Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is a school of psychology that emerged in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. It is explicitly concerned with the human dimension of psychology and the human context for the development of psychological theory. These matters are often summarized by the five postulates of Humanistic Psychology given by Bugental in the 1960's, mainly that; (1) Human beings cannot be reduced to components,(2) Human beings have in them a uniquely human context, (3) Human consciousness includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people, (4) Human beings have choices and responsibilities, and (5) Human beings are intentional, they seek meaning value and creativity (Bugental, 1964).

The development of the field

The humanistic approach has its roots in existentialist thought (see Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre). It is also sometimes understood within the concept of the three different forces of psychology; behaviorism, psychonanalysis and humanism. The "First Force" 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 Watson and Skinner. This school was later called the science of behavior. Abraham Maslow later gave it the name "the first force". The "second force" came out of Freud's research of psychoanalysis, and the psychologies of Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Otto Rank, Melanie Klein, Harry Stack Sullivan, and others. These theorists focused on the depth of the human psyche, which they stressed, must be combined with those of the conscious mind in order to produce a healthy human personality.

By the late 1950s, two meetings were held in Detroit among psychologists who were interested in founding a professional association dedicated to a more humanistic vision. Something that had everything to do with self, self-actualization, health, creativity, nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning. It also aimed to create a complete description of what it is to be a human being, and investigated the uniquely human aspects of experience, such as love, hope and creativity. These psychologists, including Abraham Maslow and Clark Moustakas, believed this likely to become the central concerns of a new psychological movement, known as the "third force".

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These preliminary meetings eventually led to other developments, among those the launch of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 1961. This was soon to be followed by the formation of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) in 1963 and subsequent graduate programs in Humanistic psychology at institutions of higher learning. 1971 saw the establishment of an exclusive division devoted to Humanistic Psychology within the borders of the American Psychological Association (APA). This section is called Division 32, and it publishes its own academic journal called The Humanistic Psychologist (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000).

Among the theorists that are considered to have prepared the ground for Humanistic Psychology we find Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Rollo May. Other persons that are considered to be leaders and inspirers of the movement include such names as Roberto Assagioli, Medard Boss, R. D. Laing, Fritz Perls, Anthony Sutich, Erich Fromm, Kurt Goldstein, Clark Moustakas, Lewis Mumford and James Bugental (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000).


Humanistic psychology usually prefers qualitative research methods over other epistemological approaches. This is part of the field's "human science" approach to psychology, an emphasis on the actual lived experience of persons (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000). Scientifically, the humanistic field views the usage of quantitative methods in the study of the human mind and behaviour as misguided. This is in direct contrast to cognitivism (which aims to apply the scientific method to the study of psychology), an approach of which humanistic psychology has been strongly critical. Instead, the discipline stresses a phenomenological view of human experience, seeking to understand human beings and their behavior by conducting qualitative research.

Counselling and therapy

Humanistic psychology includes several approaches to counselling and therapy, among these we find the categories mentioned by Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening (2000) and Rowan (2001):

Counselling: The existential psychology of Rollo May, person-centered or client-centered therapy (as originally developed by Carl Rogers), marital and family therapies. Psychotherapy: The existential psychotherapy of Medard Boss, Gestalt therapy (originally developed by Fritz Perls), Experiential psychotherapy, Bodywork, Psychodrama, Primal integration, Psychosynthesis, Depth therapy, Transpersonal therapy. Groupwork Encounter: The humanistic-existential group. The aim of much humanistic therapy is to give a holistic description of the person. By using phenomenological, intersubjective and first-person categories, the humanistic psychologist hopes to get a glimpse of the whole person and not just the fragmented parts of the personality (Rowan, 2001).

This aspect of holism links up with another aim of humanistic psychology, which is to seek an integration of the whole person, also called self-actualization. According to humanistic thinking each individual person already has inbuilt potentials and resources that might help them to build a stronger personality and self-concept. The mission of the humanistic psychologist is to point the individual in the direction of these resources. The therapist is, in some circumstances, closer to a guide, than to a clinician. However, in order to actualize hidden potentials the person might have to give up the safety of a particular stage of the personality in order to embrace a new, and more integrated stage. This is, by no accounts, a trivial process, and it might include confrontations with new life-choices, or existential concerns. Humanistic psychology views psychological instability and anxiety as normal parts of human life, and human development, which can be adressed in therapy (Rowan, 2001).

Humanistic psychology is not exclusively optimistic. It includes both the theories of such thinkers as Maslow and Rogers, who are basically optimistic, and the theories of such thinkers as Schneider, May and Bugental, who are not particularly optimistic (Rowan, 2001).

Criticisms of Humanistic psychology

Criticism of Humanistic psychology has come from several commentators. Among these we find Roy Wallis, who has criticized Humanistic psychology from a sociological perspective, including the movements approach to spiritual values (Rowan, 2001). Humanistic psychology has also been criticized for lacking an integrated, clearly defined theory. One of the commentators that have raised such objections is Leonard Geller who believes that Humanistic theory is incoherent because it tries to approach both biology and psychology in a way that, in his opinion, is illogical (Rowan, 2001).

Further, Humanistic psychology has been criticized for promoting an optimistic but often vague view of the mind, and for promoting narcissistic interests. Rowan (2001) believes that such suspicions are understandable as long as a large amount of time is spent on discussing such issues as the self and self-actualization. However, according to Rowan humanistic discourse is not about egotism or selfishness, or about rational self-management, but about a movement towards a fuller sense of self. The popular association of humanistic discourse with narcissistic and overly optimistic worldviews might therefore be considered to be unfortunate.

Also, Gestalt psychologists claim to consider behaviour holistically — "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" — although critics such as Karl Popper have presented arguments against the proposition that entities can be apprehended as wholes.


Aanstoos, C. Serlin, I., & Greening, T. (2000). History of Division 32 (Humanistic Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. In D. Dewsbury (Ed.), Unification through Division: Histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association, Vol. V. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Bugental, J.F.T (1964) The Third Force in Psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 19-25

Rowan, John (2001) Ordinary ecstasy : the dialectics of humanistic psychology. Hove: Brunner-Routledge

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Humanistic Psychology".

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