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Humanistic Psychology: What to Know About This Powerful Movement
humanistic psychology
Mental Health

Humanistic Psychology: What to Know About This Powerful Movement

You can grow a deeper understanding of the self.

There are many ways to evaluate our minds, emotions, conduct, desires, and life events. Different psychological perspectives focus on different viewpoints in order to explain and guide human behavior, with varying outcomes. When looking for a therapist, it’s important to consider the type of psychological approach that will be best suited to your needs and therapeutic goals.

One philosophy to consider is called humanistic psychology. This is an approach that looks at human nature, motivation, free will, healing, and potential through a lens of valuing and examining the whole person and seeing them as an individual. 

In humanistic psychology, people are believed to be more than just their actions, genes, and past experiences. Essentially, this view supports the contention that each person is unique and that this uniqueness should inform the therapeutic process and be considered a key part of understanding their behaviors, motivations, challenges, beliefs, and feelings.

In this comprehensive guide, learn more about what humanistic psychology is, the development of this field, who might benefit from this type of therapeutic approach, and what to expect from counseling based on the humanistic viewpoint.

What Is Humanistic Psychology?

humanistic psychology

Humanistic psychology is a subfield of psychology that builds on the movements of behaviorism and psychoanalysis. This approach contends that while general principles and scientific research about the ways in which people tend to act or respond may hold true over a large population, that individuals will vary greatly due to specific factors pertinent to them. Rather than embracing predetermination, humanistic psychology leans in to free will and the power of self-actualization.

Personality, unique experiences, and other individual characteristics, motivations, and feelings are key in the process of gaining an understanding of each person’s psyche and helping them overcome any hardships or mental health challenges. Essentially, the core belief of this viewpoint is that each human is unique and should be respected, seen, and treated as such. 

Additionally, key to this methodology is the belief that each person is continually seeking to better themselves and capable of improvement. Overcoming pain goes hand-in-hand with unlocking motivation and pathways to achieving one’s potential—and finding healing and happiness.

Origins of Humanistic Psychology

Abraham Maslow

Some of the key thinkers behind this philosophy are Carl Rogers, Gordon Allport, Abraham Maslow, James Bugental, and Rollo May. The movement grew in response to what its founders considered faults and limitations of previous views on psychology. For example, those with a humanist perspective believed that the behaviorist approach was too focused on scientific research and trends in behavior rather than exploring individuation. 

The criticism was that behaviorism missed the nuances, depth, intricacies, and impacts of each individual person’s unique experiences, thinking, and feelings. Additionally, proponents of a humanistic approach thought psychoanalysis put too much emphasis on a person’s childhood experiences and not enough on the full person. Proponents of a humanistic psychological viewpoint believe in free will, human goodness, and personal agency in determining one’s well being, healing, and potential.

Humanistic psychology has been called the “third force” in modern psychology, as it developed in response to psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Maslow is credited with pushing for a stronger interest in enhancing human potential and looking for the positives in each person’s past, present, and future. He also went on to help develop transpersonal psychology, which adds a spiritual focus and exporation to psychology. He called this approach the “fourth force” in psychology, in order to distinguish it from the prior three: psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology. 

Rogers is responsible for humanistic psychology’s interest in each person’s personality and in the unique way each person may interpret and view their life. He did not think that simply looking at and evaluating a person’s behavior or unconscious mind was enough to grasp a full view of a person. This is why Rogers advocated for bringing into consideration each person’s inner thoughts and feelings. Essentially, his focus was to gear humanistic therapy’s approach to an exploration of the self.

What Is Humanistic Psychology Like in Practice?

Rather than having a primary focus on the dysfunction in a person’s life or past, a humanistic therapeutic approach cultivates a person’s self-actualization, self-advocacy, self-knowledge, and self-fulfillment. The founders of this movement questioned the reliance on scientific behavior studies, so they encouraged focusing more on the individual client rather than assuming they would react or feel any certain way. 

Humanistic psychology also rejects the notion that a person's life path is predetermined and instead acknowledges the uniqueness of each person and allows for great individual growth in unexpected ways. 

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Maximizing love, enjoyment, and potential are all key to this philosophy, as is the belief that each person’s unique traits, gifts, experiences, and emotions should play a big part in their healing and growth. Free will is balanced by looking at how a person feels in response to past experiences and how others treat them.

Therapy is tailored to the individual to honor each person's uniqueness. Plus, the whole person and their potential is considered. So, the client’s experiences and hopes relating to love, desires, lifestyle, family dynamics, professional and personal goals, creativity, physical health, mental health, and other factors are all explored and valued.

This viewpoint holds a strong trust in the innate goodness of the human spirit and in our desire and capacity to better ourselves. Likewise, the power of personal agency, personal values and beliefs, and an optimistic view of each person’s abilities and worth is also instrumental to this approach. Additionally, humanistic psychology is informed by looking at what motivates and inspires a person and then cultivating their self-actualization with the ultimate goal of achieving personal growth and fulfillment.

Who Might Benefit From a Humanistic Psychological Approach?

Many different types of people, who are facing a variety of mental health concerns, may benefit from therapy grounded in a humanistic approach. People who want to overcome personal issues, like trauma and family conflict, those seeking to find more meaning, fulfillment, and enjoyment in their lives, and those suffering from mental health concerns, such as depression or anxiety, can all find solace, support, and healing within humanistic psychology. Help with finding and reaching one’s highest potential is also a common aim for those seeking therapy with a humanistic psychology practitioner.

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Key Takeaways

Humanistic psychology is a movement that began in the mid-20th century that embraces a viewpoint that the full human experience is unique, instructive, and important for each person and should guide the exploration of their psyche. This approach believes that each person is essentially good and is motivated by the desire to achieve their full potential. Incorporating this more individualized, whole person perspective creates a dynamic of optimism, and ideally, a deeper understanding of the self.

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