Humanistic psychology refers to a scientific discipline that focuses on the study of an individual’s inherent drive towards self-actualization. It belongs to the field commonly known as transpersonal psychology. Humanistic psychology typically holds that people are inherently good and adopts a holistic approach to human existence, with a special emphasis on the creative aspects of human potential. It encourages individuals to view themselves as a “whole person” through self-exploration. Humanistic psychology acknowledges a spiritual drive as part of the human psyche.
Humanistic psychology theory first emerged in the 1950s in response to the resurgence of military conflict characterized during the first half of the 20th century. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers stood at the forefront of its development by publishing the first research papers on this approach during the 1950s and ’60s. Both proponents upheld the belief that humans are inherently good and that optimism in humanity is an important aspect for human health. Other proponents of the humanistic psychology movement included Rollo May and Eric Fromm.
There are several perspectives/beliefs that define humanistic psychology. The first focuses on the here and now for fulfillment in life. In other words, dwelling on the past and future blocks an individual’s ability to express their creativity, discover enlightenment, or give back to society. By remaining in the present moment, people can begin to live to their fullest potential and stay on the road towards self-actualization.
The second belief in humanistic psychology focuses on the idea that every individual must take personal responsibility for his or her inaction or actions. According to humanistic psychology proponents, the sense of personal responsibility remains crucial for good mental health. Humanistic psychology also emphasizes that everyone deserves human respect regardless of external factors, such as race, ethnicity, wealth, appearance, or actions. When an individual exercises the core principles of humanistic psychology, he or she can achieve happiness through personal growth. It also fosters a sense of community and social involvement, which leads to fulfillment in relationships.
Abraham Maslow believed that these core principles stood in direct conflict to Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud believed that human drives and desires existed on a subconscious level. Maslow asserted that people remain fully aware of their motivations that drive their behavior. In other words, Maslow believed that most aspects of life occur as a result of free will rather than uncontrollable life events. He illustrated this concept in his theory of the hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy of needs represents an individual’s quest towards self-actualization. It is represented by a pyramid with the physiological needs at the base and self-actualization at the top. A need for safety, love, and esteem represent the steps needed to move towards self-actualization
Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist who agreed with Abraham Maslow, rejected the deterministic nature of psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Rogers asserted that we react to situations because we perceive them through our subjective lens. He believed that humans have one basic motive in life: the tendency to self-actualize or to achieve the highest level of fulfillment. He also believed that people are inherently good and creative. They become destructive only when a poor self-image or external constraints limit their ability to value the world. Rogers thought that people must remain in a state of congruence to achieve self-actualization. This means that an individual’s “ideal self” must align with his or her behavior. He describes self-actualized individuals as fully-functioning human beings and believed that an individual’s childhood experiences determine whether he or she becomes self-actualized or not.
Humanistic psychology expanded its sphere of influence throughout the 1970s and 1980s. During these periods, humanistic psychology impacted the mental health field by offering a new set of values to be applied to the understanding of the human condition. It also offered new and expanded on the methods of inquiry and study of human behavior. Lastly, it broadened the range of more effective methods in the practice of psychology. In essence, humanistic psychology empowers individuals with the ability to improve their mental and physical health while taking into account the environmental factors shaping personal experiences. The concept of social equality also allows for societal progression.
Follow these links to learn more about humanistic psychology:
- What is Humanistic Psychology?
- Early Innovators of Humanistic Psychology
- The Humanistic Approach: The Basics (PDF)
- Introduction to the Humanistic Approach
- Pioneers of Humanistic-Existential Psychology
- Individual, Existential, and Humanistic Psychology
- All About Humanistic Psychology (PDF)
- Notes on Humanistic Psychology
- Abraham Maslow
- Abraham Maslow: Profile
- Psychology Today: Abraham Maslow
- Psychologist Carl Rogers Introduces Humanistic Psychology
- Carl Rogers’ Client Centered Therapy: Under the Microscope
- A Renaissance for Humanistic Psychology
- A Guide to Humanistic Psychology (PDF)
- Journal of Humanistic Psychology (PDF)
- 1951 Carl Rogers: The Importance of Empathy
- Toward a Humanistic Psychology (PDF)
- Leaders of Humanistic Psychology
- Humanistic Theories
- Humanistic Theories of Personality