Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is a theoretical and therapeutic approach that emphasizes people's uniqueness and their power to control their own destinies.

Humanistic psychology developed in the 1960s in response to what some psychologists identified as the pessimistic view of human nature advocated by psychodynamic psychology and behaviorism. It was called the third force in psychology, referring to an option other than the first force psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and the second force behaviorism of B. F. Skinner (1904–1990). Humanists criticized the theory of psychodynamic psychologists that the selfish pursuit of pleasure was the root of all human behavior. They felt that the behaviorists’ beliefs that all human behavior is the product of environmental influences reduced people to the status of machines and did not adequately explain the human experience. Humanists faulted both psychodynamic psychologists and behaviorists for viewing human behavior as governed by factors beyond personal control. In contrast, humanists emphasized people's innate potential and the ability of individuals to determine their own destinies. The ultimate goal for the humanistic psychologist is to help people realize their full potential and live up to their abilities.

Theories and therapeutic approaches

Two particular theoretical approaches have come to characterize humanistic psychology. The personcentered approach to therapy advocated by Carl Rogers (1902–1987) is based on Rogers’ belief that trusting one's experiences and believing in one's self are the most important elements of self-fulfillment. In person-centered therapy, abnormal behavior is viewed as the result of individuals failing to trust their own experience, resulting in a distorted or inaccurate view of the self. Incongruities are also seen between the individuals' current view of themselves and their ideal self. Personcentered therapists attempt to help people gain selfunderstanding and self-acceptance by conveying empathy, warmth, and the unconditional belief that no matter what the client says or does, the client is still a worthwhile person. Humanistic therapy encourages selfawareness and mindfulness so that a clients' state of mind and behavior is no longer a reaction to circumstances but a healthier, more purposeful and productive state of mind based on thoughtful action.


A behavioral approach to psychology that confines itself to observable events or behavior.
A holistic approach to human existence; a philosophy emphasizing that people are entirely free and responsible for what they make of themselves.
In psychology, personality explained in terms of conscious and unconscious desires and beliefs.
The realization or fulfillment of an individual's talents and potentialities, believed to be a drive or a need common to everyone.

Humanistic psychologists have tended to focus on client care rather than investigating behavior or the interpersonal aspects of human life. Humanist psychologists stress acceptance of individuals as they are, instead of critically examining their behavior. Rather than seeking to uncover the common mechanisms underlying human behavior, humanists emphasize human uniqueness and the phenomenological perspective—the view that people are best understood by examining their specific, unique experiences and aspirations. This personalized view became a popular concept outside the field of scientific psychology. In fact, the work of many life coaches and inspirational self-help leaders is largely based on the humanistic belief that individuals are responsible for creating the life they live. Humanistic psychotherapies include concepts of depth therapy, holistic health, encounter groups, and Gestalt therapy.

Nevertheless, studies of the relationship between the therapist and the client have shown that Rogers's ideals are important to successful outcomes, increasing the influence of his theories in the world of counseling. In fact, empathy, warmth, and acceptance are now commonly referred to as the core conditions or common factors of counseling and are used by therapists of all psychological perspectives to encourage people to feel and act differently. Research into Maslow's theory yielded mixed results. Although the primary importance of physiological and safety needs has been supported by research, fulfillment of these needs has not been shown as essential to achieving self-actualization. For example, when subjects were placed in stressful situations that threatened their physiological and safety needs, measurements of their creativity actually increased and were not compromised as expected. Since creativity is an aspect of self-actualization, the increase in subjects’ creativity despite challenges to their survival needs showed no correlation with achieving self-actualization.

Humanistic psychology has its roots in existentialism, with both philosophies emphasizing a holistic approach to human existence, including the importance of individuals as free agents responsible for their own development. In fact, the noted existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) professed that existentialism is a form of humanism, a doctrine that renders human life possible and affirms that every truth and every action implies both an environment and human subjectivity. Sartre said that man possesses a subjective life and is only what he makes of himself, which agrees entirely with humanistic philosophy. In fact, in 1959, Maslow participated in the American Psychological Association (APA) Symposium on Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, supporting the approach of existential psychology and helping to position it at the forefront of psychological thought and practice. Similar to humanistic psychology, existential psychologists seek meaning within the whole of the client's existence, with the goal of clearly understanding the individual's subjective world and helping that person to understand new aspects of experiencing life and discovering new options. The underlying belief in existential psychotherapies, as with humanist psychotherapy based on the developmental theory of Maslow, is that people have the freedom to make sense of their own lives.

See also Rogers, Carl.



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APA Division Services, Society for Humanistic Psychology, 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC, 20002, (202) 3365500, (800) 374-2721, .

Association for Humanistic Psychology, .