Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective which rose to prominence in the mid-20th century in response to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and B.F. Skinner's behaviorism. With its roots running from Socrates through the Renaissance, this approach emphasizes an individual's inherent drive towards self-actualization and creativity.
It typically holds that people are inherently good. It adopts a holistic approach to human existence and pays special attention to such phenomena as creativity, free will, and 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 human psyche. It is linked to the emerging field of transpersonal psychology.
Humanistic psychology has sometimes been referred to as the "third force" in psychology, distinct from the two more traditional approaches, which are psychoanalysis and behaviorism. In the context of post industrial society, humanistic psychology has begun to be seen as more relevant than the older approaches. It is largely responsible for new approaches towards human capital stressing creativity and human wholeness. Previously the connotations of "creativity" were reserved for and primarily restricted to, working artists. In the 1980s, with an increasing number 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 creativity training in-service trainings for employees, probably led by Ned Herrmann at G.E. in the late 1970s.
Humanistic psychology concepts were embraced in both the theory and practice of education and social work, peaking in the 1970s-1980s, particularly in North America.
Its principal U.S. professional organizations are the Association for Humanistic Psychology and the Society for Humanistic Psychology (Division 32 of the American Psychological Association).
- Early sources 1
- Conceptual origins 2
- Practical origins 3
- Orientation to scientific research 4
- Development of the field 5
Counseling and therapy 6
- Approaches 6.1
- Empathy and self-help 6.2
- The ideal self 6.3
- Non-pathological 6.4
- Social issues 7
- Humanistic social work 8
- See also 9
- References 10
- Further reading 11
- External links 12
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 psychoanalysis.
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.
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 Wojtyla
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 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 society.
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 psychology are:
- 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 some choice and, with that, responsibility.
- 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.
WW II 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 humanistic pop psychologies of the later 1960s-1970s.
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 human meaning-making
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" (emphasis added)
- 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 humanistic psychology movement.
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 (along with behaviorism and psychoanalysis). Significant developments included the formation of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) in 1961 and the launch of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (originally "The Phoenix") in 1961.
Subsequently, graduate programs in Humanistic Psychology at 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 called The Humanistic Psychologist. In 1972, KOCE TV and the Coast Community College District, produced an award winning television series titled As Man Behaves with Carl Rogers as a primary consultant, working with Mathew Duncan as psychologist host and with Bernard Luskin executive producer. This was one of the most viewed television series in psychology ever produced and widely fostered the various aspects of humanistic psychology.
The major theorists considered to have prepared the ground for Humanistic Psychology are 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
The aim of humanistic therapy is usually to help the client develop a stronger and healthier sense of self, also called self-actualization.
Humanistic psychology includes several approaches to counseling and therapy. Among the earliest approaches we find the developmental theory of Abraham Maslow, emphazising 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. 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 warmth.
Existential psychotherapies apply 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 in 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.
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. 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, 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 aspects. 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.
While personal transformation may be the primary focus of most humanistic psychologists, many now investigate pressing social, cultural, and gender issues. Even the earliest writers who were associated with and inspired by psychological humanism explored topics as diverse as the political nature of "normal" and everyday experience (R. D. Laing), the disintegration of the capacity to love in modern consumerist society (Erich Fromm), the growing technological dominance over human life (Medard Boss), and the question of evil (Rollo May and Carl Rogers).
In 1978, the Association for Humanistic 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 
There have been many subsequent attempts to articulate humanistic-psychology-oriented approaches to social change. For example, 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 1990s, 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 and Joanna Macy continue to apply psychological insights to social and political issues.
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: the 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 represented 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.
- Buddhism and psychology
- California Institute of Integral Studies
- Esalen Institute
- Gestalt Psychology
- Gestalt Therapy
- Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
- Internal Family Systems (IFS)
- Nonviolent Communication
- Organismic theory
- Personal development
- Positive psychology
- Saybrook University
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