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Jessica Creel, Saint Leo University
Abstract Humanistic psychology is a field of practice which was developed as a response to the other known fields of psychology – psychoanalysis and behaviorism. While the original fields of psychology focus on the scientific and the traumatic events in a person’s life, humanistic psychology focuses more on the positive and the less scientific perspective of a person’s life. The application of humanistic psychology focuses on the person, the client, his experiences, his feelings, and his perceptions. It is a more holistic approach to psychology, with a prime emphasis placed on empathy. Humanistic psychology is also based on the works of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May, all of whom highlight the importance of client-centered therapy. Maslow’s work emphasizes on self-actualization, in other words, helping the client eventually achieve and accept his experiences. Humanistic psychology in effect seeks to empower clients, acknowledging their feelings and their perceived sense of self.
Literature Review and History The Foundation and Early Beginning Approaches to Counseling and Therapy Perceptions of Humanistic Psychology Evaluation of Behavior in Humanistic Psychology Criticisms of the Field Discussion Implications
Humanistic psychology is one of the branches or studies related to psychology. It is basically a branch of psychology which highlights the importance of an individual‟s thrust towards selfactualization. It is a field of study which gained popularity in the 20th century, eventually establishing its current place in psychology and the behavioral sciences. This paper will now seek to provide a specific and in-depth assessment of humanistic psychology. It will evaluate its relevance to everyday life, its history, related theories, and philosophies; its methods will also be reviewed and discussed. A discussion on the definition of humanistic psychology will first be presented, including its related theories. A history of the humanistic psychology shall also be presented. This will be followed by a discussion on the latest theories, methods and philosophies relevant to humanistic psychology. The relevance of the field to daily life will also be considered. A conclusion and summary will end this essay. This essay is being carried out in order to establish a clear and academic understanding of humanistic psychology, including its elements and applications. Literature Review and History Humanistic psychology is a “movement in psychology supporting the belief that humans, as individuals, are unique beings and should be recognized and treated as such by psychologists and psychiatrists” (Britannica Encyclopedia, 2012). It is often considered as a third force in psychology, very much different from the other known approaches to psychology – that of psychoanalysis and behaviorism. This school of psychology highlights a holistic approach to human existence and emphasizes creativity and human potential. This approach is popular in North America, and in areas of education and social work, including transpersonal psychology (Colman, 2009). The Foundation and Early Beginning The Foundation of humanistic psychology includes the phenomenological as well as the existentialist principle (American Psychological Association, 2012). Eastern philosophical ideas are also considered significant to humanistic psychology, including the philosophies of personalism, which highlight related concerns on the foundation of human consciousness and human existence (Aanstoos, Serlin, and Greening, 2000). By the 1930s, various psychiatrists and mental health practitioners developed interest on human issues. Most of these issues included self-actualization, health, hope, love, and becoming, aspects which are very much relevant in understanding human development and existence (Aanstoos, et.al., 2000). Interest was also built on the establishment of a professional association which would focus on the elements of human capital and human consciousness. Theories and perspectives. Theories and perspectives related to this theory include five main thoughts. These were first established by Bugental (1964) and later supported by other psychologists (Greening, 2006). These five principles point out that: 1. Humans “supersede the sum of their parts” (Bugenthal, 1964, p. 19). They cannot therefore be condensed to their components or parts.
2. Humans exist in a specific context, and also in a cosmic ecology. 3. Human beings are conscious, aware of themselves and of other people. 4. Humans have a choice and a responsibility. 5. Humans have intent in their actions, and aim for the fulfillment of their goals; they are aware that they have an impact on the future; they want to establish meaning as well as value (Bugental, 1964). After discussions among academics and practitioners in psychology, humanistic psychology was eventually accepted as a third force in psychology. This recognition led to the formation of the Association for Humanistic Psychology in 1961, as well as the formation of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology within the same year (Schachter, 2011). Graduate studies in the field were soon opened in various educational institutions. In the 1970s, the field was also recognized by the American Psychological Association and given a division within the APA. Through this division, humanistic psychologists have been able to publish peer-reviewed studies in the journal The Humanistic Psychologist, a journal specifically publishing studies within the field (Aanstoos, et.al., 2000). The early beginnings of this field of psychology were in the 1950s where humanistic psychology was established as a response to the more dominant fields of psychoanalysis and behaviorism (Bugental, 1964). Psychoanalysis is mostly concerned in understanding the unconscious motivations which support human behavior; and behaviorism on the other hand is focused on the conditioning elements which impact on human behavior (Bugental, 1964). The humanists believe that the fields of psychoanalysis and behaviorism have a pessimistic view of human behavior, often highlighting the tragic events and depressing emotions of humans, and sometimes discounting the impact of personal choice (Bugental, 1964). Humanistic psychology proposed that instead of fixating on the individual potential of individuals, more focus can be put on growth and self-actualization. The basic belief of humanistic psychology is founded on the contention that people are inherently good and that mental health and social issues are derived from the departure in natural qualities (Carlson, 2010). In the late 1950s, various psychologists discussed the establishment of a professional association specifically to accommodate humanistic psychology. These psychologists accepted self-actualization and individuality as elements of this field. Inasmuch as the three fields of psychology are different, it is not necessary to consider these three schools of thought as competing fields. Each of these schools has assisted in the establishment of an improved understanding of the human mind and of behavior (Carlson, 2010). And humanistic psychology has secured another perspective to psychology, one which considers a more holistic view of humans. Approaches to Counseling and Therapy Humanistic psychology has various approaches to counseling and therapy. One of the initial approaches was developed by Maslow based on his development of the hierarchy of needs and
motivations (Maslow, 1967). For Rollo May, the focus of his work was on human choice and the tragic elements of people‟s lives. Carl Rogers focused on the person-centered approach. He emphasized self-direction and the establishment of a better understanding of personal development (O‟Hara, 1989). The humanistic psychologist focuses on all of the client‟s feelings and on understanding the issues and concerns of the client while also ensuring that acceptance and warmth are expressed for the client (Clay, 2002). Gestalt therapy. Other elements of humanistic psychology include the principles of Gestalt therapy which highlights the present – the here and now – as a chance to discount possible preconceived views and to focus on how the present is impacted by the past (Sargent, 1967). Role-playing has a major role to play in Gestalt therapy and secures the adequate manifestation of feelings which would not have been expressed under other conditions. In Gestalt therapy, the non-verbal cues are crucial signs of the client‟s feelings, even if these may seem to contrast with what the client has actually expressed (Sargent, 1967). Humanistic psychotherapy also includes elements like: depth therapy, holistic health, body work, sensitivity training, and existentialist psychotherapy. Existentialist-integrative psychotherapy which was established by Schneider (2008) is one of the newer applications of humanistic psychology as well as existential psychology. Existentialism emphasizes the notion that human beings are free to establish a better understanding of their lives, that they can define themselves and do what they prefer to do (Schneider, 2008). This is an element of humanistic therapy which prompts clients to understand their life and its purpose. There is some conflict in relation to freedom and limitations. Limitations seem to include genetics, culture, and other related elements. Existentialism seeks to resolve such issues and limitations (Schneider, 2008). Empathy. Empathy is a major element of humanistic therapy (Krippner, 2001). It emphasizes the psychologist‟s ability to evaluate the situation and the world based on the feelings and perceptions of the client. Without this quality, therapists may be prompted to adopt an outsider‟s perspective, where the psychiatrist would not anymore have an inside perspective of the feelings of the client (Krippner, 2001). As a part of empathy, unconditional positive understanding is an important aspect of humanistic psychology. This unconditional regard includes the care which therapists have to have for their clients. It guarantees that therapists do not become authoritative in their relationship with their clients, ensuring the open and free flow of information and feelings, as well as the more empathic relationship between psychiatrist and client (Krippner, 2001). Therapists applying humanistic psychology have to manifest a greater willingness to listen and to guarantee the comfort of patients, allowing for real emotions and feelings to be shared (Kramer, Bernstein, and Phares, 2008). These therapists must ensure that they are focusing on everything which the client is feeling, that they have a clear understanding of the concerns of the client, as they secure a warm and accepting atmosphere for the client. Empathy therefore requires the therapist to discard any preconceived notions and scientific explanations he may have about the client‟s condition. Instead, exuding warmth and acceptance is the foundation of the humanist experience for the client.
Self help. Another element of humanistic psychology is self-help. Psychologists Ernst and Goodison (1981) were some of the practitioners which have incorporated humanistic psychology in self-help groups. Co-counseling seems to have become a valuable tool in humanistic psychology, especially as co-counseling is also used in self-help groups (Ersnt and Goodison, 1981). Aside from co-counseling, humanistic psychology has also impacted on the works of popular therapy in re-evaluation counseling and focusing. In effect, the impact of humanistic psychology has been significant in other fields of practice, especially towards the more person or client centered fields of therapy. Comprehending the present. The ideal self necessitates a discussion of the issues which emanate from a person‟s perception of an ideal self, and not having that idea fit the actual or the real self (O‟Hara, 1989). In other words, there is an incongruence seen in the ideal and the actual self. The ideal self refers to what an individual thinks must be done, and the real self is what actually unfolds in a person‟s life (O‟Hara, 1989). Where such incongruence disturbs the person‟s psyche, it can cause issues in self-worth, often impacting on how they relate to other individuals. With humanistic psychology, comprehending the present ensures that individuals have the chance to enjoy their positive experiences and add these experiences to their real self. The aim here is to make these two selves more in line with each other (O‟Hara, 1989). Humanists declare that when they are able to secure congruence among their clients, they can easily establish a more personal relationship with their clients. Under these conditions, trust can easily be secured; and feelings and thoughts are shared more freely even when the client is in denial about these feelings and perceptions. A stronger relationship between client and psychiatrist can therefore develop more when these conditions are met (Kramer, et.al., 2009). A non-pathologizing perspective. Humanistic psychology also looks past the medical model of psychology as a means of establishing a non-pathologizing perspective of the client (Clay, 2002). This indicates that the psychiatrist would not give much importance to the pathological elements of the client‟s life over and above his physiological concerns (Giorgi, 2005). A main consideration in this approach is seen with the meeting of the therapist and the client with essential considerations made on dialogue. The goal of the therapy would be to assist the client in securing a strong and better understanding of self, which under Maslow‟s hierarchy of needs translates to self-actualization (Clay, 2002). All these elements are part of humanistic psychology and its desire to be within the science of human experience, highlighting the actual experiences of clients (Aanstoos, et.al., 2000). The function of therapists is to establish an environment where the patient can healthily and freely narrate his feelings and to have these feelings be understood within their context (Aanstoos, et.al., 2000). Under humanistic psychology, the therapist cannot suggest areas for conversation; he also cannot direct the conversation in the directions he wishes to it to go. He cannot interpret the client‟s feelings and behavior, instead, his role is to display empathy and to listen intently to the client (Aanstoos, et.al., 2000). His role is also to understand what the client is actually feeling, especially where these feelings may contrast with his non-verbal cues (Kramer, et.al., 2008). Perceptions of Humanistic Psychology
The humanistic approach is unique because its perceptions and its applications emanates from the assumption that all individuals have their own way of viewing the world, and that their responses to such views would also help health professionals make sense of these responses and perceptions (Stefaroi, 2012). In effect, the types of questions asked by humanist psychologists are based on elements which are different from other approaches. Other approaches consider more objective perspectives of patients, but humanist psychologists highlight the person‟s perception and subjectivity over and above the event or situation (Stefaroi, 2012). In effect, humanist therapists do not apply the scientific approach in understanding and perceiving their clients. Humanistic psychologists support the notion that people have free will and that they have the power and ability to choose their actions and decisions (Moss, 2001). They also believe that individuals usually move towards growth and the fulfillment of their goals. Most research in humanistic psychology highlights how people can be assisted towards their full potential and how they can secure successful lives (Moss, 2001). These studies focus on the client experience, not on accepted trends in research results. As a result, the results may not actually be represented via numerical figures. Roger‟s Perception. Carl Rogers perceives behavior in relation to the focusing on the self which is part of an individual‟s consciousness and understanding of their identity (Rogers, 1995). He also understands that people can achieve their maximum potential for growth once they develop a favorable view about themselves (Rogers, 1995). This is otherwise known as positive selfregard. This can only be seen if these individuals have an unconditional positive regard of other people, and if they also believe that they are valued and supported by the people around them (Friedman, 2008). According to Rogers, the issue which most people have is on the fact that they do not believe that the positive regard which people have for them is unconditional (Rogers, 1995). Instead, they believe that they would only be accepted if they fulfill specific conditions of worth. These conditions of worth may include positive behavior, doing good, passing examinations, and similar acts (Friedman, 2008). Such conditions establish feelings of incongruity within the person between his/her real self and his/her ideal self. In most instances, individuals may try to fill in the gaps between their real and ideal self. However many people often try to accomplish this using insignificant ways, most likely by seeking accomplishments which may not actually provide contentment, or by changing their perception of themselves or of society (Sammons, 2001). For instance, a student may feel that he or she is worth something if he or she gets perfect or high test scores; and such student may perceive a less than perfect score as a „failure.‟ These types of students deprive themselves of any form of achievement from their grade; and sometimes they also blame their teachers for their less than perfect score (Sammons, 2001). Under these conditions, they also prevent any form of action which can be taken in order to improve their performance. Maslow‟s perception. Maslow‟s perception of human needs was more dynamic than Rogers‟ perceptions (Sammons, 2001). Rogers supported the notion that people require unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1995); whereas, Maslow understood that individuals have various needs which are different in immediacy and which must be fulfilled at various times (Maslow, 1967).
Maslow therefore set forth his needs based on a hierarchy, where the needs at the lower levels of the hierarchy have to be fulfilled first before the other higher needs (Sammons, 2001). Maslow understood that those who were able to secure all their needs within the hierarchy are known as the self-actualizers. However, it is rare for people to achieve such point of self-actualization (Sammons, 2001). Maslow (1967) also discussed that moments when there are prolonged periods of unfulfilled needs sometimes cause fixation. For instance, individuals who may be raised under extremely poor conditions with feelings of perpetual hunger would likely be dominated by feelings of anxiety about food even if they would be able to gain favorable economic conditions in the future (Sammons, 2001). Evaluation of Behavior in Humanistic Psychology Humanist psychologists evaluate human behavior mostly with the assistance of research methods which secure a better understanding of people‟s subjectivity (Barrell, et.al., 1987). In effect, these psychologists discard approaches which evaluate people objectively, including the tools of experimentation and non-participant observation. They more or less believe that using numbers to represent people‟s problems is akin to discarding the texture and meaning of people‟s experiences; hence, the quantitative tools are also not utilized in humanistic psychology (Barrell, et.al., 1987). In effect, the qualitative methods of research are preferred in humanistic psychology, mostly using unstructured interviews because it ensures that people can access their views and experiences without using the researcher‟s ideas to color such views. Participant observation is also often utilized with researchers participating in the general observations in order to comprehend the perception of participants (Barrell, et.al., 1987). Humanistic psychologists may also assess various qualitative materials which provide insights on how people perceive the world, including diaries and letters (Sammons, 2001). This was apparent in Maslow‟s analysis of the qualities of self-actualizers where he chose various selfactualizers from public figures and applied biographical tools to assess common grounds (Sammons, 2001). He established that these people are usually unconventional, are very much accepting of themselves and other people, can be involved in committed relationships, and can view life with much wonder and joy. Criticisms of the Field Inasmuch as humanistic psychology presents with favorable applications, it can also have significant criticisms (Sammons, 2001). Various approaches perceive humanistic psychology as unscientific and subject to bias. They also consider it pointless to try to get into a person‟s perception of the world. Humanistic psychologists reject these negative elements because they view the scientific method as an inappropriate tool in understanding human behavior (Sammons, 2001). Critics also do not favor the positive view of human nature which humanistic psychology supports (Sammons, 2001). While it would seem favorable to perceive one‟s self as good people seeking one‟s potential, humanistic psychology cannot explain the horrible ways people treat each other. Under conditions of war, genocide, war, and murder, humanistic psychology loses a sense of authority; moreover, seeking to fulfill one‟s own needs under these conditions seem to
reflect an individualistic and self-obsessed position which hardly resolves the bigger issues of man (Sammons, 2001). Nevertheless, the counseling techniques of Carl Rogers and other humanist psychologists have assisted individuals in understanding their life and the purpose of their lives. Discussion Summary of Findings Based on the above discussion, humanistic psychology highlights the importance of free will; and this distinguishes it from the other fields of psychology. This field of psychology emphasizes on the client, what he is feeling and how he perceives events and experiences. For therapists involved in this field, their view of the client‟s experience must be based on the client‟s context and perception. Those involved in humanistic psychology do not support the notion that they would understand human behavior via traditional scientific studies. Humanistic psychology‟s distancing from traditional research is based on the fact that these traditional studies are more appropriate for the physical sciences, and are not fit for the assessment of the complexities of human behavior and the derivation of meanings. The foundations of humanistic psychology started with the works of other psychologists and theorists, including Maslow, May, and Carl Rogers and most of their theories in human growth use testable hypotheses. A significant amount of empathy is needed to secure the effective application of humanistic psychology. Although, it is the least scientific approach to psychology and therapy, its relevance to the practice is not necessarily any less important. It has provided an alternative to the other known fields of psychology, thereby establishing a more holistic process in psychotherapy. Implications This research is important for the field of psychology because it helps provide academic and theoretical foundations for humanistic psychology, which is usually given less attention when compared to psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Theoretical foundations are the framework for successful practice because it ensures that the appropriate background information is utilized before any monumental tasks are implemented for the clients. This research is also important in order to assist in changing and improving human behavior and in order to assist mental health practitioners in the effective management of human behavior. References Aanstoos, C. Serlin, I., and Greening, T. (2000). A history of division 32 (Humanistic Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. In D. Dewsbury (Ed.), Unification through division: Histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. (2012). Society for humanistic psychology. Retrieved
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