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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 James Bugental (1964), mainly that:
- Human beings cannot be reduced to components.
- Human beings have in them a uniquely human context.
- Human consciousness includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people.
- Human beings have choices and responsibilities.
- Human beings are intentional, they seek meaning, value and creativity.
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, psychoanalysis and humanism. 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. This school was later called the science of behavior. Abraham Maslow later gave behaviorism 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.
In the late 1950's, psychologists concerned with advancing a more holistic vision of psychology convened two meetings in Detroit, Michigan. These psychologists, including Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Clark Moustakas, were interested in founding a professional association dedicated to a psychology that focused on uniquely human issues, such as the self, self-actualization, health, hope, love, creativity, nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning – in short, the understanding of what it means to be human.
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 launch of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 1961 and the formation of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) in 1963. 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 (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000).
The major theorists considered to have prepared the ground for Humanistic Psychology are Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Rollo May. The work of Wilhelm Reich, who postulated an essentially 'good', healthy core self, in contrast to Freud, was an early influence, specially his Character Analysis (1933). Other noteworthy inspirers and leaders of the movement include Roberto Assagioli, Gordon Allport, Medard Boss, Martin Buber, R. D. Laing, Fritz Perls, Anthony Sutich, Erich Fromm, Kurt Goldstein, Clark Moustakas, and James Bugental (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000).
Humanistic psychology usually prefers qualitative research methods over other epistemological approaches (Clay, 2002). 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.
Counseling and therapy
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 around the clients' capacity for self-direction and understanding of his/her own development (Clay, 2002).
Other approaches to humanistic counselling and therapy include Gestalt therapy, humanistic psychotherapy, depth therapy, holistic health, encounter groups, sensitivity training, marital and family therapies, body work, and the existential psychotherapy of Medard Boss (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening (2000).
Self-help is also included in humanistic psychology. Ernst & Goodison (1981) describe using some of the main humanistic approaches in self-help groups. Co-counselling, which is a purely self-help approach, is regarded as coming within humanistic psychology (see John Rowan's Guide to Humanistic Psychology). 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.
As mentioned by Clay (2002) 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. A key ingredient in this approach is the meeting between therapist and client and the possibilities for dialogue. The aim of much humanistic therapy is to help the client approach a stronger and more healthy sense of self, also called self-actualization (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000; Clay, 2002). All this is part of Humanistic psychology's motivation to be a science of human experience, focusing on the actual lived experience of persons (Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening (2000).
Criticism and debate
Criticism of the field has come from Isaac Prilleltensky (1992) who argues that humanistic psychology - inadvertently - is affirming the social and political status quo, and therefore has remained fairly silent about social change.
Further, in their review of different approaches to positive psychology, Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi (2000) note that the early incarnations of humanistic psychology lacked a cumulative empirical base, and that some directions encouraged self-centeredness. However, according to mainstream humanistic thinkers, humanistic psychology must not be understood to promote such ideas as narcissism, egotism, or selfishness (Bohart & Greening, 2001). The association of humanistic discourse with narcissistic and overly optimistic worldviews is a misreading of humanistic theory.
In their response to Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi (2000), Bohart & Greening (2001) note that along with pieces on self-actualization and individual fulfillment, humanistic psychologists have also published papers on a wide range of social issues and topics, such as the promotion of international peace and understanding, awareness of the holocaust, the reduction of violence, and the promotion of social welfare and justice for all.
Humanistic Psychology has been criticised because its theories are impossible to falsify (Popper, 1969) and lacks predictive power and therefore is not a science. The attempt of many humanistic and positive psychologies to explain all of human behaviour often means that these theories can actually never be proved wrong, which does not mean that they are correct. For instance the psychology of Adler could describe almost any action as a sign that an individual has overcome their feelings of inferiority or alternatively that same behaviour could be described as a failure in this respect. These theories are the scientific equivalent of saying 'either it is raining or it is not'. A good scientific theory should be able be falsifiable and have predictive power (Chalmers, 1999); therefore humanistic psychology is not a science. Nonetheless, it remains to be determined whether the study of the human psyche is the exclusive domain of science, as psychology broke off from philosophy only as recent as the early twentieth century for reasons that "can be summed up briefly as the application, to certain topics, of empirical and mathematical methods, resulting in widespread acceptance of particular theories and research programs" as opposed to philosophy's characteristic "lack of agreement, among its practitioners, on any of the questions with which they deal" .
- Client centred therapy
- Human potential movement
- Humanistic psychology journals
- Neurolinguistic programming
- Personal development
- Transpersonal psychology
- Self psychology
- 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.
- Bohart, Arthur C. & Greening, Thomas (2001) Comment: Humanistic Psychology and Positive Psychology. American Psychologist. Jan, Vol 56(1) 81-82.
- Bugental, J.F.T (1964) The Third Force in Psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 19-25
- Clay, Rebecca A. (2002) A renaissance for humanistic psychology. The field explores new niches while building on its past. American Psychological Association Monitor, Volume 33, No. 8 September
- Ernst, Sheila & Goodison, Lucy (1981) In Our Own Hands, A Book of Self Help Therapy. London: The Women's Press
- Prilleltensky, Isaac (1992) Humanistic Psychology, Human Welfare and the Social Order. The Journal of Mind And Behaviour, Autumn, Volume 13, Number 4 ps 315-327
- Rowan, John (1976) Ordinary Ecstasy: The Dialectics of Humanistic Psychology Brunner-Routledge (1 Mar 2001) []
- Seligman, Martin E. P. & Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2000) Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist. Jan, Vol 55(1) 5-14
Kirk J. Schneider, James F.T. Bugental, J. Fraser Pierson (eds.) (2001) The handbook of humanistic psychology : leading edges in theory, research, and practice Thousand Oaks, Calif. : Sage Publications, []
- Association for Humanistic Psychology
- AHP - Journal of Humanistic Psychology
- APA Division 32 - Humanistic Psychology
- UK Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners
- Council for Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychologies CHTP
- Humanistic Psychology Definition and Introduction
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