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Humanistic Psychology

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Humanistic Psychology

You may have come across the philosophy of humanism in the course of your education, whether in the fields of history, art, or philosophy. Throughout history and across fields, this principle has been applied in many ways. And you've probably learned the fundamentals of psychology by now. But what exactly is humanistic psychology?

In this article, we will examine the origin of the humanistic approach in psychology, its most influential theorists (e.g., Abraham Maslow), and compare it to humanism itself.

What is the origin of humanistic psychology?

What's the story behind humanistic psychology and what is its origin?

In the early 20th century, behaviourism was on the rise. The behaviourist perspective claims behaviour was the scientific approach related to mental processes. It was the sole area with which psychology concerned itself. Behaviourists did not believe studying thoughts, memory, emotion, or other non-objective processes was valuable. Psychoanalysis was developed simultaneously as behaviourism and studied phenomenons like impulses of the unconscious mind.

Sigmund Freud assumed that some people did not understand their motivations. So his approach was to help their patients to uncover the hidden urges that drove their behaviour. In the 1950s, psychologists developed a theoretical perspective that differed from both behaviourism and psychoanalysis.

Humanism is a blend of these dominant forces; its foundation is the Classical and Renaissance philosophy that emphasises self-realisation. The development of humanism was also bolstered by similar philosophical movements in Europe, such as developments in phenomenology and existentialism.

Self-realisation is the ability to become aware of needs, take responsibility for choices, develop psychologically, intellectually, and ethically.

Humanistic Psychology School of Athens Raphael StudySmarter

School of Athens, Raphael, Pixabay


The humanistic approach interconnects concepts initiated in the mid-20th century in response to two theories — the psychodynamic theories created by Sigmund Freud and the behaviourism theory developed by B.F. Skinner. The blending of both was considered the “third force” in psychology.

Abraham Maslow and Clark Moustakas made enormous contributions igniting the humanistic approach as a discipline in psychology. They showed their interest in establishing a professional association that emphasised humanistic psychology development, creating a professional resource to designate personal attributes that were considered helpful to the production process demanded by a post-industrial society. In 1961, the American Association for Humanistic Psychology was founded after receiving sponsorship from Brandeis University.

Carl Rogers’ work was considered one of the first humanistic psychology sources; Otto Rank heavily influenced him. Rogers believed that focusing on developmental processes would lead his clients to a healthier, more creative personality; he created “actualising tendency”, which led Abraham Maslow to research self-actualisation as part of human needs. They introduced the idea of positive, humanistic psychology.

What is humanistic psychology?

The principle of the humanistic approach is that everyone is unique and has their perspective towards the world. It holds a core belief that humans are good at heart and capable of making the right choices for themselves.

Humanism highlights that choosing to embrace your true self leads you to a fulfilling life. The humanistic psychology perspective insists that behaviourist and psychodynamic approaches are reductionist and deterministic. Its results cannot explain the holistic (holism focuses on understanding all aspects of human experience and interaction) complexity of human behaviour.

What are the five basic principles of humanistic psychology?

Claimed by James Bugental in 1964 and later adapted by Tom Greening. Five core principles outline the humanistic approach in psychology:

  • Human beings, as humans, 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 responsibility.
  • Human beings are intentional, aim at goals, are aware that they cause future events, and seek meaning, value, and creativity.

Who are the most influential theorists in humanistic psychology?

The most influential humanistic theorists introduced positive, humanistic psychology in response to what they viewed as the overly pessimistic view of psychoanalysis.

  • Carl Rogers believed in people’s free will, psychological growth, and the inherent goodness of people. He suggested that acknowledging tendencies is the driving force behind human behaviour. He has created person-centred therapy, a non-directive, non-judgmental process that allows people to access insights freely. The therapist engages in active listening during therapy sessions. Rogers was essentially interested in two basic human needs. Self-worth and unconditional positive regard. For Rogers, the idea of unhappiness and dissatisfaction are the results of a conflict between self-concept, or the idea you have about yourself, and the ideal self, or the idea of how you would like to be. Therefore, when an individual is in a state of congruence, the self-concept aligns with the ideal self. However, it is not common to be in unity all the time. For this reason, most individuals will experience some level of congruence.

  • Abraham Maslow believed that a hierarchy of needs moves people. The most basic needs centred on the basic needs of life — air, food, water, shelter, for example. When people move up the hierarchy, these needs become centred on esteem and self-actualisation. Self-actualisation can be a rare achievement, but it provides the possibility of true self-awareness and an honest relationship with the realities of an imperfect world.

What is the main focus of the humanistic approach in psychology?

Humanistic theories focus on self-development, growth and taking responsibility for a fulfilling life. It supports individuals achieving self-awareness and developing an honest relationship with reality and its imperfections, recognising their strengths and creativity. When a person is temporarily struggling, reaching their potential is blocked. Receiving the right support allows someone to achieve their goals and develop personal growth; mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Below you can find more concepts that the humanistic approach focuses on:

  • Self-actualisation.

  • Creativity.

  • Health.

  • Individuality.

  • Intrinsic nature.

  • Self.

  • Being.

  • Becoming.

  • Meaning.

  • Mindfulness.

What is the contribution of humanistic therapy to psychological therapy?

Humanistic therapy is all about self-exploration. The following approaches can help you increase self-awareness and direct you towards finding a greater sense of purpose in life:

  • Existential Therapy.

  • Gestalt.

  • Human Givens.

  • Person-centred.

  • Psychosynthesis.

  • Reality therapy.

  • Solution-focused therapy.

  • Transactional analysis.

  • Transpersonal psychology.

  • Mindfulness therapy.

How humanism differs from the psychodynamic approach?

The psychodynamic and humanistic approaches can be similar but are quite different. The psychodynamic approach claims that behaviour is determined by early infancy desires and conflicts stored in the unconscious mind, also known as psychic determinism. On the other hand, the humanistic approach believes that humans can control their environment and change behaviour according to their needs—the humanistic approach advocates for complete free will. The humanistic psychologists' view assumes that individuals can take responsibility for their choices and behave the way they choose to. However, the two approaches have similarities, as the humanistic approach is interconnected with the psychodynamic approach but different in their perspective about humans controlling their behaviour.

Humanistic Psychology - Key takeaways

  • Humanists believe that humans have free will, can control their own environment and are capable of change.

  • Behaviour is shaped by the environment as humans strive to achieve self-actualisation. Humanism has a nurturing approach towards individuals.

  • Humanism focuses on understanding all aspects of human experience and interaction, also known as holism.

  • The humanistic approach in psychology does not follow a scientific model. It rejects scientific methods, therefore unable to provide empirical evidence.

  • Humanistic therapists focus on the subjective human experience and make no attempt to create general laws; it is idiographic.

Frequently Asked Questions about Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is a movement in psychology that believes that humans are unique beings and should be acknowledged and treated as such by psychologists and by themselves. It supports a holistic approach.

Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are the most influential theorists.

It holds a core belief that humans are good at heart and capable of making the right choices for themselves using their free will in order to achieve the goals they want to achieve in life.

Carl Rogers and the person-centred therapy, is one example of humanistic psychology.

The basic principles of humanistic psychology is that humans are unique, and have free will to achieve what they want towards their life.

Final Humanistic Psychology Quiz

Question

When was the American Association for Humanistic psychology founded?


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1961

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Who did show interest in establishing a professional association to proceed with the researches about humanistic theories? 

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Answer

Abraham Maslow & Clark Moustakas

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What was the concept that Renaissance and Classical philosophy contributed to humanistic psychology?



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Answer

Self-realisation

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What is the humanistic approach considered to be?



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Answer

The third force

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Who started person-centred therapy?

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Carl Rogers

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Who initially proposed the hierarchy of needs?

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Abraham Maslow

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Humanists believe in the holistic complexity of human behaviour.


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​Correct


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The principle of the psychodynamic approach is that everyone is unique and has their own perspectives towards the world’s view.


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False

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Behaviourism stresses the importance of human values and dignity.


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False

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For Rogers, the idea of unhappiness and dissatisfaction are the results of a conflict between self-concept, or the idea you have about oneself.

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Correct

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What is the principle of the humanistic approach in psychology?

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The principle of the humanistic approach is that everyone is unique and has their perspectives of the world; embracing themselves and their own true will lead them to a fulfilling life.

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Outline one example of the free will of behaviour.

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An example of free will is choosing to engage in criminal acts. As long as we can control our behaviour, it is not considered a random choice.

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What is emphasised in the debate of free will vs determinism?

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The free will vs determinism debate is concerned with whether we freely make our actions (free will) or whether our past experiences and life events determine them (determinism).

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What beliefs does the humanistic approach hold towards determinism?

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The humanistic approach believes humans inherently have free will and believe that taking the deterministic approach undermines human freedom, dignity and behaviour.

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How does the humanistic approach encourage people to have a fulfilling life?

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Answer

The humanistic approach highlights that choosing to embrace your true self leads you to a fulfilling life.

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Outline an example that challenges the concept of free will.

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Mental illness weakens the free will argument. For example, people diagnosed with depression or OCD cannot control their thoughts, actions and emotions.

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Is pure free will better advised than deterministic approaches in psychology?

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No, a pure free will approach or deterministic approach does not seem suitable when investigating human behaviour. Psychologists use the idea of free will to indicate the idea that behaviour is not a passive reaction but that we are responding to internal and external forces.

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How do humanistic psychologists view behaviour?

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Humanistic psychologists view behaviour as a choice. They assume an individual can take responsibility for their choices and behave in the way they choose to.

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What other names are used to refer to self-actualisation?

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Self-actualisation is also known as self-realisation or self-cultivation.

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What are the main names in 

self-actualisation theory?

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The main names in self-actualisation theory are Kurt Goldstein, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.

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How did Goldstein view self-actualisation?

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According to Goldstein, self-actualisation was not a goal to be achieved in the future but an organism’s innate tendency to realise its potential at any moment under any circumstances.

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According to Maslow, how long usually does it take for a person to become self-actualised?

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Maslow believed becoming self-actualised is not a straightforward process. It can take years for some people to reach self-actualisation. According to him, the most important thing is the process itself, and not reaching the goal.

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Is the ability to find humour in a given situation, including a difficult moment, an example of self-actualisation?

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Answer

Yes.

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What is the most basic need according to Maslow's hierarchy model?

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Answer

The most fundamental needs from a survival standpoint are physiological and consist of biological needs.

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What are some examples of physiological needs?

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Air, water, food, sleep, shelter, clothing, homeostasis, etc.

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What are the examples of action 

supporting our safety needs?


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Having material resources to plan and achieve ideals or being healthy, 

having safety to move around are examples 

of actions driven by security and safety needs.


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How can love and belonging 

needs support us?

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Answer

Social needs play an important role when avoiding 

loneliness, depression, and anxiety. It is vital to 

feel loved and accepted by others.

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Question

What is the fourth level of 

Maslow's hierarchy?



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Answer

The fourth level of Maslow's hierarchy 

is the need for appreciation 

and respect.

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What is the top level of Maslow's hierarchy?

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Answer

At the top level of Maslow's 

hierarchy is self-actualisation.

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True or false: Self-actualised people are self-aware and interested in their personal growth, including developing their true potential. It gives them the strength to hold on to their truth, not worry about others’ opinions of themselves, and follow their life, purpose, and mission.

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Answer

True.

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What are deficiency needs?  

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Deficiency needs refer to the deprivation of 

basic needs for too long. People can become 

demotivated if those needs are unmet. The motivation to fulfil these needs 

can become stronger the longer certain needs are neglected.

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What do deficiency needs aim at?


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Answer

The deficiency needs aim at raising awareness to maintain physical and psychological balance.

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Where do growth needs emerge from?

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Growth needs emerge from the desire to grow as an individual.

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What happens when growth needs are achieved?

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When these growth needs have been achieved, the individual may reach the highest level of need satisfaction or self-actualisation.

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Is Maslow's hierarchy of needs proven scientifically?

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No. It is not.

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What is the approach in psychology that deals with client-centred therapy?

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Roger’s theory is part of the humanistic approach.

In psychology, existential and phenomenological approach.

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What is considered a phenomenal field?

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Answer

Everything that we experience at some point is a phenomenal field.

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What is the phenomenal self?

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The phenomenal self is the part of the phenomenal field that someone experiences as I or the self.

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What does the self mean?



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The self, self-image and self-concept denote our personal identity.

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What is the client-centred approach based on?

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The theory is based on the Combs and Snygg (1949) personality theory from their book ‘Phenomenal field’.

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When did Roger’s theories begin gaining attraction?

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Rogers’ theories started to be well-known after Rogers’ book was released, ‘Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory’ in 1951.

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Is client-centred therapy considered scientific?

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Rogers’ theory development was comprehensive and also empirical. He and his followers were able to apply a humanistic approach to conduct therapy and a scientific approach to evaluate the therapy outcomes.

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What are the other names given to client-centred therapy?

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Carl Rogers developed client-centred therapy, also known as person-centred therapy or Rogerian therapy.

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Client-centred therapy is a non-directive approach. What does that mean?

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Client-centred therapy is a non-directive approach, i.e., the therapist views their client as a guide source throughout their conflicts.

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What is the therapist's role in client-centred therapy?

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The therapist and client relationship play an essential role in the treatment, as the therapist shares empathy and unconditional positive regard with their clients.

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What is unconditional positive regard?

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Unconditional positive regard is the unconditional love and acceptance given to others, unconditionally. A person is accepted regardless of their actions.

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What is conditional regard?

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Conditional regard is accepting someone only if they meet certain conditions of worth.

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What Rogers considered are the essential components of client-centred therapy?

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According to Rogers, the essential components of client-centred therapy is congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard.

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What is the aim of client-centred therapy?

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Answer

The aim is to get self-actualisation, or a tendency to maintain and enhance the experience of the self. 

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Question

What is self-actualisation?

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Answer

Self-actualisation is the desire to grow psychologically and fulfil our true potential.

Show question

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