Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Humanism became influential in psychology through a loosely knit movement that began in the 1950’s and became a significant force in the 1960’s. Known as humanistic psychology, it is not a single branch of psychology, focused on a particular content area, but a unique approach to all of psychology’s content areas. Because humanistic psychology was not created around the work of one founder, it has avoided becoming dogmatic, but it suffers the corresponding disadvantage of having no unanimously inclusive doctrines. Nevertheless, humanistic psychology does offer a distinctive approach to psychological life, based on respect for the specifically “human” quality of human existence. In humanistic psychology, an existence is one’s irreducible being in a world that is carved out by one’s personal involvements. Fidelity to the full meaning of being human requires understanding human psychological life on its own terms, as it actually presents itself, rather than on models borrowed from other fields of inquiry. In contrast, traditional psychology assembled its foundational concept about human existence during the nineteenth century from such disciplines as physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics. These natural sciences share a common assumption about their subject matter—namely, that it is “matter,” objective things that are completely determined by the causal impacts of other things in mechanical and lawful ways that...
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Central Tenets (Psychology and Mental Health)
Humanistic psychology arose to counter the prevailing scientifically oriented beliefs within the field of psychology during the mid-twentieth century. It argues that the natural science model distorts, trivializes, and mostly neglects the real subject matter: human existence. When love is reduced to a biological drive and insight to a conditioned response, humanistic psychologists protest, psychology has lost contact with the real humanness of its subject matter. Their alternative approach includes four essential features.
First, integral to humanistic psychology is its appreciation of the person as a whole. Such a holistic emphasis holds that people cannot be reduced to parts (labeled processes, instincts, drives, conditioned responses), since the meaning of any part can only be understood in relation to the whole person. For example, a humanistic psychology of thinking also takes into account the thinker’s feelings and motives, since it is the person as a whole who thinks, not only the brain or an information-processing system. Even the most seemingly isolated physiological events cannot be fully comprehended apart from the person’s total existence. A study of women recently widowed, for example, showed that their bodies’ immune systems weakened in the year after their husbands’ deaths. This subtle yet profound way of embodying grief is best understood when the human body is grasped as a “bodying forth” of a...
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Contributions to Psychology (Psychology and Mental Health)
Within psychology, the humanistic approach’s most important applications have been in the areas of psychotherapy, personality theory, and research methods. Rollo May aptly described the humanistic idea of psychotherapy as helping patients experience their existence as real. Carl R. Rogers’s person-centered therapy depicts the humanistic purpose: to assist clients in unblocking and experiencing their own self-actualizing tendencies. This is accomplished by nonjudgmentally clarifying and mirroring back to clients their own spontaneous expressions of self with genuine empathy and unconditional positive regard.
A second area of major application has been personality theory. Among the many who have contributed in this regard are Gordon Allport, Henry A. Murray, Charlotte Buhler, and James Bugental. The most famous are Rogers, May, and Abraham Maslow. They see personality as a tendency of self-actualizing: of “becoming” (May), of realizing one’s possibilities for “full humanness” (Maslow), of being “fully functioning” (Rogers). They emphasize that the personality is oriented toward growth, thus dynamic rather than static, yet recognize that this process is unfinished and far from automatic. Rogers noted that “incongruence” between one’s self-concept and one’s actual self blocks actualizing tendencies. If a person experiences positive regard from significant others, such as parents, as being...
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Contributions to Other Fields (Psychology and Mental Health)
Humanistic innovations have been widely applied beyond psychology, in such areas as medicine, politics, feminism, law, religion, social action, international relations, and ecology. For example, former United States president Jimmy Carter used Rogers’s techniques (in consultation with Rogers) during the successful Camp David peace talks he facilitated between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel. The three areas in which humanistic psychology has had the widest impact are business management, education, and personal growth. In each, humanistic innovations derive from the basic point that the fully functioning person is one whose striving for self-actualization is unblocked.
Within management, humanistic psychology was an early contributor to the emerging field of organizational development. Rogers’s person-centered approach was a key influence on the development of the human relations training for business managers conducted by the National Training Laboratory. In Eupsychian Management: A Journal (1965), Maslow provided a humanistic theory of management. He proposed that employees could be most productive if, through more democratic boss-worker relationships, they were given the opportunity to grow in terms of self-actualization and reach their highest human potential. (This book was translated into Japanese and was influential in the development of the managerial style that became...
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Roots and Evolution (Psychology and Mental Health)
Humanistic psychology’s roots include European psychology and philosophy. Among its psychological predecessors are Kurt Goldstein’s organismic theory, Karen Horney’s self theory, and Erich Fromm’s social analyses. Its philosophical heritage includes existentialism and phenomenology. Fearing the eclipse of the human in a world dominated by science, existentialism began with the recognition that “i]t is important . . . to hold fast to what it means to be a human being,” as originally stated by Søren Kierkegaard in 1846. Beginning in the early twentieth century, Edmund Husserl, phenomenology’s founder, articulated the key notion of the intentionality of consciousness. Husserl also fashioned a distinction between the natural sciences and the human sciences (made earlier by Wilhelm Dilthey) into a powerful critique of psychology’s traditional scientific foundations. Later philosophers, particularly Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, joined existentialism and phenomenology into a compelling philosophy of existence.
Existential phenomenology first affected the work of European psychologists, especially R. D. Laing, Jan Hendrik van den Berg, Viktor Frankl, Erwin Straus, Ludwig Binswanger, and Medard Boss. In the United States, May was influential in importing these European currents through his edited book of translated readings, Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and...
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Emergence of Cognitive Psychology (Psychology and Mental Health)
With the rapid pace of such developments, by the end of the 1960’s humanistic psychologists saw themselves as a “third force”: an alternative to behaviorism and psychoanalysis, the two dominant traditions in American psychology at that time. A naïve optimism characterized their sense of the future; humanistic psychology has not succeeded in supplanting those traditions. What happened instead was the rise of cognitive psychology as the main challenger for dominance. Like humanistic psychology, the cognitive approach was formed during the 1950’s to dispute traditional psychology’s narrow focus on behavior as an objective, observable event, but it offered a more conventional alternative. While returning to the mind as a topic of psychology, it did so while retaining the traditional mechanistic view of mental life. In comparison, humanistic psychology’s more fundamental proposal that psychology set aside its mechanistic assumption’s altogether continues to cast it in the role of a less palatable alternative for most psychologists.
In other ways, however, the humanistic approach has been a victim of its own successes beyond psychology. Its applications to psychotherapy, management, and education are now so commonly known that they are scarcely recognized anymore as “humanistic.” It appears that, for now at least, humanistic psychology has found greater integration beyond psychology than within...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Bugental, James F. T. Intimate Journeys: Stories from Life-Changing Therapy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990. A memoir of the struggles, defeats, and triumphs of a humanistic psychotherapist.
Maslow, Abraham H. Toward a Psychology of Being. 3d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. Maslow’s study of human nature and the conditions and blocks to self-actualization. Topics include growth, motivation, cognition, creativeness, and values.
May, Rollo. Psychology and the Human Dilemma. 1967. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. May’s accessible yet probing analysis of humans’ paradoxical capacity to experience themselves as both subject and object. Topics include meaning, anxiety, freedom, responsibility, values, psychotherapy, science, and the social responsibilities of psychologists.
Pollio, Howard R. Behavior and Existence: An Introduction to Empirical Humanistic Psychology. Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole, 1982. A coherent introductory textbook on general psychology from a humanistic standpoint. It covers the usual survey of psychology topics (such as learning, thinking, perceiving, and remembering) from a humanistic approach.
Rogers, Carl R. On Becoming a Person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995. Rogers’s most widely read book, providing his views of person-centered psychotherapy, including its key characteristics and how to research its...
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Humanistic Psychology (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
A theoretical and therapeutic approach that emphasizes people's uniqueness and their power to control their own destinies.
Humanistic psychology evolved in the 1960s as a reaction to psychodynamic psychology and behaviorism. Humanists objected to the pessimistic view of human nature advocated by psychodynamic psychologists who saw the selfish pursuit of pleasure as the root of all human behavior. They also 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 emphasize people's innate potential, and the ability of people to determine their own destinies. The ultimate goal for the humanistic psychologist, therefore, is to help people realize their full potential and live up to their abilities.
Theories and therapeutic applications
Two particular theoretical approaches have come to characterize humanistic psychology. The "person-centered" approach to therapy advocated by Carl Rogers is based on his belief that trusting one's experiences and believing in one's self are the most important...
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