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What is Humanistic Psychology?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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Humanistic psychology theory developed in the 1950s, partially as a response to the abundance of military conflict that characterized the first half of the 20th century. Its two main proponents, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, published the first research papers on this approach during the 1950s and 1960s. The core belief of the approach is that humans are inherently good, and that a belief in and respect for humanity is important for mental health.

Adjacent to this core belief are several other important tenets of this perspective. The first is that the present is more important and more significant than either the past or the future. Therefore, it is more useful to explore what one can do in the here and now, rather than to make decisions based on what may happen in the future or to constantly dwell on past experiences.

Second is the idea that every individual must take personal responsibility for his or her actions or lack of actions. In the humanistic approach, this sense of personal responsibility is crucial for good mental health. The third belief is the idea that everyone is inherently worthy of basic human respect and dignity, regardless of factors such as race, ethnicity, appearance, wealth, or actions.

The goal of the humanistic psychology approach is that by following these basic ideas, one can achieve happiness through personal growth. Both self-understanding and self-improvement are necessary for happiness. In addition, understanding that every individual has both personal and social responsibility fosters not only personal growth, but community and social involvement as well.

Abraham Maslow, an early proponent of the theory, believed that these ideas were in direct opposition to Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. One of the most core beliefs of Freud’s theories is that human drives and desires are subconscious and hidden, whereas to Maslow, humans are consciously aware of the motivations that drive their behavior. Essentially, Maslow believed, psychoanalysis accepts that most aspects of life are outside of individual control, whereas the humanistic approach was based in free will.

The humanistic approach has some strong points that make it a particularly useful theory in the modern world. This approach emphasizes the idea that everyone can contribute to improving their own mental and physical health, in whichever way is most useful to them. In addition, these theories take into account environmental factors in shaping personal experiences. The concept of all humans having the same rights to respect and dignity is also useful, in that it encourages racial and ethnic tolerance, as well as reinforcing the individual’s belief in their own self-worth.

Critics point out that the humanistic perspective has few standardized treatment approaches. This effect is largely the result of the importance that free will plays, which makes devising standardized treatments extremely complicated. Another problem is that humanist theory is not a suitable treatment for people with organic mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, preventing it from being regarded as an all-encompassing school of thought.

Despite these criticisms, elements of humanistic psychology have been incorporated into many styles of therapy. The approach, with its emphasis on personal responsibility, social responsibility, and social tolerance, makes it a useful basis for positive personal and social change. Therefore, even though this psychological theory may be inadequate in some respects, it provides some simple and practical tools for self-examination.

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Discussion Comments
By Sunny27 — On Nov 29, 2010

I agree with the humanistic psychology therapy methods. I do believe that when people accept responsibility for their behavior and stop placing the blame on others then the person has a real chance changing their life for the better.

The association for humanistic psychology believes that people have the power to create their own futures and should be afforded human dignity when doing so.

Maslow humanistic psychology would look at a person that lived in a poor neighborhood and resorted to committing crimes as a means of earning money as choosing bad choices that resulted in bad circumstances.

He would argue that if you take another person from the same neighborhood and had them go to college and receive an education, their life would be completely different and they may be able to move to a better community.

In both examples the patients were poor and had difficult circumstances, but one choose a better path which is why his life turned out better. This is the cornerstone of humanistic psychology therapy.

By cupcake15 — On Nov 27, 2010

Humaniistic psychology therapy is a positive development in the world of psychology. Abraham Maslow developed humanistic psychology that actually focused on a person’s current status rather than focusing on their past or looking too much into the future.

This form of humanistic existential psychology allows the patient the opportunity to succeed regardless of their prior circumstances. The patient has to accept responsibility for their actions and learn ways of coping with their current problem.

This theory does not look at childhood experiences that might have added to the affliction because the humanistic psychology definition reveals that the individual has the free will to make the choices that he or she makes and can not blame the consequences of their ill fated choices on their childhood or some other factor.

Freud theory of psychoanalysis is more of a negative perspective on the human potential because it expresses that we have limits that are brought upon us from childhood that will shape our personality.

Our free will is not taken into account with this theory which gives the patient little hope of recovering.

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