
5.2 Social work
Creativity in corporations
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
One of humanistic psychology's early sources was the work of Carl
Rogers, who was strongly influenced by Otto Rank, who broke with Freud
in the mid-1920s. Rogers' focus was to ensure that the developmental
processes led to healthier, if not more creative, personality
functioning. The term 'actualizing tendency' was also coined by
Rogers, and was a concept that eventually led
Abraham Maslow to study
self-actualization as one of the needs of humans. Rogers and
Maslow introduced this positive, humanistic psychology in response to
what they viewed as the overly pessimistic view of
The other sources of inspiration include the philosophies of
existentialism and phenomenology.
The humanistic approach has its roots in phenomenological and
existentialist thought (see Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger,
Merleau-Ponty and Sartre).
Eastern philosophy and psychology also play
a central role in humanistic psychology, as well as Judeo-Christian
philosophies of personalism, as each shares similar concerns about the
nature of human existence and consciousness.
Carl Rogers (1902–1987), one of the founders of humanistic
For further information on influential figures in personalism, see:
Emmanuel Mounier, Gabriel Marcel, Denis de Rougemont, Jacques
Maritain, Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas,
Max Scheler and Karol
As behaviorism grew out of Ivan Pavlov's work with the conditioned
reflex, and laid the foundations for academic psychology in the United
States associated with the names of
John B. Watson
John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner,
Abraham Maslow gave behaviorism the name "the second force".
Historically "the first force" were psychologists like Sigmund Freud,
Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney,
Melanie Klein, Harry Stack Sullivan, and others.
In the late 1930s, psychologists, interested in the uniquely human
issues, such as the self, self-actualization, health, hope, love,
creativity, nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning—that
is, a concrete understanding of human existence, included Abraham
Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Clark Moustakas, who were interested in
founding a professional association dedicated to a psychology focused
on these features of human capital demanded by post-industrial
The humanistic psychology perspective is summarized by five core
principles or postulates of humanistic psychology first articulated in
an article written by
James Bugental in 1964 and adapted by Tom
Greening, psychologist and long-time editor of the Journal of
Humanistic Psychology. The five basic principles of humanistic
Human beings, as human, supersede the sum of their parts. They cannot
be reduced to components.
Human beings have their existence in a uniquely human context, as well
as in a cosmic ecology.
Human beings are aware and are aware of being aware - i.e., they are
conscious. Human consciousness always includes an awareness of oneself
in the context of other people.
Human beings have the ability to make choices and therefore have
Human beings are intentional, aim at goals, are aware that they cause
future events, and seek meaning, value, and creativity.
While humanistic psychology is a specific division within the American
Psychological Association (Division 32), humanistic psychology is not
so much a discipline within psychology as a perspective on the human
condition that informs psychological research and practice.
WWII created practical pressures on military psychologists, they had
more patients to see and care for than time or resources permitted.
The origins of group therapy are here. Eric Berne's
progression of books shows this transition out of what we might call
pragmatic psychology of WW II into his later innovation, Transactional
Analysis, one of the most influential forms of
Psychology of the later 1960s-1970
Orientation to scientific research
Humanistic psychologists generally do not believe that we will
understand human consciousness and behavior through
Cartesian-Newtonian scientific research. The objection that
humanistic psychologists have to traditional research methods is that
they are derived from and suited for the physical sciences and not
especially appropriate to studying the complexities and nuances of
However, humanistic psychology has involved scientific research of
human behavior since its inception. For example:
Abraham Maslow proposed many of his theories of human growth in the
form of testable hypotheses, and he encouraged human
scientists to put them to the test.
Shortly after the founding of the American Association of Humanistic
Psychology, its president, psychologist Sidney Jourard, began his
column by declaring that "research" is a priority. "Humanistic
Psychology will be best served if it is undergirded with research that
seeks to throw light on the qualities of man that are uniquely human"
In May 1966, the AAHP release a newsletter editorial that confirmed
the humanistic psychologist's "allegiance to meaningfulness in the
selection of problems for study and of research procedures, and an
opposition to a primary emphasis on objectivity at the expense of
significance." This underscored the importance of research to
humanistic psychologists as well as their interest in special forms of
human science investigation.
Likewise, in 1980, the American Psychological Association's
publication for humanistic psychology (Division 32 of APA) ran an
article titled, What makes research humanistic? As Donald
Polkinghorne notes, "
Humanistic theory does not propose that human
action is completely independent of the environment or the mechanical
and organic orders of the body, but it does suggest that, within the
limits of experienced meanings, persons as unities can choose to act
in ways not determined by prior events...and this is the theory we
seek to test through our research" (p. 3).
A human science view is not opposed to quantitative methods, but,
following Edmund Husserl:
favors letting the methods be derived from the subject matter and not
uncritically adopting the methods of natural science, and
advocates for methodological pluralism. Consequently, much of the
subject matter of psychology lends itself to qualitative approaches
(e.g. the lived experience of grief), and quantitative methods are
mainly appropriate when something can be counted without leveling the
phenomena (e.g. the length of time spent crying).
Research has remained part of the humanistic psychology agenda, though
with more of a holistic than reductionistic focus. Specific humanistic
research methods evolved in the decades following the formation of the
Development of the field
These preliminary meetings eventually led to other developments, which
culminated in the description of humanistic psychology as a
recognizable "third force" in psychology (first force: psychoanalysis,
second force: behaviorism). Significant developments included the
formation of the Association for
Psychology (AHP) in 1961
and the launch of the Journal of
"The Phoenix") in 1961.
Subsequently, graduate programs in
institutions of higher learning grew in number and enrollment. In
1971, humanistic psychology as a field was recognized by the American
Psychological Association (APA) and granted its own division (Division
32) within the APA. Division 32 publishes its own academic journal
The major theorists considered to have prepared the ground for
Psychology are Otto Rank, Abraham Maslow,
Carl Rogers and
Rollo May. Maslow was heavily influenced by
Kurt Goldstein during
their years together at Brandeis University. Psychoanalytic writers
also influenced humanistic psychology. Maslow himself famously
acknowledged his "indebtedness to Freud" in Towards a
Being Other psychoanalytic influences include the work of Wilhelm
Reich, who discussed an essentially 'good', healthy core self and
Character Analysis (1933), and Carl Gustav Jung's mythological and
archetypal emphasis. Other noteworthy inspirations for, and leaders of
the movement include Roberto Assagioli, Gordon Allport, Medard Boss,
Martin Buber (close to Jacob L. Moreno), James Bugental, Viktor
Frankl, Erich Fromm, Hans-Werner Gessmann, Amedeo Giorgi, Kurt
Goldstein, Sidney Jourard, R. D. Laing, Clark Moustakas, Lewis
Mumford, Fritz Perls, Anthony Sutich, Thomas Szasz, Kirk J. Schneider,
and Ken Wilber.
Carl Rogers was trained in psychoanalysis
before developing humanistic psychology.
Counseling and therapy
Diagram illustrating the "hierarchy of needs" theory of Abraham Maslow
(1908–1970). Click to enlarge.
The aim of humanistic therapy is usually to help the client develop a
stronger and healthier sense of self, also called
Humanistic therapy attempts to teach
clients that they have potential for self-fulfillment. This type of
therapy is insight-based, meaning that the therapist attempts to
provide the client with insights about their inner conflicts.
Humanistic psychology includes several approaches to counseling and
therapy. Among the earliest approaches we find the developmental
theory of Abraham Maslow, emphasizing a hierarchy of needs and
motivations; the existential psychology of
Rollo May acknowledging
human choice and the tragic aspects of human existence; and the
person-centered or client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers, which is
centered on the client's capacity for self-direction and understanding
of his or her own development.
Client-centered therapy is
non-directive; the therapist listens to the client without judgement,
allowing the client to come to insights by themselves. The
therapist should ensure that all of the client’s feelings are being
considered and that the therapist has a firm grasp on the concerns of
the client while ensuring that there is an air of acceptance and
Client-centered therapist engages in active listening
during therapy sessions.
A therapist cannot be completely non-directive, however a
nonjudgmental, accepting environment that provides unconditional
positive regard will incite feelings of acceptance and value within
Existential psychotherapies, an application of humanistic psychology,
applies existential philosophy, which emphasizes the idea that humans
have the freedom to make sense of their lives. They are free to define
themselves and do whatever it is they want to do. This is a type of
humanistic therapy that forces the client to explore the meaning of
their life, as well as its purpose. There is a conflict between having
freedoms and having limitations. Examples of limitations include
genetics, culture, and many other factors. Existential therapy
involves trying to resolve this conflict.
Another approach to humanistic counseling and therapy is Gestalt
therapy, which puts a focus on the here and now, especially as an
opportunity to look past any preconceived notions and focus on how the
present is affected by the past. Role playing also plays a large role
Gestalt therapy and allows for a true expression of feelings that
may not have been shared in other circumstances. In Gestalt therapy,
non-verbal cues are an important indicator of how the client may
actually be feeling, despite the feelings expressed.
Also part of the range of humanistic psychotherapy are concepts from
depth therapy, holistic health, encounter groups, sensitivity
training, marital and family therapies, body work, the existential
psychotherapy of Medard Boss, and Positive Psychology.
Most recently Compassionate Communication, the rebranding of
Nonviolent Communication of
Marshall Rosenberg seems to be the leading
edge of innovation in this field because it is one of very few
psychologies with both a simple and clear model of the human psyche
and a simple and clear methodology, suitable for any two persons to
address and resolve interpersonal conflict without expert
intervention, a first in the field.
George Kelly's humanistic theory is based on Fundamental Postulate,
where a person acts on anticipation of future events. Stating that a
person's actions are based on expectation of possible events and
interpretation from past circumstances. <Sarah Mae Sincero (Feb 13,
Humanistic Perspective and Personality>
Empathy and self-help
Empathy is one of the most important aspects of humanistic therapy.
This idea focuses on the therapist’s ability to see the world
through the eyes of the client. Without this, therapists can be forced
to apply an external frame of reference where the therapist is no
longer understanding the actions and thoughts of the client as the
client would, but strictly as a therapist which defeats the purpose of
humanistic therapy. Included in empathizing, unconditional positive
regard is one of the key elements of humanistic psychology.
Unconditional positive regard refers to the care that the therapist
needs to have for the client. This ensures that the therapist does not
become the authority figure in the relationship allowing for a more
open flow of information as well as a kinder relationship between the
two. A therapist practicing humanistic therapy needs to show a
willingness to listen and ensure the comfort of the patient where
genuine feelings may be shared but are not forced upon someone.
Marshall Rosenberg, one of Carl Rogers' students, emphasizes empathy
in the relationship in his concept of Nonviolent Communication.
Self-help is also part of humanistic psychology: Sheila Ernst and Lucy
Goodison have described using some of the main humanistic approaches
in self-help groups.
Psychology is applicable to
self-help because it is oriented towards changing the way a person
thinks. One can only improve once they decide to change their ways of
thinking about themselves, once they decide to help themselves.
Co-counselling, which is an approach based purely on self-help, is
regarded as coming from humanistic psychology as well. Humanistic
theory has had a strong influence on other forms of popular therapy,
including Harvey Jackins' Re-evaluation Counselling and the work of
Carl Rogers, including his student Eugene Gendlin; (see Focusing) as
well as on the development of the
Humanistic Psychodrama by
Hans-Werner Gessmann since the 80s.
The ideal self
The ideal self and real self involve understanding the issues that
arise from having an idea of what you wish you were as a person, and
having that not match with who you actually are as a person
(incongruence). The ideal self is what a person believes should be
done, as well as what their core values are. The real self is what is
actually played out in life. Through humanistic therapy, an
understanding of the present allows clients to add positive
experiences to their real self-concept. The goal is to have the two
concepts of self become congruent. Rogers believed that only when a
therapist was able to be congruent (with their own ideal selves? With
the client's ideal self?), a real relationship occurs in therapy. It
is much easier to trust someone who is willing to share feelings
openly, even if it may not be what the client always wants; this
allows the therapist to foster a strong relationship.
Humanistic psychology tends to look beyond the medical model of
psychology in order to open up a nonpathologizing view of the
person. This usually implies that the therapist downplays the
pathological aspects of a person's life in favour of the healthy
Humanistic psychology tries to be a science of human
experience, focusing on the actual lived experience of persons.
Therefore, a key ingredient is the actual meeting of therapist and
client and the possibilities for dialogue to ensue between them. The
role of the therapist is to create an environment where the client can
freely express any thoughts or feelings; he does not suggest topics
for conversation nor does he guide the conversation in any way. The
therapist also does not analyze or interpret the client’s behavior
or any information the client shares. The role of the therapist is to
provide empathy and to listen attentively to the client.
R. D. Laing
While personal transformation may be the primary focus of most
humanistic psychologists, many also investigate pressing social,
cultural, and gender issues. In an academic anthology from 2018,
British psychologist Richard House and his co-editors wrote, "From its
Psychology has engaged fulsomely and
fearlessly with the social, cultural and political, in a way that much
of mainstream scientific, 'positivistic' psychology has sought to
avoid". Some of the earliest writers who were associated with and
inspired by psychological humanism explored socio-political
topics. For example:
Alfred Adler argued that achieving a sense of community feeling is
essential to human development.
Medard Boss defined health as an openness to the world, and unhealth
as anything in the psyche or society that blocked or constricted that
Erich Fromm argued that the totalitarian impulse is rooted in people's
fear of the uncertainties and responsibilities of freedom – and that
the way to overcome that fear is to dare to live life fully and
R. D. Laing
R. D. Laing analyzed the political nature of "normal", everyday
Rollo May said that people have lost their values in the modern world,
and that their health and humanity depends on having the courage to
forge new values appropriate to the challenges of the present.
Wilhelm Reich argued that psychological problems are often caused by
sexual repression, and that the latter is influenced by social and
political conditions – which can and should be changed.
Carl Rogers came to believe that political life did not have to
consist of an endless series of winner-take-all battles, that it could
and should consist of an ongoing dialogue among all parties. If such
dialogue were characterized by respect among the parties and authentic
speaking by each party, compassionate understanding and – ultimately
– mutually acceptable solutions could be reached.
Virginia Satir was convinced that her approach to family therapy would
enable individuals to expand their consciousness, become less fearful,
and bring communities, cultures, and nations together.
Relevant work was not confined to these pioneer thinkers. In 1978,
members of the Association for
Psychology (AHP) embarked on
a three-year effort to explore how the principles of humanistic
psychology could be used to further the process of positive social and
political change. The effort included a "12-Hour Political Party",
held in San Francisco in 1980, where nearly 1,400 attendees
discussed presentations by such non-traditional social thinkers as
Ecotopia author Ernest Callenbach, Aquarian Conspiracy author Marilyn
Ferguson, Person/Planet author Theodore Roszak, and New Age Politics
author Mark Satin. The emergent perspective was summarized in a
manifesto by AHP President George Leonard. It proffered such ideas as
moving to a slow-growth or no-growth economy, decentralizing and
"deprofessionalizing" society, and teaching social and emotional
competencies in order to provide a foundation for more humane public
policies and a healthier culture.
There have been many other attempts to articulate
humanistic-psychology-oriented approaches to social change. For
example, in 1979 California state legislator John Vasconcellos
published a book calling for the integration of liberal politics and
humanistic-psychological insight. From 1979–1983 the New World
Alliance, a U.S. political organization based in Washington, D.C.,
attempted to inject humanistic-psychology ideas into political
thinking and processes; sponsors of its newsletter included
Vasconcellos and Carl Rogers.
In 1989 Maureen O'Hara, who had worked with both
Carl Rogers and Paolo
Freire, pointed to a convergence between the two thinkers. According
to O'Hara, both focus on developing critical consciousness of
situations which oppress and dehumanize. Throughout the 1980s and
Institute of Noetic Sciences
Institute of Noetic Sciences president
Willis Harman argued
that significant social change cannot occur without significant
consciousness change. In the 21st century, humanistic
psychologists such as Edmund Bourne, Joanna Macy, and Marshall
Rosenberg continued to apply psychological insights to social and
In addition to its uses in thinking about social change, humanistic
psychology is considered to be the main theoretical and methodological
source of humanistic social work.
After psychotherapy, social work is the most important beneficiary of
the humanistic psychology's theory and methodology. These have
produced a deep reform of the modern social work theory and
practice, leading, among others, to the occurrence of a particular
theory and methodology:
Humanistic Social Work. Most values and
principles of the humanistic social work practice, described by
Malcolm Payne in his book
Humanistic Social Work: Core Principles in
Practice, namely creativity in human life and practice, developing
self and spirituality, developing security and resilience,
accountability, flexibility and complexity in human life and
practice, directly originate from the humanistic psychological
theory and humanistic psychotherapy practice.
Also, the representation and approach of the client (as human being)
and social issue (as human issue) in social work is made from the
humanistic psychology position. According to Petru Stefaroi, the way
humanistic representation and approach of the client and his
personality is realized is, in fact, the theoretical-axiological and
methodological foundation of humanistic social work.
In setting goals and the intervention activities, in order to solve
social/human problems, there prevail critical terms and categories of
the humanistic psychology and psychotherapy, such as:
self-actualization, human potential, holistic approach, human being,
free will, subjectivity, human experience,
self-determination/development, spirituality, creativity, positive
thinking, client-centered and context-centered approach/intervention,
empathy, personal growth, empowerment.
Creativity in corporations
Humanistic psychology's emphasis on creativity and wholeness created a
foundation for new approaches towards human capital in the workplace
stressing creativity and the relevance of emotional interactions.
Previously the connotations of "creativity" were reserved for and
primarily restricted to, working artists. In the 1980s, with
increasing numbers of people working in the cognitive-cultural
economy, creativity came to be seen as a useful commodity and
competitive edge for international brands. This led to corporate
creativity training in-service trainings for employees, led
pre-eminently by Ned Herrmann at G.E. in the late 1970s.
Humanistic psychology concepts were embraced in education and social
work, peaking in the 1970s-1980s in North America. However, as with
whole language theory, training practice were too superficial in most
institutional settings. Though humanistic psychology raised the bar of
insight and understanding of the whole person, professionally it is
primarily practiced today by individual licensed counselors and
therapists. Outside of that humanistic psychology provides the
foundation for virtually every method of Energy Medicine; but little
coherence exists yet in this field to discuss it easily.
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Applied behavior analysis
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Human subject research
William James (1842–1910)
Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936)
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)
Edward Thorndike (1874–1949)
Carl Jung (1875–1961)
John B. Watson (1878–1958)
Clark L. Hull (1884–1952)
Kurt Lewin (1890–1947)
Jean Piaget (1896–1980)
Gordon Allport (1897–1967)
J. P. Guilford (1897–1987)
Carl Rogers (1902–1987)
Erik Erikson (1902–1994)
B. F. Skinner (1904–1990)
Donald O. Hebb (1904–1985)
Ernest Hilgard (1904–2001)
Harry Harlow (1905–1981)
Raymond Cattell (1905–1998)
Abraham Maslow (1908–1970)
Neal E. Miller (1909–2002)
Jerome Bruner (1915–2016)
Donald T. Campbell (1916–1996)
Hans Eysenck (1916–1997)
Herbert A. Simon (1916–2001)
David McClelland (1917–1998)
Leon Festinger (1919–1989)
George Armitage Miller (1920–2012)
Richard Lazarus (1922–2002)
Stanley Schachter (1922–1997)
Robert Zajonc (1923–2008)
Albert Bandura (b. 1925)
Roger Brown (1925–1997)
Endel Tulving (b. 1927)
Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987)
Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)
Ulric Neisser (1928–2012)
Jerome Kagan (b. 1929)
Walter Mischel (b. 1930)
Elliot Aronson (b. 1932)
Daniel Kahneman (b. 1934)
Paul Ekman (b. 1934)
Michael Posner (b. 1936)
Amos Tversky (1937–1996)
Bruce McEwen (b. 1938)
Larry Squire (b. 1941)
Richard E. Nisbett (b. 1941)
Martin Seligman (b. 1942)
Ed Diener (b. 1946)
Shelley E. Taylor (b. 1946)
John Anderson (b. 1947)
Ronald C. Kessler (b. 1947)
Joseph E. LeDoux (b. 1949)
Richard Davidson (b. 1951)
Susan Fiske (b. 1952)
Roy Baumeister (b. 1953)
Schools of thought