Humanistic Psychology – History, Principles, Therapies, Strengths And Criticisms

Humanistic Psychology considers humans as holistic individuals able to determine their behaviors and goals. Read on to learn about the development of this perspective and about the work of critical humanistic psychologists.

What is humanistic psychology?

It is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the study of the whole person; humanistic psychologists look at human behavior not only through the eyes of the observer but through the eyes of the person doing the behavior; they believe that the behavior of an individual is connected to his inner feelings and his image.

Unlike behaviorists, humanistic psychologists believe that humans are not solely the product of their environment; humanistic psychologists study human meanings, understandings, and experiences involved in growth, teaching, and learning. They emphasize the characteristics that all human beings share, such as love, pain, caring, and self-esteem.

They study how people are influenced by their perceptions and the personal meanings associated with their experiences; they are not primarily concerned with instinctual drives, responses to external stimuli, or past experiences. Instead, they consider conscious choices, responses to internal needs, and current circumstances critical in shaping human behavior.


The early development of humanistic psychology was strongly influenced by the works of some critical theorists, especially Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers; other prominent humanistic thinkers included Rollo May and Erich Fromm.

At the beginning of the 20th century, behaviorism rose; the behaviorist perspective held that behavior was the only observable phenomenon related to mental processes. Therefore, it was the only area with which psychology should be concerned. Behaviorists did not believe that studying thoughtsmemoryemotions, or other non-objective processes was valuable.

The analysis was developed almost at the same time as the conduction and held that observable phenomena were only the surface manifestation of unconscious impulses; in psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud assumed that patients do not understand their reasons, so their therapeutic approach was to help his patients uncover the hidden urges that drove behavior.

In the 1950s, psychologists began to develop a very different theoretical perspective on both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Humanism emerged as a reaction to these dominant forces in psychology but found its roots in classical and Renaissance philosophy that emphasized self-actualization: the ability of a human being to grow and develop psychologically, intellectually, and ethically. The development of humanism was also reinforced by similar philosophical movements in Europe, such as developments in phenomenology and existentialism.

In 1951, Carl Rogers published Client-Centered Therapy, which described his humanistic and client-oriented approach to therapy. In 1961, the Journal of Humanistic Psychology was established.

In 1962, the American Association for Humanistic Psychology was formed, and in 1971 humanistic psychology became a division. In 1962, Maslow published Towards a Psychology of Being, in which he described humanistic psychology as the “third force,” the first and second forces being behaviorism and psychoanalysis, respectively.

What impact did humanistic psychology have?

The humanist movement had an enormous influence on the course of psychology, contributing to new ways of thinking about mental health, offering a new approach to understanding human behaviors and motivations, and leading to the development of new techniques and strategies for psychotherapy.

Some of the main ideas and concepts that emerged as a result of the humanist movement include an emphasis on such things as:

Humanism has inspired many contemporary modes of therapy, and most therapists value Rogerian principles, such as unconditional positive regard, even if they do not identify as advocates of the humanistic approach.

This value-oriented approach views humans as inherently driven to maximize their creative choices and interactions to gain a greater sense of freedom, awareness, and life-affirming emotions. The therapist and the person in therapy cooperate in setting therapeutic goals and working to reach established milestones that can help promote positive change. Self-actualization is often seen as central to this approach.

Basic principles of humanistic psychology

The foundation of humanistic psychology developed throughout the 1950s and early 1960s through meetings and conferences with leading figures in the movement. Psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Clark Moustakas, and Charlotte Buhler were key actors in presenting the fundamental principles of humanism; these psychologists developed a theoretical perspective that sought to honor the entire human being as conscious, intentional, and capable of creating meaning in life.

Again, this was in contrast to behaviorism, which focused exclusively on behavior, and psychoanalysis, which did not believe that humans were fully aware of their motivations.

The fundamental principles of humanism appeared in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and can be summarized as follows:

  • A human being is more than just a sum of its parts; they must be viewed holistically, not reductively.
  • Their environment influences a person’s behavior; social interactions are essential in the development of a human being.
  • People are aware of their existence; they are aware of themselves and their environment; they are aware of past experiences and use them to inform present and future behavior.
  • Human beings have free will and make conscious decisions; they are not driven by instinct or impulse alone.
  • Human beings have intentional goals and seek to create meaning in life.

Counseling and therapy in humanistic psychology


Humanistic psychology includes several counseling and therapy approaches; among the first, we find the developmental theory of Abraham Maslow, emphasizing a hierarchy of needs and motivations; Rollo May’s existential psychology recognizing human choice and the tragic aspects of human existence; and Carl Rogers’ client-centered or person-centered therapy, which focuses on the client’s capacity for self-direction and understanding of their development.

The therapy focuses on the client is not policy; the therapist listens to the client without judgment, allowing get ideas for himself, the therapist must ensure that all the feelings of the customer are being considered and that he should have an understanding firm of patient’s concerns while ensuring there is an air of acceptance and warmth. The client-centered therapist takes care of active listening during therapy sessions.

A therapist cannot be completely non-directive; however, an environment that is non-judgmental and non-accepting and provides unconditional positive regard will encourage feelings of acceptance and worth.

The psychotherapies existential, an application of humanistic psychology, applied existential philosophy, which emphasizes that humans are free to make sense of their lives; they are free to define themselves and do whatever they want to do. This is a type of humanistic therapy that forces the client to explore the meaning of their life and their purpose; there is a conflict between having freedoms and having limitations. Examples of rules include genetics, culture, and many other factors. Existential therapy involves trying to resolve this conflict.

Another approach to humanistic counseling and therapy is Gestalt therapy, which focuses on the here and now, especially as an opportunity to look beyond preconceived notions and focus on how the present is affected by the past, the game of Roles also plays an important role and allow a true expression of feelings that may not have been shared in other circumstances. In Gestalt therapy, non-verbal cues are an essential indicator of how the client may be feeling, despite the feelings expressed.

Also part of the range of humanistic psychotherapy is concepts of depth therapy, holistic health, encounter groups, sensitivity training, marriage and family therapies, bodywork, the existential psychotherapy of Medard Boss, and positive psychology.

The humanistic theory of George Kelly is based on the fundamental premise that a person acts anticipating future events, establishing that a person’s actions and interpretation of past circumstances are based on the expectation of possible events.

Empathy and self-help

Empathy is one of the most important aspects of humanistic therapy; this idea focuses on the therapist’s ability to see the world through the client’s eyes; without this, therapists may be forced to apply an external frame of reference where the therapist no longer understands the client’s actions and thoughts as the client would. Still, strictly as a therapist defeating the purpose of humanistic therapy, including empathy and unconditional positive regard is one of the critical elements of humanistic psychology.

Unconditional positive regard refers to the care that the therapist needs for the client; this ensures that they do not become the authority figure in the relationship, allowing a more open flow of information and a friendlier relationship between the two. A therapist practicing humanistic therapy needs to show a willingness to listen and ensure the patient’s comfort where genuine feelings can be shared but not forced on someone. Marshall Rosenberg, one of Carl Rogers’ students, emphasizes relationship empathy in his concept of nonviolent communication.

Self-help is also part of humanistic psychology: Sheila Ernst and Lucy Goodison described the use of some of the main approaches in self-help groups. Humanistic psychology applies to self-help because it aims to change the way a person thinks; one can only improve once they decide to change their ways of thinking about themselves, once they decide to help themselves.

Co-counseling, a purely self-help-based approach, is also considered to come from humanistic psychology. The humanistic theory has had a strong influence on other forms of folk therapy, including Harvey Jackins’ reassessment counseling and the work of Carl Rogers, as well as on the development of humanistic psychodrama by Hans-Werner Gessmann since the 1980s.

The ideal self

The ideal self and the authentic self involve understanding the problems that arise from having an idea of ​​what you want to be as a person. This does not match who you are as a person (contradiction). The ideal self is what a person believes should be done and what their core values ​​are, and the authentic self is what is really at stake in life. Through humanistic therapy, understanding the present allows clients to add positive experiences to their real self-concept.

The goal is to make the two concepts of oneself congruent. Rogers believed that only when a therapist can be harmonious can a real relationship occur in therapy; it is much easier to trust someone willing to share feelings openly, even if it is not what the client always wants; this will allow the therapist to foster a strong relationship.

Not pathological

Humanistic psychology tends to look beyond the medical model of psychology to open a non-pathological view of the person; this generally implies that the therapist downplays the pathological aspects of a person’s life in favor of the beneficial elements. Humanistic psychology tries to be a science of human experience, focusing on the occasion of people. Therefore, a key ingredient is the actual meeting of the therapist and the client and the possibilities of dialogue between them.

The therapist’s role is to create an environment where the client can freely express any thoughts or feelings; he does not suggest topics for conversation or guide in any way, nor does he analyze or interpret the client’s behavior or any information shared. The therapist’s role is to provide empathy and listen carefully to the client.

Social applications of humanistic psychology

While the personal transformation may be the primary focus of most humanistic psychologists, many also investigate pressing social, cultural, and gender issues.

Social work

After psychotherapy, social work is the most crucial beneficiary of the theory and methodology of humanistic psychology; these have produced a profound reform of the theory and practice of modern social work, which leads, among others, to the appearance of a particular approach and methodology.

Furthermore, the representation and approach of the client (as a human being) and the social problem (as a human problem) in social work are made from humanistic psychology. According to Petru Stefaroi, how the humanistic representation and approach of the client and his personality is carried out is, in fact, the theoretical-axiological and methodological basis of humanist social work.

When setting the objectives and intervention activities to solve social/human problems, the critical terms and categories of psychology and humanistic psychology prevail, such as self-realization, human potential, holistic approach, human being, free will, subjectivity, human experience, self-determination/development, spirituality, creativity, positive thinking, client-centered and context-centered approach/intervention, empathy, personal growth, empowerment.

Creativity in corporations

Humanistic psychology’s emphasis on creativity and integrity created a foundation for new approaches to human capital in the workplace, emphasizing creativity and the relevance of emotional interactions. Previously, the connotations of creativity were reserved and mainly restricted to working artists.

Humanistic psychology concepts were adopted in education and social work, peaking in the 1970s and 1980s in North America. However, as with whole language theory, training practice was too superficial in most institutional settings; even though humanistic psychology raised the bar of understanding the natural person, professionally, it is primarily practiced today by individually licensed counselors and therapists.

Outside of this humanistic psychology, the foundations of practically all the methods of Energy Medicine are laid. However, this field has little coherence to discuss it with ease.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.