Humanistic View & Methods

The Humanistic View of Human Behavior

Humanistic psychology is a value orientation that holds a hopeful, constructive view of human beings and of their substantial capacity to be self-determining. It is guided by a conviction that intentionality and ethical values are strong psychological forces, among the basic determinants of human behavior. This conviction leads to an effort to enhance such distinctly human qualities as choice, creativity, the interaction of the body, mind and spirit, and the capacity to become more aware, free, responsible, life-affirming and trustworthy.

Humanistic psychology acknowledges that the mind is strongly influenced by determining forces in society and in the unconscious, and that some of these are negative and destructive. Humanistic psychology nevertheless emphasizes the independent dignity and worth of human beings and their conscious capacity to develop personal competence and self respect. This value orientation has led to the development of therapies to facilitate personal and interpersonal skills and to enhance the quality of life.
Since there is much difficulty involved in inner growth, humanistic psychologists often stress the importance of courageously learning to take responsibility for oneself as one confronts personal transitions. The difficulty of encouraging personal growth is matched by the difficulty of developing appropriate institutional and organizational environments in which human beings can flourish. Clearly, societies both help and hinder human growth. Because nourishing environments can make an important contribution to the development of healthy personalities, human needs should be given priority when fashioning social policies. ,This becomes increasingly critical in a rapidly changing world threatened by such dangers as nuclear war, overpopulation and the breakdown of traditional social structures.

Many humanistic psychologists stress the importance of social change, the challenge of modifying old institutions and inventing new ones able to sustain both human development and organizational efficacy. Thus the humanistic emphasis on individual freedom should be matched by a recognition of our interdependence and our responsibilities to one another, to society and culture, and to the future.

Methods of Inquiry

All of these special concerns point toward the need for a more complete knowledge of the quality of human experience. Humanistic psychology is best known as a body of theory and systems of psychotherapy, but it is also an approach to scholarship and research, to inquiry informed by a strong sense of purpose. The purpose is to provide a level of understanding that can promote the power of personal choice and the care and effectiveness of social groups. Humanistic psychology recognizes that human existence consists of multiple layers of reality: the physical, the organic and the symbolic. In considering these components it advocates the use of a variety of research approaches to study their characteristics and intentions. It contests the idea–traditionally held by the behavioral sciences–that the only legitimate research method is an experimental test using quantified data. It argues for the use of additional methods specifically designed to study the organic and symbolic realms.

Humanistic psychology is strongly supportive of phenomenological and clinical approaches to the study of the human position in the order of life. It also encourages the discovery of new research approaches which seek to further understand the richness in the depth of human being. The symbolic dimension of consciousness is of special interest . It is in this realm of our lives–a uniquely human realm– that meaning value, culture, personal decision and responsibility are expressed and manifested. The humanities are thus important resources in humanistic psychology research. Another thing the humanistic approach brings into account is the fact that society's ideas about what count s as legitimate knowledge constitutes a certain kind of power over our lives.


The assumption that knowledge is confined to what can be directly perceived and publicly measured leads easily to the conclusion that personal values, meaning and decision lack a larger significance or interpretation. The value-based position taken by humanistic psychology implies a commitment to the use of research approaches that provide access to all characteristics of human existence.

Humanistic Psychotherapies

During the 1950s and 60s, Carl Rogers introduced Person Centered Psychotherapy, Roll May imported Existential Psychoanalysis from Europe and Fritz Perls developed Geslalt Therapy in his workshops and training programs at the Esalan Institute and elsewhere. In the decades to follow, humanistic psychologists have transformed the field of psychotherapy by breaking down the societal stigmas attached to "therapy", thereby popularizing the usage of humanistic approaches in healing. First Force (behaviorism) has achieved some important successes in addressing specific behavioral problems using behavior modification and cognitive behavioral therapy, which are practical applications of B.F. Skinner's important research on operant conditioning. The Second Force (psychoanalysis) has also achieved important advances by incorporating theoretical perspectives such as ego psychology and object relations theory.

But the whole person, multi-dimensional perspective of the Third Force (humanistic psychology) has generated a broad spectrum of approaches that enormously expand the range of options for dealing with psychological, psychosomatic, psychosocial and psycho-spiritual conditions. In addition, it has emphasized that psychotherapy is not only of value in dealing with emotionally crippled, neurotic and psychotic populations.

It is equally relevant to the interests of relatively healthy people who are interested in exploring the farther reaches of human potential and examining the intrinsic role we have as humans in maintaining homeostasis on the planet, otherwise known as Ecopsychology. Approaches embraced by humanistic therapists include: Bioenergetics (Wilhem Reich, Alexander Lowen), Sensory Awareness Through Movement ( Moshe Feldenkreis), Focusing (Eugene Gendin), Authentic Movement (Mary Whitehouse), Encounter (Carl Rogers, Will Schultz, National Training Lab, and many others at Esalen and elsewhere), Rational-Emotive Therapy (Albert Ellis), Reality Therapy (William Glasser), Analytical & Archetypal Psychology (C.G.Jung, James Hillman), Psychosynthesis (Roberto Assagioli), Gestalt Art Therapy (Janie Rhyne), Existential Analysis (Rollo May, James F.T.Bugental), Logotherapy (Viktor Frankl), Self-Disclosure (Sidney Jourard), Conjoint Family Therapy (Virginia Satir), and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Richard Bandler & John Grinder).

Humanistic Psychology Today

During the 1970s and 80s, the ideas and values of humanistic psychology spread into many areas of society in the United States. As a result humanistic psychology is no longer "Humanistic Psychology". It is, of course, still represented by the Association for Humanistic Psychology and the Journal of Humanistic Psychology , as well as APA Division 32, the Division of Humanistic Psychology. However, it is also represented in a variety of APA divisions concerned with psychotherapy and issues of social concern. And it is in Transpersonal Psychology (Association for Transpersonal, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, New Age, East-West, the Consciousness Movement, Noetic Sciences); the Growth Center and Human Potential Movements; the Self-Esteem and Addiction Recovery Movements; Family Therapy, Holistic Health and Hospice, and Organizational Development and Organization Transformation.

It is philosophically aligned with the post-modern philosophy of science, constructivist epistemology, structuralism, and deconstructionism. We also could include green politics, deep ecology, the feminist and gay rights movements, and the psycho-spiritual wing of the peace movement. Perhaps this is what Rollo May was pointing to when he suggested that AHP has accomplished the mission for which it was founded. This breadth, depth and diversity is representative of the world we live in and takes into account an integrated and balanced view of human nature and maintaining balance and harmony in the grand scheme of existence.

"As the world's people demand freedom and self-determination, it is urgent that we learn how diverse communities of empowered individuals, with freedom to construct their own stories and identities, might live together in mutual peace. Perhaps it is not a vain hope that is life in such communities might lead to the advance in human consciousness beyond anything we have yet experienced. "

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