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Humanistic psychology is a college 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.

Conceptual origins

The humanistic approach has its roots in existentialist thought (see Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre). It is also sometimes understood within the context 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 1950s, psychologists concerned with advancing a more holistic vision of psychology convened two meetings in Detroitmarker, 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—that is, the understanding of "the personal nature of the human experience".

Development of the field

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 formation of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) in 1961 and the launch of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (originally "The Phoenix") 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.

The major theorists considered to have prepared the ground for Humanistic Psychology are Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Rollo May. Maslow was heavily influenced by Kurt Goldstein during their years together at Brandeis University. The work of Wilhelm Reich, who postulated an essentially 'good', healthy core self, in contrast to Freud, was an early influence, especially his Character Analysis (1933). Other noteworthy inspirers and leaders of the movement include Roberto Assagioli, Gordon Allport, Medard Boss, Martin Buber, James Bugental, Erich Fromm, Hans-Werner Gessmann, Kurt Goldstein, R. D. Laing, Clark Moustakas, Lewis Mumford, Fritz Perls and Anthony Sutich.


Humanistic psychology prefers qualitative research methods to the more "positivist" and "empiricist" approaches. This is part of the field's "human science" approach to psychology and involves an emphasis on the actual experience of persons. Many humanistic psychologists regard the use 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. It has been suggested that the study of Humanistic Psychology be standardized by a protocol: 1. identification of researchable problem, 2. formulation of hypothesis, 3. literature review of research, 4. development of methodology, 5. data collection and analysis, 6. analysis, 7. falsification, 8. results and conclusions, and 9. interpretation. This is the "Lindblom Protocol."

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 on the clients' capacity for self-direction and understanding of his/her own development.

Other approaches to humanistic counseling 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. Existential-integrative psychotherapy, developed by Kirk Schneider (2008), is a relatively new development within humanistic and existential therapy.

Self-help is also included in humanistic psychology: Sheila Ernst and Lucy Goodison have described 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.

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. All this is part of Humanistic psychology's motivation to be a science of human experience, focusing on the actual lived experience of persons.


Critics of the field point out that it tends to ignore social change research. Isaac Prilleltensky, a self-described radical who champions community and feminist psychology, has argued for years that humanistic psychology inadvertently contributes to systemic injustice.

Further, it has been noted that the early incarnations of humanistic psychology lacked a cumulative empirical base, and the architects of the movement endorsed an "unembarrassed denial of human reciprocity and community." However, according to mainstream humanistic thinkers, humanistic psychology need not be understood to promote such ideas as narcissism, egotism, or selfishness.

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.

See also


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