Humanistic Psychology: Definition and Meaning

Humanistic Psychology is a perspective, which was developed by Abraham Maslow in response to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and B. F. Skinner's behaviorism theory, where environment has been given more importance than the human choices. However, Maslow contended that and emphasized more on the human free will and hence, he focused on the individualized characteristics of optimal well-being and using one's creative potential for the good of others, as well as the relational environments that support such traits as the results of healthy growth.

Personality development, according to humanistic psychologists, is a continual process encouraged by the desire for relative integration and led by intentionality, choice, the hierarchical ordering of values, and an ever-expanding conscious awareness. To understand the updated experiences of people as engaged members of the present social world, i.e., located in sociocultural and eco-psycho-spiritual settings, humanistic psychologists apply an intersubjective, empathetic approach in their therapy and other research activities.

What is Humanistic Psychology?

A view point, putting human and their free will at the center, is known as humanistic psychology. This independent branch of psychology had emerged in the middle of the 20th century specifically to counter two theories: the first one is the Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and second one is the behaviorism theory of B. F. Skinner. Abraham Maslow thus proved that psychology needs a "third force." The person behind the development of the humanistic viewpoint is Abraham Maslow. Maslow is a focal player in the humanistic movement of the 1950s and a proponent of the school of thinking, helped the humanistic psychology movement gain popularity.

The objective of humanistic psychology is to assist the client in developing the conviction that the every individual is good at heart. It interprets a holistic view of human existence and places particular emphasis on concepts like free choice, creativity, and the potential of the human spirit. It promotes the idea that we are "whole persons," larger than the sum of our parts, and it promotes self-exploration above the analysis of other people's behavior. Spiritual ambition is recognized as a crucial component of the mind in humanistic psychology. It has ties to the newly developed discipline of transpersonal psychology.

Its role is pretty interactive and effective, as it assists the client to change their state of mind and behavior from one set of reactions to a healthy one with more useful self-awareness and considerate behaviors. In fact, such treatment method primarily promotes self-awareness and reflexivity. In essence, this strategy enables the fusion of behavioral therapy and mindfulness with supportive social environments.

History of Humanistic Psychology?

The movements' historical origins may be found in both the distant past and the post-WW II era before the advent of humanistic psychology, there was an eclectic status quo involving behaviorism, psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology, etc. Early humanist concepts were present in Christianity, the Renaissance, and Ancient Greece. Maslow (1973) stated that "the ideals which are to guide human conduct must be discovered inside the nature and natural reality itself," which is similar to the philosophy of the ancient Greek humanists. The behaviorists’ naturalistic principles, which in their opinion treated subjects like "things" without respect for their subjectivity, consciousness, or free will, were something that humanistic psychologists could not accept.

In the early 20th century, a number of European philosophers, including, for example, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre both identified with existentialism, a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual responsibility, free will, and the pursuit of human development and fulfillment. Major life decisions are frequently accompanied by anxiety in existentialism since we are alone and responsible for our own existence. Existentialists held the view known as phenomenology, that individuals may comprehend others by concentrating on their own conscious experience. However, concern for human individuality led to the development of the humanistic psychology movement in the United States.

In the United States, the 1960s were a turbulent decade. The Kennedy brothers were assassinated, Martin Luther King was assassinated, there were racial protests in several major cities, and the "Hippies" were openly defying the ideals of their parents and society. They left civilization and settled back into a simpler way of life where there was no place for logical or empirical thinking. The third-force movement rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, but as time went on, it lost some of its appeals. Despite this, it is still relevant in certain areas like behaviorism and psychoanalysis, and current psychology.

Behaviorism and psychoanalysis were the first and second forces, respectively, in psychology. Humanistic psychology aspired to be the third force and promised to improve upon and surpass the previous two forces. As a result, humanistic psychology tends to maintain the eclectic spirit of the 1950s since it does not completely reject everything from the other two forces. Although behaviorism was criticized and replaced by humanistic psychology, it was recognized that behaviorism was still valid within its purview despite its limitations. In order to complete the empirical picture of human psychology, humanistic psychologists attempted to add to behaviorism a respect for human awareness.

Important Proponents of the Humanistic Psychology

It includes−

  • Carl Rogers – In the 1940s, Carl Rogers created "client-centered psychotherapy," which he applied to veterans of World War 2. The treatment is phenomenologically oriented, meaning that the therapist makes an effort to understand the client's point of view before letting the client come up with answers on his or her own. The treatment was a substitute for psychoanalysis and a crucial milestone in the development of clinical and counselling psychology in the years following World War II. Rogers' method of comprehending the client with empathy caused him to clash with behaviorism.

  • Abraham Maslow – Abraham Maslow is the founder and foremost proponent of humanistic psychology. He began his career as an experimental animal psychologist before focusing on the issue of creativity in art and science. He subsequently developed his thesis of self-actualization via the study of creative individuals. Self-actualizers utilized their inherent creative abilities. (In contrast to most individuals, who just take care of their basic requirements, such as food and shelter). All people, according to Maslow, have creative abilities that, if socially imposed restraints weren't there, might be realized. Maslow and Rogers both aimed to persuade individuals to abandon more socially acceptable behaviors and drive them toward realizing their full human potential.

Criticism of Humanistic Psychology

Due to the phenomenological approach's purportedly subjective and dualistic nature, behaviorists have been the most vociferous opponents of humanistic psychology. As a result, the scientific method is rejected in favor of introspection, according to behaviorists, and the ideas lack any empirical validity. Several public discussions and disputes between Skinner and Rogers took place. The two guys were at different poles and could never come to a consensus, according to the general judgment.

Another argument against introspective self-reports is that they are notoriously inaccurate and amount to nothing more than a presumption that what is said is indeed what is being felt. Investigating a fictitious inner self is nothing more than playing with make-believe. Some people believe that humanistic psychology is a form of religion. Any notion that psychology should be regarded as a part of natural science must be abandoned in order to accept these ideas of faith. Psychology has been brought back to the Middle Ages and the Church Fathers by the humanistic perspective. All of the more objective and experimentally oriented people's efforts are being undone by it. Using psychologists to further the objective study of psychological behavior.


During the middle of 20th century, the development of humanistic psychology was not less than a revolution, as it had given totally opposite perspective and made people believe that they are superior than their environment. This is the reason that in many educational fields, such as, education, therapy, political movements, sociology, and many other fields of psychology, the fundamental ideas of humanistic psychology can be easily seen. For instance, both positive psychology and transpersonal psychology have a strong humanist foundation.

Updated on: 28-Apr-2023


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